They were the ones who got hurt the most.
They watched admiringly as their hero climbed the political ladder. They gave him pats on the back, hugged him and sent roses to his office in Washington. One group even created a fan club because they believed he could do no wrong.
Now, they refer to Mark Foley in the past tense.
“He hurt a lot of us, people who believed in him and trusted him,” said Betty Smith of Stuart, who started the “Foley’s Fillies” fan club in honor of the former congressman. “But, with time, as the months went on, I got over the shock, and I got over the anger with him.”
One year after the scandal that shook Washington and the Treasure Coast, some people are stuck with difficult memories, while others seem more willing to move on.
“Foley’s name just doesn’t come up in conversation,” said Lee Weberman, the Martin County Commissioner who once referred to Foley as his “hero.”
Weberman was among those shaken last September when word spread through the community — and the country — that the six-term congressman had resigned after sending a string of elicit online messages to male teenage congressional pages. Foley’s supporters went through a surge of emotions.
“What he did, that kind of thing is unforgivable,” Weberman said. “When you mess with children… it’s not forgivable.”
But others are more sympathetic.
Looking back at Foley’s time in Congress, Joe Catrambone, president of the Martin County Chamber of Commerce, said he remembers the congressman’s “exceptional” work in Washington and his support for local beaches, estuaries and for the arts.
“We were all obviously devastated (by the scandal),” Catrambone said. “But whatever transpired, it wouldn’t change what he did for our community. He did a great job in Washington and served us well.”
Catrambone, like other one-time Foley supporters, said he harbors no ill will.
“Of course not,” he said. “If I saw him, I would shake his hand and tell him how good it was to see him.”
Smith said she remembers Foley as a good politician and a good man.
“I would like to see him and tell him how sorry I am,” she said.
“What a shame,” she added. “What a shame.”
Even today, after everything that has surfaced, some supporters remain loyal.
“People never talk about the good he’s done for people,” said Julia Sisilli, 82, of Port St. Lucie, who once contacted Foley’s district office for help attaining documents for her family. “I’m sure like me, he’s helped dozens and many other people.
“I can never speak badly of him ’til the day I die,” Sisilli said. “If he were to run again, by golly, I’d be right in there helping.”
Joe Negron, the state representative who was tapped as a last-minute ballot replacement after Foley resigned from office said it’s too early to tell if people have forgiven Foley for his actions.
“There was an extraordinary trauma that occurred in this congressional district, and I think it’s going to take more than a year to have any perspective on it,” Negron said. “As a member of Congress, he knew thousands of people and thousands of contributors and they had a right to expect a certain conduct from a congressman.”
But some of those closest to Foley, his former congressional staffers, have started to make peace with the man who cost them their jobs. At a Martin County Commission meeting, Ann Decker, who ran Foley’s district office in Port St. Lucie, said she had a “wonderful 12 years” working for the congressman.
“He treated me greater than — next to my husband — any human being could have treated me,” she told the audience at the meeting. “He was a colleague. He was a friend. He was responsible. He was responsive. He was on time, and you could count on him. And I know that we all miss him dearly.”
(E-mail Amie Parnes at parnesa(at)shns.com)