Rep. Roy Dyson (D-Md.) said Wednesday his former top aide killed himself because a newspaper story unfairly "smeared" his reputation by describing his unorthodox relations with young male members of Dyson's office staff.
Emerging from two days of seclusion after the death of Thomas M. Pappas, Dyson denied that either he or Pappas was a homosexual and praised his former administrative assistant as "a man of integrity."
Pappas, 46, apparently jumped out of a hotel window Sunday in New York after learning about a front-page story in the Washington Post that said he had demanded that young men on the staff avoid dating and often insisted that they have dinner and drinks with him.
Stayed at Same Hotel
Dyson, who was registered at the same luxury hotel over the weekend, said the trip was partly paid for by a defense contractor, the Unisys Corp., which also provided them with tickets to the hit musical "Phantom of the Opera."
The 39-year-old Democrat said he visited a defense plant and received a briefing during the trip that ended with Pappas' death.
Only hours before his death, Dyson said, Pappas had appeared to be in an optimistic mood, confident that the questions raised by the story could be answered successfully.
Dyson refused, however, to answer questions about charges under investigation by the Federal Election Commission that Pappas' private business had received more than $119,000 from Dyson's campaign funds since 1980 or that Pappas had received more than $6,000 from salaries supposedly paid to other campaign workers.
Dyson said his attorneys advised him not to speak about the case, brought by Republican Party officials, and he said that he intended to seek reelection to a fifth House term despite the investigation. He named a new campaign manager--Christopher Robinson, a 33-year-old staff aide--to replace Pappas in that role.
"No one is better on the campaign than Roy Dyson," he said. "We're ready to go. We're hot."
Dyson, who is unmarried, showed virtually no emotion during most of the 45-minute news conference held in the auditorium of the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative in this tiny town about 35 miles southeast of Washington.
Speaking of Pappas' death, however, his voice broke and his eyes seemed to glisten. "Tom and I were very good friends. . . . He was like a brother," Dyson said. "I don't have ice water in my veins. I was upset."
Dyson avoided reporters for two days, missing a series of House floor votes, but he said he was busy taking care of details surrounding the death of Pappas and the naming of a successor to Pappas as chief of staff. He said that he had appointed Katie Tucker, 29, his former press aide, to that position.
'Knew Damage Was Done'
Asked why his political mentor and friend of 20 years had taken his own life, Dyson said: "He saw his reputation almost smeared. . . . He knew the damage was done."
Yet hours before his fatal plunge, Pappas "seemed to be holding up very well," the congressman added. He denied that the Post story was true.
Asked about an allegation in the Post article that Pappas had asked a male staff member to perform a striptease at an all-male retreat in rural Virginia, Dyson was vague in his reply. "I did not remember it," he said. "I asked someone, and they told me I was asleep at the time."