Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Congressional Sex Scandals

Everyone Knew

"Everyone knew Mark Foley was gay. Everyone." That, according to a Vanity Fair article "Don't Tell... Don't Email" by Gail Sheehy and Judy Bachrach about the politician a few moths after his resignation. Foley grew up near Palm Beach as a popular boy whom his high school yearbook described as "being a ladies man." Yet close friends of Foley's in Florida knew the truth. It weighed on him as well, as he lamented the fact that he couldn't be honest about his sexuality, according to Sheehy and Bachrach, who quoted Rand Hoch, a gay Democratic strategist in Florida who spoke to Foley at a party in 1984.

"I wish I could be out like you are and [still] involved in politics. But I can't because I'm a Republican," Foley told Hoch, according to the magazine.

The knowledge extended to Foley's early House staff as well. Kirk Fordham, his campaign manager and chief of staff from 1995 to 2004, was openly gay and knew from the start that Foley was in the closet. From his earliest time in D.C., Foley was very friendly with everyone on Capitol Hill, Fordham says. "I was always conscious of the fact because he was gay; if he struck up a conversation with a younger staffer or intern or an assistant in Congressman DeLay's office and lingered too long, I would nudge him," Fordham told Vanity Fair.

Jim Kolbe
Jim Kolbe

While Foley had decided that being an openly gay Republican would have been untenable, he would not have been the first. Representative Jim Kolbe of Arizona came out in 1996 while in office and won re-election that year. Four years later he was the first openly gay Republican to address the party's national convention. Washington has also known its share of openly gay Democratic politicians, from Barney Frank and Gerry Studds, both Massachusetts congressmen who had politically survived earlier sexual scandals, to Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

Yet no one in those early days seemed to know how far Foley was willing to take his attraction to underage boys, nor his penchant for leaving a trail of lurid communications with them.

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