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Foley, Hastert, and us

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Urban journal

As awful as it is, the way Congressional Republicans dealt with the early news about Mark Foley isn't surprising.

The sexual abuse of children has been so widely publicized, so frequently talked about, that the mere hint of a problem should set off an alarm. But the stories continue. Confronted with the possibility that a priest, a father, a member of Congress has abused a child, the tendency is to embrace the easiest, most palatable option --- that the accusation isn't true --- rather than press for the facts, no matter how uncomfortable.

Some Democrats are charging that House Speaker Dennis Hastert, New York's Tom Reynolds, and others engaged in a cover-up, that they failed to act because action might cost them Foley's seat in a year and embarrass the party.

The truth may be much less sinister, and much more troubling: that everyone who talked to Foley simply accepted his word. The truth may be that even after all the research on child abuse, we can't accept its existence. Not among people we know.

Clearly, as the Mark Foley story shows, there's a lot to learn about our own response to the threat of abuse as well.

From Foley to homophobia

Leave it to the Wall Street Journal's editorial writers to take the Foley story and go on a gay-bashing orgy.

Predictably, when Democrats took aim at Hastert, the Journal leapt to his defense --- and then huffed that the whole thing is due to society's tolerance of homosexuality.

Foley, the Journal said last week as the fallout mounted, "was well known as a homosexual."

"In today's politically correct culture," said the Journal, "it's easy to understand how senior Republicans might well have decided they had no grounds to doubt Mr. Foley merely because he was gay and a little too friendly in e-mails. Some of those liberals now shouting the loudest for Mr. Hastert's head are the same voices who tell us that the larger society must be tolerant of private lifestyle choices, and certainly must never leap to conclusions about gay men and young boys."

Sure, said the Journal, Republican leaders should have "quarantined" Foley after they learned about the e-mails. "But if that's the standard," said the Journal, "we should all admit we are returning to a rule of conduct that our cultural elite long ago abandoned as intolerant."

Maybe, while the Republican leadership is getting up to speed on the subject of the sexual abuse of children, the editorial writers at the Journal can get acquainted with a few gays and lesbians. That might help them start chipping away at their shell of homophobia.

Ferry's problems aren't like Water Authority's

Local Republicans have been trying to divert attention away from the Water Authority scandal by linking it to the problems of Rochester's ferry --- which, of course, played out on local Democrats' watch. The ferry service was taken over by a Democratic mayor and a totally Democratic City Council. The ferry's oversight board consisted entirely of Democratic City Councilmembers and City Hall officials appointed by the mayor.

I continue to believe that the ferry was a good idea, that the risk the Johnson administration took was worth taking. That said, I've also had plenty of criticism about the way the Johnson administration handled the ferry. But in no way is that comparable to the Water Authority scandal.

There has been no suggestion that anyone in the Johnson administration personally benefited from the ferry. On the other hand, a Republican --- former Republican Party Chair John Stanwix --- most certainly did benefit from the Water Authority operations. And the people who provided those benefits were two prominent Republicans: Tom Mooney (who was at that time head of the Chamber of Commerce) and Peter Formicola, a Republican donor and a beneficiary of county contracts.

The Water Authority board is supposed to be a bipartisan body. Republicans have gotten around that inconvenient little requirement by naming two Conservatives to the board. In the wake of the scandal, Democrats in the CountyLegislature have insisted that those two seats should go to Democrats. Of course they should, and there's no earthly reason why the Republicans won't make that change except power and secrecy. So the Republicans are playing cute with that issue, too. If the Water Authority Board should have Dems on it, they say, then the city's ferry board should include some Republicans.

You betcha.

If I were the mayor, I'd pick up the phone right now and call Maggie Brooks and ask her to send over some names.

I don't hold out any hope that that would lead to a bipartisan Water Authority board, though. Once the ferry leaves the harbor, the ferry board'll go out of existence. Not exactly an even swap.

And anyway, the Republicans aren't interested in serving on the ferry board. Nor are they losing sleep over any of the Democrats' pleadings. What probably is causing concern is what's coming next from the state comptroller's office: a report on the Water Authority's contracts and possible conflicts of interest.

If that report is as damning as the one about Stanwix's benefits, there'll be nobody on the hot seat except Republicans. There wasn't a Democrat in sight when the Water Authority board approved its contracts.

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