Foley Fallout Tightens Race for N.Y. Congressman
DEBORAH AMOS, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos in for Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.
More days go by and we keep learning more about Mark Foley. He's the congressman who resigned last week after being confronted with sexually explicit messages that he'd sent to teenage congressional pages.
Yesterday, his attorney said Foley's behavior was affected by alcoholism and that Foley had been molested as a child. He also announced that Foley is gay.
Republican lawmakers returned home to campaign this week, and they're facing tough questions about how the House leadership handled this case, none more so than Congressman Tom Reynolds of New York. Reynolds is in charge of organizing the House Republicans reelection effort. When he learned about e-mails between Foley and a page last spring, Reynolds told Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert about it. But his constituents are asking, should he have done more?
NPR's Robert Smith reports from Buffalo.
ROBERT SMITH: Since he's been back in his suburban Buffalo district, Congressman Reynolds has made sure his public events include plenty of children.
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SMITH: Yesterday it was a financial literacy event at Amherst Central High School, where Reynolds lectured 16 and 17-year-olds on the importance of saving money.
Representative TOM REYNOLDS (Republican, New York): As you get older, the responsibility of managing your finances will become even more important.
SMITH: Reporters who wanted to grill the representative on the sordid topic of inappropriate e-mails had to wait until the teachers shooed the kids out of the room. Suddenly the event turned from G-rated to NC-17.
Rep. REYNOLDS: It's astounding to me as a parent and a grandparent that anyone would insinuate that I would seek to cover up inappropriate conduct of an adult and a child.
SMITH: Reynolds went over the timeline again and again. He said that he'd heard about, but didn't read, questionable e-mails from Foley to a former page. He said he informed Speaker Hastert, and he said that was the end of his responsibility.
Rep. REYNOLDS: If you see an incident in the workplace, whether it be sexual harassment or some other, you take it to your supervisor.
SMITH: But it hasn't been that simple for Reynolds to disassociate himself from former Representative Foley. As the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Reynolds accepted a $100,000 donation from Foley. What's more, Reynolds' Chief of Staff, Kirk Fordham, used to work with Foley. And in recent days Fordham helped Foley with damage control, a service that Reynolds says he knew nothing about.
Rep. REYNOLDS: I didn't give him permission to have any conversations he's had at any time with Mark Foley, either as his friend or a former employer.
SMITH: If you think this sounds confusing, you're not alone. In this suburban and rural district outside of Buffalo, the constituents I talked to kept raising the same questions.
Mr. JOHN DISTEFANO(ph) (Resident, Buffalo): How much did he know, and how much of an obligation did he have to do something about it?
SMITH: John DiStefano is a former high school principal and a Republican.
Mr. DISTEFANO: It appears as though he didn't do enough. I think he's in big trouble. And if he was involved in a cover up, he deserves to be in trouble.
SMITH: Until last week this was not supposed to be a difficult reelection year for Reynolds. The district was carefully drawn to give him a clear Republican majority. After November, Reynolds was expected to move up in the Republican leadership in Washington.
Political science Professor James Campbell of the University at Buffalo says Reynolds still has the edge in the race if he can navigate this rough patch.
Professor JAMES CAMPBELL (Political Science, SUNY Buffalo): It's going to take a while I think for Reynolds to get the full explanation out to voters in a way that they understand what he did and why he did it. And I think that's what he has to do over the next week.
SMITH: So far, Reynolds' opponent, Democrat Jack Davis, has been cautious about campaigning on the scandal issue. Yesterday, Davis was answering questions from a roomful of retired union workers in Lockport, New York, and the Foley issue never came up.
John Bioujac(ph), a former UAW member, said he's already sick of hearing about the sex scandal.
Mr. JOHN BIOUJAC (Former UAW member): I really haven't heard too many facts yet, you know, just a lot of accusations, innuendoes and things like that. You know, Tom Reynolds knew this, he knew that. Well, I don't know. Did he? But right now it is not an issue with me, okay? The issue is jobs and taxes and outsourcing and things like that. Those are my issues.
SMITH: Davis, who made a fortune in manufacturing, was happy to oblige, speaking at length on the perils of free trade. But when asked after the event, he conceded that Reynolds' woes are making his job easier.
Mr. JACK DAVIS (Congressional Candidate, New York): I'd rather beat Reynolds without this issue. I think I would go to Washington stronger that way. But I may not make it, so it's good he's having these problems.
SMITH: Beleaguered as he may be now, Reynolds won't go down easily. He still has gobs of money, plus he still has friends in very high places. Later today, first lady Laura Bush will appear at a campaign fundraiser for Reynolds. And for a few hours at least, that should be enough to change the subject.
Robert Smith, NPR News, Buffalo.
AMOS: You can follow key events in the evolving scandal surrounding Mark Foley at our Web site, npr.org.
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