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Nancy Smith

Former Congressman Mark Foley: Weiner Must Decide Himself Whether to Resign

June 8, 2011 - 6:00pm

Former Republican Congressman Mark Foley of West Palm Beach had no idea three weeks ago when he agreed to appear on Fox News' "Sean Hannity" show at 9 p.m. Thursday that the interview would plunge him into such painfully familiar territory.

In an exclusive telephone interview with Sunshine State News late Thursday afternoon, Foley said, Congressman (Anthony) Weiner wasnt a household name in May. This was going to be my first national television interview since I resigned from Congress five years ago. I had no idea I would be reliving my own congressional scandal by talking about Anthony Weiners.

"But, sadly, this is the news of the day," he said, "and this is what we talk about. Think of the heroes dying overseas for us, we're stuck on scandal. I know it's human nature. Still ..."

Once a rising star among the House GOP, Foley resigned from Congress on Sept. 29, 2006, following allegations that he sent sexually explicit e-mails and instant messages to teenage male congressional pages.

The scandal came just weeks ahead of the congressional midterm elections. It was later cited as a contributing factor to Democratic gains that year. After he left Congress, Foley checked into a rehabilitation clinic for alcoholism and for the first time publicly admitted that he is gay.

It was a rough ride for Foley -- an outgoing, high-octane spirit who loved photo shoots and could light up any party. Tragically, no sooner did his congressional life end than his father died. Everywhere he turned, he had lost something.

Thursday in New York, asked in the telephone interview what advice he would give to Weiner resign or stay Foley paused, went quiet for a moment, then said he would not advise the New York Democrat at all. I couldnt. Thats a very personal decision." Later, however, show host Sean Hannity pushed and Foley said emphatically, "In my heart, (I know) you cannot fix this from inside that building. ... You have to get out."

I know what Representative Weiner is going through, believe me. How can I not remember? It isnt so much the personal pain what weighs on you is the damage youve caused others.

Foley said he chose to resign because he believed it was necessary. Of course, I loved it in Washington and I loved representing the people of the Treasure Coast. But Id violated all covenants, I needed to minimize collateral damage to others. So, for me, resigning my seat was the only option.

He said he never fought it. He knew or, felt he knew that he brought dishonor to the House, to his family, and to his community. Its true, he said, the leadership was not encouraging me to stay, but I also knew that if Id tried, staying would have done more harm to me than good. My decision was right for everybody."

Since leaving office, the national media have been at Foleys doorstep. Last year, when he was deciding whether to run for mayor of West Palm Beach -- when most political observers believed he would have been a shoo-in had he thrown his hat in the ring -- he was besieged by invitations to be a program guest. Matt Lauer of The Today Show was particularly persistent, he said. But he wasnt ready. He didnt want it, didnt want to dredge up the past.

Oprah Winfrey asked me more than once to be part of her last season, and I even turned her down.

Why Sean Hannity? How did the conservative talk-show host win him over?

Foley, now a popular talk-show host himself on WSVU in West Palm Beach, explained it simply. We met at the Talkers Convention. (Hannity) came up and we talked and he just asked me, and all of a sudden I felt comfortable about being interviewed.

Foley is also a successful businessman on the Treasure Coast, a consultant and a real estate professional who just negotiated the sale of Indiantown Bank to Harbor Federal Savings and Loan in Martin County. He remains solidly a Republican and has been welcomed back into the GOP fold.

How did the interview go? Tough, straight, as Foley expected. See the interview's blog post.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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