WASHINGTON — A Republican House member from Florida who was expected to cruise to reelection faced questions Thursday about the propriety of e-mails he sent to a teenage page on Capitol Hill, potentially adding to the GOP's political struggles as it attempts to maintain its congressional majority.
Six-term Rep. Mark Foley, a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee and chairman of the House Entertainment Industry Task Force, is being made to explain a series of e-mails he sent in 2005 in which he asked the page how old he was and requested a photo.
The e-mails, copies of which were obtained by The Times, indicate that the boy, 16, then complained to another congressional staff member, noting: "Maybe it is just me being paranoid, but seriously. This freaked me out."
In another e-mail sent to the page, Foley, 52, said of a second teenager working on Capitol Hill, "He's in such great shape."
A Foley spokesman acknowledged that the congressman had sent the e-mails to the page. But the spokesman said they reflected nothing more than an innocent interest in helping young people.
"It was encouragement for a person who was interested in politics," said Jason Kello, noting that the page had written Foley a thank-you note after his service was over.
"This is character assassination in the worst," Kello said, blaming the campaign of Foley's Democratic opponent, Tim Mahoney.
The Mahoney campaign released a statement Thursday disavowing any involvement in the release of the e-mails, which have been floating around Capitol Hill for months.
Mahoney, a businessman new to politics, was widely considered a long shot for Foley's seat, which has attracted relatively little attention from the national parties as they battle for control of Capitol Hill.
But the e-mails have become news in Foley's district; the NBC television affiliate in West Palm Beach, Fla., broadcast a story on them Thursday.
Some of the e-mails were posted on the Internet by a blogger over the weekend.
Teenage pages, who come to Washington from around the country and serve primarily as messengers in and around the Capitol, were at the center of controversy two decades ago when two congressman were accused of having sex with pages. The scandals generated new ethics rules banning such liaisons.