U.S. representative Mark Foley of Florida, who is seeking the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat, held a press conference Thursday, denouncing what he says are rumors being spread by his political opponents that he is gay. Foley, a five-term congressman, refused to answer questions concerning his sexual orientation, saying that it has no bearing on his duties as a lawmaker. "That is the kind of question that I do think is highly inappropriate," Foley told reporters during a conference call. "The fact that I am not married has allowed many people to speculate. I don't care what they conclude. People can draw whatever conclusions they want."
Foley accused Democratic activists of trying to derail his candidacy for the Senate. "In recent weeks a number of Democratic activists have taken it upon themselves to push rumors about me," Foley said. "It is becoming apparent to me these Democratic activists have only one motive: They don't want me to run or have to run against me." Foley said he was responding to a column that ran earlier this month in an alternative Florida weekly newspaper and because he feared a major Florida daily was preparing to publish a story on Friday about the matter. Foley is seeking the GOP nomination for the seat currently held by Democratic presidential candidate Bob Graham, who hasn't said whether he will seek a fourth term.
State Democratic Party chairman Scott Maddox criticized Foley for responding to one inappropriate accusation with another by blaming Democrats. "When we talk about a candidate for public office, we talk about their record of leadership and their ability to serve," Maddox said. "We do not fire off
accusations about their private life." Foley said he should be evaluated by voters on his legislative record. He said everyone deserves some privacy, even public officials. "Some people may think that's old-fashioned, but I firmly believe it's a good rule to live by," he said. Several GOP colleagues in Congress, including House majority leader Tom DeLay of Texas, expressed support for Foley. "Mark has been an invaluable member of this conference," DeLay said in a statement.
Chuck Wolfe, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which backs openly gay candidates, reacted swiftly to the news of Foley's telephone conversation with reporters. "We believe that all Americans have a fundamental right to privacy and, therefore, a right to choose not to discuss their personal lives," Wolfe said, adding that "at those junctures where Congressman Foley does reference either his personal life or homosexuality, we call on him to be factual and truthful, so as to respect the decision of millions of gay Americans to live open, honest lives."