The congressional page scandal's proving the straw that breaks the elephant's back, and Congressman Jim Kolbe's got explaining to do

Kolbe told the national press that because he did not hear from the page again, he presumed the issue was resolved.

This is a very odd, very passive response from a congressman who was first elected following a bruising, vicious campaign in which he attacked the Democratic incumbent Jim McNulty as not strong enough on the child-sex-abuse front.

Following the kidnapping of a young Tucson child by a convicted sex offender, Kolbe's Democratic opponent co-sponsored legislation to help authorities track paroled convicts with sex-abuse records.

The House ethics committee's now targeted Jim Kolbe's behavior with congressional pages.
AP/Wide World Photos
The House ethics committee's now targeted Jim Kolbe's behavior with congressional pages.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (left), shown with Kolbe (third from left) at an unrelated press conference, has been accused of covering up for Foley.
AP/Wide World Photos
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (left), shown with Kolbe (third from left) at an unrelated press conference, has been accused of covering up for Foley.

Kolbe lashed out at Congressman McNulty: "The most cynically brazen, hypocritical thing a congressman could do . . . to attempt to take advantage of a tragic incident in the community."

Then married and in the closet, Kolbe declared, "The subject of crime and crimes against children is close to my heart and has been for a long time."

Kolbe said he supported the death penalty in such cases, unlike McNulty.

Perhaps Kolbe's tepid response to the Arizona page who found Foley's e-mails unsettling in 2000-2001 can be understood in an exchange in the Congressional Record that happened at approximately the same time.

"I am sure I speak for all the pages when I say that one of the favorite members is the gentleman from Florida [Foley], who never fails to stop by the page desk and inquire about the pages and spend a little time talking to them," Kolbe said on June 9, 2000.

Foley returned the air kiss.

"Let me pay back the compliment you have just given me," replied Foley. Then he praised Kolbe "for his dedication to the page program" after the scandal erupted.

This exchange, reported nationally, somehow never managed to find its way into the flaccid coverage of the page scandal by the Arizona Republic. Despite maintaining a bureau in the nation's capital, despite Kolbe's evolving role in the scandal, the local daily has virtually ignored the breaking coverage of the Washington Post, the New York Times, wire services . . . well, you get the picture.

The Republic, where Kolbe's brother was once the star political columnist before his death from cancer, did follow reports that Kolbe selected two 17-year-old pages to go on a government-sponsored camping trip at the Grand Canyon along with members of his office and even his sister. How could it not, since a legal file had been opened.

Although the pages did not complain about Kolbe's behavior, one witness said he was "creeped out by it," because of the congressman's "fawning, petting and touching" of the body of one of the teens.

On October 18, the Washington Post reported that Kolbe's behavior had become the target of the House ethics committee looking into the Foley scandal. In addition to the witness' complaint concerning the camping trip, Kolbe's actions with another page had been questioned — this time by the page himself. The page had come forward alleging that, when he was 16, he was "uncomfortable with a particular social encounter" with Kolbe involving physical contact.

Like a lot of scoundrels, Congressman Mark Foley, once exposed, immediately tucked into the Kennedy-heir fetal position, checked himself into rehab and declared himself an alcoholic.

Because the appalling Mark Foley is a diva who simply cannot get off the stage, he decided last week to identify the Catholic priest who molested him as a young altar boy decades ago.

Because Anthony Mercieca, 72, the appalling priest who molested Foley, is also a diva, he granted interviews to any news organization who could reach him on the previously unknown Maltese island of Gozo.

In short order, the various media interviewed Mercieca, who admitted that he and the young Foley skinny-dipped in a Florida lake. The priest gave Foley massages, and the two visited saunas naked.

"It's not something you call, I mean, rape or penetration or anything like that, you know. It was just fondling," explained the priest.

Of course, there is one evening the priest claims he cannot remember clearly.

"I had a nervous breakdown and was taking some pills and alcohol, and maybe I did something he didn't like," offered Mercieca in his own elderly fetal position.

I believe the priest when he claims the events he remembers weren't rape.

No, it was what child-abuse authorities call grooming.

We "loved each other like brothers," explained the clueless Mercieca.

By all accounts (including that of another altar boy who was in the same church in the mid-'60s with Mercieca and Foley), the priest was popular and interested in the teenage boys. He paid attention to them.

Mercieca spent a lot of time developing the friendship of the boys.

"He took us to the movies and would tell us to call him 'Tony.' He taught us to drive his '57 Chevy," the former altar boy told Florida's Sarasota Herald Tribune. "He taught us to drive a stick-shift in a light-blue Volkswagen, driving around the church parking lot."

In many ways, the relationship between the priest and the altar boys foreshadowed and mirrored the kind of relationship both Foley and Kolbe had with the pages in Congress.

The two congressmen were readily accessible to these high school pages who were always impressed that the representatives were actually paying attention to them, having them to dinner, shooting pool with them, writing letters of recommendation.

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