Wealthy Frenchman

Saturday, October 07, 2006

For Reynolds, no place to hide his folly


Tom Reynolds is finding it out the hard way. There is no place to hide and there is no one to hide behind.

The powerful Republican's connection to the Mark Foley scandal lingers like a bad smell.

The congressman from Clarence cannot hide behind the children of his political supporters, whom he enlisted Monday night to stand with him in a news conference. He cannot hide behind Laura Bush, the first lady and America's Sweetheart, who came to town Wednesday for a Reynolds fundraiser.

The children presumably were at Monday's news conference to send a message about Reynolds' family values. But trotting out children in the cause of providing political cover instead sent a message about political cynicism.

Reynolds is a power player in Washington. As head of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, he raises millions of dollars for candidates. He was told last spring about the "overly friendly" e-mails Foley, a Republican congressman from Florida, sent to a 16-year-old male former page. Foley asked the teenager how old he was, what he wanted for his birthday and to send a photo. The page thought the e-mails were "sick."

Reynolds said he was told of the page's discomfort, but didn't know the specific content of the messages. He passed the word to the speaker of the House and forgot about it.

Laura Bush on Wednesday sang Reynolds' praises. But there was a different tune from more than 50 anti-Reynolds protesters standing in the rain outside the hotel fundraiser. Virtually all were Democrats, but most were also parents. Their anger at Reynolds' weak response went beyond partisan politics.

"Reading those e-mails made me feel icky," said Craig Touma of Niagara Falls, father of an 11-year-old. "They should have raised red flags with Reynolds. His [reaction] shows a shameful lack of leadership. You have to protect these [pages]."

Foley resigned last week, when obscene instant messages he sent in 2003 to another page were uncovered. Reynolds didn't know about those. But what he knew last spring was enough for him to do more than he did - especially given what else he must have known.

ABC News reported that pages were told by a congressional staffer five years ago to be wary of Foley. Reynolds' chief of staff, Kirk Fordham - who resigned Wednesday - held the same position with Foley for 10 years. Reynolds prides himself on being wired into Washington's inner workings. Given those connections, it is hard to believe that Reynolds didn't know of Foley's reputation.

It is another reason why, when Reynolds heard about the e-mails, he should have done more than casually mention it to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert.

Actually, Reynolds did do more. Foley, 53, was thinking of not running again. Instead of discreetly showing the door to the guy with an eye for underaged pages, Reynolds urged him to hit the campaign trail.

You don't need an inside line on Capitol Hill gossip to hear the warning bells in the e-mails. Imagine your reaction if your child was on the receiving end of Foley's "attention."

That is what Reynolds should have imagined. Maybe he did. Maybe he also weighed that thought against another image - of Foley abandoning a sure-fire Republican seat in a year when Democrats might take control of the House.

"Reynolds should have pursued this [harder]," said protester Connie Schmidt. "He was wrong not to."

Teenage pages are away from home, away from their families. They depend on the protection of the politicians they serve. Foley was a hawk among mice.

Somewhere in his rise to power, Reynolds seems to have forgotten a basic truth: Kids count more than seats in Congress.


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