ORLANDO, Fla. – Disgraced former Rep. Mark Foley sought treatment for alcoholism and "other behavioral problems" as Republicans on Monday picked a new candidate to salvage the seat Foley abandoned after disclosure of lurid online messages he exchanged with teenage boys.
State party leaders chose state Rep. Joe Negron to replace Foley in next month's election. Negron will receive votes cast for Foley, although Foley's name will remain on the ballot in the West Palm Beach district, which is largely Republican.
"My job beginning immediately is to get word out to all these absentee voters and to everyone else in this race that you are not voting for Mark Foley. You are voting for the Republican nominee, and I'm not Mark Foley," Negron said. "I think it's something that can be done."
Foley resigned Friday after reports surfaced that he sent sexually explicit e-mails and instant messages to male teenage pages. He quickly went into seclusion and released a statement that he was seeking treatment.
"Painfully, the events that led to my resignation have crystalized recognition of my long-standing significant alcohol and emotional difficulties," he said. "I strongly believe that I am an alcoholic and have accepted the need for immediate treatment for alcoholism and other behavioral problems."
He added: "I deeply regret and accept full responsibility for the harm I have caused."
Foley's attorney, David Roth, said Monday that his client checked into a treatment center Sunday night, but he would not identify the facility. Roth said Foley would be remain at the center for at least 30 days.
"He is emotionally devastated. He feels he let everyone down — his constituents, his family, his loved ones, his party and the people he hurt," Roth said. "I hope and pray that we all can remember the dedicated public servant that Mark was."
Roth also told CNN that Foley is "absolutely positively not a pedophile" and "has never ever had an inappropriate sexual contact with a minor in his life."
The FBI is investigating Foley's e-mails, as is the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Foley, who is 52 and single, could be found to have violated a law that he helped write as co-chairman of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert said Monday that GOP leaders did not see Foley's Internet exchanges and that he would have demanded Foley's expulsion if he had known about them. "As a parent and speaker of the House, I am disgusted," Hastert, R-Ill., told reporters in Washington.
The scandal suddenly put Foley's seat up for grabs as Democrats seek a net gain of 15 Republican seats to retake power in the House. Foley, who had represented the district for 12 years, was regarded as a shoo-in for re-election before his resignation. His name was to remain on the Nov. 7 ballot because the deadline had passed for revising the ballots.
At least one prominent Florida Republican expressed pessimism about holding onto the seat.
"It's a death sentence ... mission impossible," said former state Republican Party Chairman Tom Slade. "The only way you win is they (voters) have got to vote for Mark Foley. That doesn't appear to me to be very attractive."
But state party spokesman Jeff Sadosky said the seat is too important to surrender. "It's not going to be about yesterday's news no matter how tragic and horrifying," he said.
Negron, standing beside a 10th grade son and 8th grade daughter, became choked up when talking about Foley's actions.
"I've had pages work in my office for years. I've seen pages go to Washington. I've seen the incredible opportunity that is," Negron said, his voice trailing off. He then put his hand over his face and struggled to continue talking.
"It was very disturbing because I work with these young people," he said.
The Democratic nominee is Tim Mahoney, a former Republican and financial adviser. He said Monday that his campaign would largely remain unchanged.
"When people meet me and people know me, whether they're Democrats or Republicans, they get on board," he said. "They know that when I'm in Washington D.C., I'll be no nonsense and it's all going to be about results."
Negron, an attorney who turns 45 next week, joined in the call to investigate who knew about the e-mails and when. Democrats have suggested House leaders tried to cover them up for political reasons.
"We ought to investigate if people knew about inappropriate, criminal e-mails and didn't take appropriate action," he said. "If that happened, they need to be punished."