05 October 2006

A Date with Mark Foley

It's 1995, in the "Washington Monthly."
"IT'S THE 5 O'CLOCK COCKTAIL hour, and I'm mounting the steps to Le Mistral, the congressional power eatery.

"["Washington Monthly's] Sallie [Motsch]?" I hear behind me.

"Congressman Foley?"

Running up the steps, Mark Foley extends a hearty handshake.

Ooh la la . This congressman is a blast of exuberance. Tall and solid with sparkling blue eyes and subtly coiffed hair, his wire-framed glasses lend authority to his round face. Impeccably tailored in a Prince Charles plaid Joseph Abbound suit and a French blue shirt, he's got a real Palm Beach polish, although his district skirts that elite community.

We mount a couple of high-backed stools, and I marvel at the privacy of our date. Not only is the bar empty but the entire restaurant. The congressman orders a glass of Merlot. I follow suit, wondering if Newt's got something going with Merlot in the Contract.

Foley, 40, has been a Florida politician since he was 23. State and local governments were steppingstones to his childhood dream of a congressional seat. Half Polish, half Irish, he grew up in West Palm Beach in a close-knit family. He points to a young dishwasher behind the bar, unloading glasses. "I've done that. And I've been a waiter and an owner," Foley says, referring to a former restaurant venture.

Beep-beep-beep-beep-beep. "Oh, God," he says. "Message from the Republican cloakroom . . . 15 minutes to record their vote . . ."

He's off, coatless, into the dusk.

Twenty minutes later, he's back, breathless. Once again, the sprint-for-the-vote leads to the issue of footwear. "I love these Allen-Edmonds," Foley says. He also loves clothes, confessing a passion for Bill Robinson and Neiman Marcus shirts: "American-made."

We polish off our Merlot.

Another? He hesitates, I insist, he agrees.

Foley's Palm Beach politicking has given him some pretty heady contacts. It's no wonder that he needs to keep one tuxedo in Washington and another in Florida.

"I bumped into Joe Kennedy the other day, and he said, 'Hey, we've got to go fishing sometime,'" Foley remarks.

"Is the Kennedy compound in your district?" I ask, fingers crossed. Fishing will, no doubt, lead to sailing. Who needs Patrick?

"No, but it used to be," he answers.

Workable. Not only is this fellow connected, but judging from his easy manner and relaxed laughter, he's happy.

"I was at the party for the opening of Mar-a-Lago," Foley continues, launching into another story. "Miss Germany was my date and . . ."

"Miss Germany?" I interrupt. I'm wondering about this trend of freshmen congressmen and German women.

"Yes, Miss Germany," he continues, "and Donald Trump rushes over to me and asks if there's anything I can do about his air space," Foley says, waving his hands over his head, mimicking The Donald imitating flight patterns. "He said the air traffic over Mar-a-Lago was terrible, and he wanted to know if I could change it."

Foley clearly is on the move, and not just because of his social contacts. He was appointed deputy majority whip and sits on key committees.

In his downtime Foley heads to the sea or the slopes -- he shares a condo in Aspen. Of all of his classmates, Foley seems the most capable of balancing his life and work -- he even lives off-campus: "Capitol Hill is too claustrophobic."

"Where do you live?"

"The Watergate."

"The Watergate!" I repeat, relishing the chill I get when it rolls off my tongue.

Foley raves about the conveniences of the Watergate: the Safeway, the Chinese take-out, the dry cleaner, the wine selection. He admits that long days often end with loneliness, so far from home and close friends. Eager to start entertaining again, he's looking for an apartment with a fireplace where he can host dinner parties.

Pick me up off the floor.

"But what's fun about the Watergate is the star-studded group there," he continues. "Bob and Elizabeth Dole, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Caspar Weinberger."

My chest tightens, I must get Sophie into obedience classes. Mid-dinner party I can see her tugging on Dole's suit cuff, leaping up and tearing Bader Ginsburg's pantyhose.

Beep-beep-beep-beep-beep. Again, the blasted beeper. He helps me into my coat and offers a warm handshake.

"Thank you, Congressman."

"Mark. Call me Mark."
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