In D.C., things aren't always what they seem

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WASHINGTON -- Say it ain't so, Mark. The revelations that former congressman Mark Foley had inappropriate -- to say the least -- contact with congressional pages made jaws drop and tongues wag throughout the entertainment industry community here.

It wasn't as if we didn't know he is gay. It was pretty much an open secret among those of us working in the Hollywood-Washington nexus. It's just that most of us seem to know the Louisiana rule of politics: Don't get caught in bed with a dead woman or a live boy.

While Foley didn't appear to violate that axiom, he came within spitting distance of it. He shouldn't have gotten that close, or he should have taken a lesson from the page scandal of the 1980s, but he didn't. Which leads me to another one of those political axioms: Never underestimate the stupidity of government officials.

Because Foley was the chairman of the GOP's entertainment industry task force, most of us associated with the entertainment industry knew him fairly well, or thought we did. When the story broke, most of us were also left with a feeling of, well, betrayal. One of the industry's top lobbyists summed it up when he said: "He fooled everybody. I considered him a friend, and now I consider him a creep."

Maybe it seems so shocking to me because I was on a first-name basis with Mark. When my family back home in Alabama would ask me to name the "good" lawmakers, Foley was one of the guys I mentioned, as I tried to be fair and balanced by naming an equal number of Democrats and Republicans.

During the GOP convention in Philadelphia I followed Foley around for a very long day. I got to be a fly on the wall as we flitted from one high-profile event to another. He never restricted my access that day. Even to events from which the press was barred, he brought me in. Anything said or done was on the record. It was a blast, and it made for a pretty good story, too.

The last time I saw him, we laughed about that day in Philly. We joked about the wannabe politico -- one who looked like he was fresh off "The Sopranos" set -- telling us how he raised money. Foley was very diplomatic as he edged away from the guy who was treading upon a felony.

A few days later after this current scandal broke, I was shaking my head. Am I really that bad a judge of character? That I wasn't the only one who misjudged Foley is but a cold comfort.

I always thought that my kids might like to be a page. The Capitol is a really, really cool building. I thought that getting to run errands for lawmakers and senior staffers would be quite an education. I thought they'd have fun, too. Now I'm not so sure.

After all the years I've covered politics, from the courthouse to the state house to the White House, a scandal like this is, well, it's fun, dammit. Politics is a contact sport, and seeing the powerful squirm and fall is like watching the perfect open-field tackle in super slo-mo. It seems a bit different when it happens to someone you think you knew and for whom you held some respect.

Some hard-core Democrats who have everything to gain by seeing the GOP tumble aren't exactly jumping for joy about Foley's fall from grace. One executive, who can only see gains for himself with a Democratic takeover of the House, seemed quite bummed.

"If it was anybody else, I'd be the happiest guy in Washington right now," he told me.

And, frankly, so would I.
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