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Staff of GOP Defector Resigns

July 19, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Angry aides to New York Rep. Michael Forbes resigned en masse today, two days after he abruptly switched from the Republican to Democratic Party and accused the GOP of becoming ``a captive of extremists.″

Nearly a dozen members of his staff entered the lawmaker’s locked office today in the Cannon House Office Building and dropped off their keys, identification tags and letters of resignation. Reporters were notified of the event by the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House campaign arm of the GOP.

``As a good Republican, I can’t for the life of me fathom why he’d make this move,″ said Brian Fauls, Forbes’ legislative director and aide to the congressman since his arrival in Congress in 1995.

Fauls and others said six full-time aides and four interns were resigning from Forbes’ Washington office. Only chief of staff Jan Friis was considering remaining, they said.

Among them was legislative assistant Robert Lawrence, who began working for Forbes on July 9.

``By wantonly turning your back on the convictions and ideas that define a successful Republican, you have seriously damaged your ability to inspire and irreparably flawed the credibility that is a public official’s most important asset,″ Lawrence wrote in his letter of resignation.

Forbes’ entire six-person staff in his office in Shirley, N.Y., on eastern Long Island, was also quitting, aides said.

Fauls and others said Forbes informed some of them of his decision by telephone Friday evening, telling them it was ``nothing personal,″ said executive assistant Jeff LaCourse.

Other Washington aides received telephone calls over the weekend, while Forbes invited his Long Island staff to his Quogue, N.Y., home Friday evening to tell them.

That day was Forbes’ 47th birthday. Just hours earlier, the Washington aides said, they had presented him with a birthday cake and a gift of a stained-glass window depicting a lighthouse _ emblematic of the district’s famous Montauk Point lighthouse.

Aides said they suspected Forbes was considering switching parties when he had dinner earlier this year with House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., and several sessions with New York Democratic Reps. Elliot Engle and Gary Ackerman.

But they said they did not think he would do anything until after the 2000 elections, when Democrats have a chance to capture a House majority.

Forbes did not immediately return a message left for him at Gephardt’s office.

Forbes has been a member of the Appropriations Committee, and Democratic officials were laboring to find a way to keep his seat on the panel. That would require a current Democratic member to take a leave from the committee, and it was not clear whether that could be worked out.

A seat on the Appropriations Committee is highly prized, given the panel’s enormous influence over spending for federal agencies.

Separately, Democrats were hoping to spare Forbes any primary challenge in November 2000. Republicans were eager to line up the strongest possible challenger.