"Nobody cared," Dinerstein said. "Liberals think all Republicans are stupid bigots, but we knew. It just wasn't talked about. We cared about his political skills, his legislative skills."
Rand Hoch, former chairman of the Democratic Party of Palm Beach County and openly gay, remembers speaking at length with Foley in 1997, when some gay newspapers were outing public officials.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday October 08, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 58 words Type of Material: Correction
Gay Republicans: An article in Friday's Section A about the political risks of homosexuality in the GOP's ranks contained erroneous information about the Advocate, whose website posted an interview with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). Its website is Advocate.com; it is a national gay and lesbian newsmagazine, not a newspaper; and it is based in Los Angeles, not Boston.
"I tried and tried to persuade him to come out," Hoch said. "But ultimately he thought that at that time in Washington, D.C., and nationally, an up-and-coming Republican politician could not be openly gay."
Foley was a tireless socializer, a trait that served him well politically. He won plaudits from charities for his willingness to help raise money, and he earned the loyalty of fellow Republicans in Washington and Florida for his ability to shake donor trees in Hollywood and elsewhere.
In the House's tightknit Republican caucus, he rose to the rank of deputy whip, a junior member of the leadership. In 2003, Foley was considered the GOP front-runner to succeed then-Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who had decided to run for president.
Though Foley had a campaign fund worth millions, the White House moved aggressively to recruit a different candidate, then-Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez. Party strategists worried about what a Foley candidacy would mean for President Bush's 2004 reelection campaign in the state that had decided the election four years earlier.
Foley eventually dropped out of the race, citing his father's bout with cancer. Few doubted the real reason was that his sexual orientation might become an issue. (Martinez won.)
Foley, it seemed, had gone as far in politics as he could as a gay Republican. And in a way, acquaintances said, the failure of his Senate bid appears to have freed him to be somewhat more open about his homosexuality. For instance, he began appearing more often at social events with his partner; if you invited one to dinner, socialites learned, you invited both.
For gay Republicans, staffers say, discretion is the key. And Foley, it seems, had trouble being discreet.
In Washington, he was known as someone who liked to stay out late. And at parties, he did not hide his interest in young men.
Friends and colleagues urged Foley to take steps to avoid scrutiny. He resigned his membership at a popular gay gym on the advice of his former longtime political advisor and chief of staff Kirk Fordham, according to one former Capitol Hill staffer.
Fordham also was known to follow Foley to parties, in some cases intervening to stop the congressman from inviting partygoers back to his apartment.
"Kirk told him to knock it off," said the former staffer, who is a Democrat.
In recent days, gay political staffers and activists have expressed anger with Foley.
"Thanks a lot, Mark," said Catania, the District of Columbia councilman. "You weren't any help to us when you were in the closet, and you've really hurt us now.
"It leaves the impression that we're all predators."
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), one of the two openly gay Democratic members of Congress, expressed concern this week that the Foley scandal could lead to a "real purge of gays in the Republican Party."
"Republicans," Frank said in an interview posted on TheAdvocate.com, the website of the Boston-based gay newspaper, "will now be more nervous having gay people in positions of power."
Reynolds reported from Washington and Jarvie from West Palm Beach, Fla. Times staff writers Richard Simon, Nicole Gaouette, Johanna Neuman, Janet Hook, Peter Wallsten and Noam N. Levey contributed to this report.