House Speaker Jim Wright's top assistant resigned today, a week after a newspaper published the story of a woman whom he had beaten and left for dead 16 years ago.
"I wish I could rewrite the past, but unfortunately I can't," said John P. Mack, 35, who had the title of executive director of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee and served as Wright's chief legislative strategist.
Wright, in the midst of defending himself against charges of unethical behavior in his personal finances, accepted Mack's resignation "with sadness and regret." In a statement, the Speaker said he never regretted giving "this young man another chance."
In 1973, when he was 19, Mack was the manager of an imported household furnishings store in a Washington suburb when he attacked customer Pamela Small, a co-ed, with a hammer, stabbed and slashed her with a steak knife and left her for dead in the back seat of her car.
Doctors said it was a miracle that the woman recovered.
Mack was convicted of malicious wounding and served 27 months of a 15-year sentence. Mack was Wright's daughter's brother-in-law at the time, and the Speaker offered him a clerk's job upon his release.
Ordeal Told in Detail
Mack rose to become Wright's closest aide, as the Texas congressman climbed the House ranks to become Speaker in 1987.
Although Mack's record was known to many on Capitol Hill, and several articles had been written in recent years about the case, the story caused a great stir last week. The story about Mack came in the midst of Wright's battle against charges that he has repeatedly violated House ethics rules.
The Washington Post printed the victim's story with prominent display in its Style section. Pamela Small recounted the gruesome ordeal in great detail and said Mack had never apologized for the crime.
She also expressed resentment that he had attained such a high position in Congress although he is a convicted felon.
In his statement of resignation, released by Wright's office today, Mack said he is "and will always be full of remorse.
"To Pamela Small, and also to my family, all I can say now is what I have said many times before and to myself every day since this happened. And that is I am sorry. Truly sorry."
Mack said he had considered leaving the Speaker's office and his $89,500-a-year job since last December. "But now it's time to leave," he said.
Wright, in his statement, said he had hired Mack as a mail clerk on the recommendation of law enforcement officials and of his daughter, who had known Mack in high school. "I was told he had served some 27 months upon conviction of a crime but was not told the details of the crime," Wright said.
"My heart goes out to the young woman who was the victim of that crime so many years ago, and I wish there were something I might do to be of benefit to her," he said.
Mark Johnson, Wright's press secretary, said Mack told Wright of his decision late Wednesday.
"John just decided that he did not want to become an issue," Johnson said.