The Democrat who replaced disgraced Florida Rep. Mark Foley — running on a pledge to restore dignity to the office — now faces a jaw-dropping election-year sex scandal of his own.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is calling for an ethics committee probe into reports that Florida Rep. Tim Mahoney (D-Fla.) made a $121,000 payment to a former constituent caseworker on his staff with whom he reportedly had an affair.
Mahoney, 52, reached a settlement with onetime campaign volunteer Patricia Allen after their relationship ended, according to a person close to the first-term congressman.
Mahoney is scheduled to address the affair at a Florida news conference Tuesday — with his wife, Terry, by his side, according to Democratic aides.
The scandal could have repercussions far beyond the Sunshine State, where Mahoney ran under the slogan “Restoring America’s values begins at home.”
House Democrats flayed the GOP leadership for covering up Foley’s inappropriate behavior with pages two years ago — and Republicans are eager to return the favor. They were given ammunition yesterday when a pair of top Democrats — Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland — both admitted they had confronted Mahoney about his personal conduct before the scandal broke.
ABC News, which investigated the affair for weeks, reported early Monday that Mahoney paid Allen $61,000, plus $60,000 in legal fees, after she threatened to sue him for “sexual harassment” and “intimidation.”
The network also reported that Mahoney had secured for the 50-year-old single mother a two-year, $50,000-per-year job at his campaign’s communications firm, Fletcher Rowley Chao Riddle Inc., as part of the settlement.
In a statement released later Monday, company CEO Bill Fletcher denied knowledge of the arrangement and severed ties to Mahoney.
“FRCR Inc. has resigned from Tim Mahoney’s campaign and permanently ended our relationship with him,” Fletcher wrote in an e-mail. “According to ABC News, Tim Mahoney apparently included our company in a secret legal settlement without the knowledge of our firm. Our firm did not agree to any legal settlement. If these allegations are true, Tim Mahoney’s actions are unacceptable and not in line with FRCR’s business ethics.”
Mahoney refused to comment on the story, gave no indication he was planning to quit the race and called for an ethics committee investigation to vindicate himself.
“I was notified this afternoon about a story that ran on ABC News’ website reporting allegations about a former employee,” he said. “While these allegations are based on hearsay, I believe that my constituents need a full accounting. ... I am confident that when the facts are presented that I will be vindicated.”
Pelosi, in an e-mail sent a few minutes later, said she “had just learned today about the serious allegations” and called for the matter to be “immediately and thoroughly investigated by the House ethics committee.”
ABC, again citing Mahoney staffers, reported that Emanuel, a hard-charging Pelosi lieutenant, had been “working with Mahoney to keep the matter from hurting his reelection campaign.”
Emanuel’s staff quickly denied that account, saying that Emanuel had confronted Mahoney about allegations of an affair in early 2007 and had never discussed the matter with him in the context of the 2008 reelection campaign.
“Upon hearing a rumor, Congressman Emanuel confronted Congressman Mahoney, told him he was in public life and had a responsibility to act accordingly and appropriately, and urged him to do so. They had no further conversations on this topic,” sai an Emanuel spokeswoman.
Ironically, Emanuel also had advance word of the Foley scandal.
Mahoney’s colleagues and aides have privately expressed concern at the congressman’s personal conduct for months, according to House Democratic sources. Those concerns grew after an anonymous comment to a March 2008 Palm Beach Post gossip item hinted at an affair.
Earlier this year, Van Hollen — Emanuel’s successor at the DCCC — urged Mahoney to “come clean with constituents” after “a rumor surfaced on a blog about Mr. Mahoney’s affair,” according to Jennifer Crider, DCCC communications director.
Mahoney, a former businessman, has ruffled some feathers in his party since coming to Capitol Hill, often questioning party leaders and strategists in a biting tone, according to aides.
Still, the DCCC had already spent more than $430,000 to protect him this fall, according to Federal Election Commission filings. But the committee does not have time reserved this week or next and is not expected to spend any more money on the race.
Staffers interviewed Monday suggested the race is now Republican Tom Rooney’s to lose — just as the race in 2006 was Mahoney’s to lose once the Foley scandal broke.
The National Republican Congressional Committee blasted copies of the Mahoney story Monday shortly after it appeared on ABC’s website — and Rooney has planned a news conference on the story with NRCC Chairman Tom Cole in the district on Tuesday.
A poll conducted for Rooney in September showed Mahoney with a 48 percent to 41 percent lead.
Mahoney first met Allen at a campaign stop and later arranged for her to work as a volunteer on the campaign, according to ABC. She also appeared in a Mahoney campaign television commercial, criticizing his opponent.
Friends of Allen told ABC she sought to break off the affair when she learned Mahoney was allegedly involved in other extramarital relationships at the same time.
Her friends say she told them Mahoney threatened that ending the relationship could cost her the job.
“You work at my pleasure,” Mahoney told Allen on a Jan. 20, 2008, telephone call that was recorded and played for Mahoney staffers — who later provided it to the network.