In the wake of last week’s congressional sex scandal, the GW community is garnering national attention through its ties with Capitol Hill.
ABC News released several e-mails Sept. 28 between Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) and pages working in the House of Representatives. Former pages soon provided ABC with more sexually explicit e-mails and instant messages, and Foley resigned after being questioned by ABC News Sept. 29. The event sparked debate over the necessity of the page program and the integrity of representatives like Foley, who was co-chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children.
As government and media agencies now begin to investigate the incident, many former pages and interns at GW have found themselves at the forefront of the national interest in the scandal.
Senior Luke Moses, a former page, interviewed with CNN, Court TV, Time Magazine and the Sarasota Herald Tribune regarding the page program.
“You can have an appropriate, fulfilling relationship with a member of Congress if you’re their page,” said Moses, who added that he still keeps in touch with Cynthia McKinney, a former Democratic representative from Georgia.
“The only thing I remember hearing about Foley is that he was a big supporter of the page program and that he was in the closet,” Moses said. “And that was a pretty well-known secret.”
The New York Times reported Oct. 2 that Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) proposed to abolish the page program. Threats such as these have prompted many former pages at GW to go on national media programs in support of the program – stressing that Foley’s is an isolated incident.
Former page Kaity Funk, a sophomore, said although some former pages are reluctant to speak with the press, they are eager to defend the program.
“Everyone has been really firm about not talking to the press unless it’s about saving the program,” Funk said. “It has really proved how meaningful the program is, in that we’re willing to fight for it so that other people can have the same experience we had.”
Funk voiced her support for the program on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” Sunday morning, which had its first taping at GW Friday night.
Sophomore Jackie Winkelman, a former page, strongly opposes proposals to ax the page program. She spoke about the subject on a National Public Radio program Friday morning.
“To think that something so horrible is going to happen because of the inappropriate actions of one man is ridiculous,” said Winkelman, whose current and former roommates were pages before coming to GW. “I formed some of the closest friendships that I’ve ever made through that program.”
Law professor John Turley, who was a page in the late 1970s, said the program has had its faults but should continue.
In an op-ed published in the Oct. 4 issue of The New York Times, Turley said there were instances of inappropriate behavior in Congress in the 1970s and 80s.
He suggested the program could be saved if the House Page Board was made up of page alumni rather than members of Congress.
“If members are truly outraged, they will help us protect pages from predators in their own ranks,” Turley wrote. “Power and pedophilia are by no means inevitable allies, but it is ridiculous and reckless to ignore their historical relationship.”
Sophomore Sarah Kurusz, who was interning in Foley’s office until his resignation, said she answered phone calls at the office from people asking about Foley’s sexuality.
Kurusz, who was responsible for answering phone calls and handling constituent mail in Foley’s office, said she received a phone call Sept. 25 from a man wishing to speak with Foley’s press secretary. “All I know is that I gave him the call, and half an hour later the person in charge of the office came out and told us, ‘Don’t be scared of him, he might threaten you.'”
Kurusz said she heard discussion in the office that the caller was the author of a blog devoted to exposing homosexuals in Congress.
“By Friday, I was scared to go into work,” Kurusz said. “On Friday, when anyone called, I wasn’t allowed to speak about anything.”
After being at work for two hours on Friday, Kurusz said she was told she could go home early because it was going to be a quiet day. Foley, who was in Florida at the time, resigned soon after Kurusz left the office.
“I was stunned to see him on TV resigning,” Kurusz said. “I knew there was something going on, but I was completely in the dark about everything.”
Senior Jen Riedinger, an intern in Foley’s office in 2005, said she still has faith in the integrity of Capitol Hill despite her former boss’ actions.
“I would really like to go back and work on the Hill, even now,” Riedinger said. “Because I really think that there are good people on the Hill, and I think this is an isolated case of congressmen overstepping their line.”
-David Ceasar contributed to this report.