Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.), of the 29th Congressional District adjacent to the western border of Ithaca’s 22nd District, will resign from Congress today after reports circulated that he was being investigated for sexual harassment of a male staffer. This comes just days after he announced that he would not be seeking a second term in this November’s elections.
Massa released a statement Friday that addressed ethics issues, admitting he may have used language that made staffers feel uncomfortable but did not specify any harassment allegations.
“I own this reality. There is no doubt in my mind that I did, in fact, use language in the privacy of my own home and in my inner office that, after 24 years in the Navy, might make a Chief Petty Officer feel uncomfortable,” Massa said in the statment. “In fact, there is no doubt that this ethics issue is my fault and mine alone. But in the incredibly toxic atmosphere that is Washington D.C., with the destruction of our elected leaders having become a blood sport, especially in talk radio and on the internet, there is also no doubt that an ethics investigation would tear my family and my staff apart.”
Massa first confirmed reports to the media last Wednesday, when he decided not to seek reelection but announced no intention to resign, citing the need to slow down after the return of his long-fought cancer as his reason for not seeking reelection. He has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma since his days in the military, according to The Hill.
This controversy comes as a striking blow to the Cornell Democrats, who spent a substantial amount of time campaigning for Massa in fall of 2008. The Democrats made six trips to the neighboring district to canvas and knock on doors. Massa has also come to speak at the University a number of times.
“It certainly is [disheartening],” Dan Smith ‘10, vice president of the Cornell Democrats, said last week, before Massa announced he would resign in the wake of the ethics investigation. Smith took the helm of the organization’s campaign efforts in the 29th District. “We’re not clear exactly what happened, but especially if [the harassment allegation] turns out to be true, it’s definitely personally disappointing. We put a lot of effort into getting him elected,” Smith said.
This announcement of resignation follows complaints dating back to early February. House Majority leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) acknowledged that his staff had already been dealing with this issue.
A statement released by Hoyer said, “The week of February 8th, a member of Rep. Massa’s staff brought to the attention of Mr. Hoyer’s staff allegations of misconduct that had been made against Mr. Massa … Within 48 hours, Mr. Hoyer received confirmation from both the Ethics Committee staff and Mr. Massa’s staff that the Ethics Committee had been contacted and would review the allegations. Mr. Hoyer does not know whether the allegations are true or false, but wanted to ensure that the bipartisan committee charged with overseeing conduct of Members was immediately involved to determine the facts.”
Massa’s office did not return a request for comment last night.
Smith noted that Massa — who barely won his seat in what some observers say is the most conservative district in the state — has disappointed some Democrats with his voting pattern. Massa surprised many of his supporters when he became one of 39 Democrats in the House to vote against the health care bill, even though he had been a staunch supporter of single payer health care. According to The New York Times, Massa thought the bill did not put enough effort into minimizing costs.
“Some of his votes in Congress we weren’t too pleased with. He voted against the health care bill and Cap and Trade,” Smith said. “When campaigning for people, we can’t always anticipate what will happen in the future, but we are still proud of our efforts.”
Massa has been a controversial figure since he entered the House.
“He was a strong-willed person, which may have suited him well for in the military, but not so much for a politial career, where you need to find the middle of the road,” said Nathan Shinagawa ‘05 (D-4th District), Tompkins County legislator. “It was strange because he was a [Democratic] representative representing a Republican area. He was progressive on some things, but didn’t necessarily help the cause.”
Shinagawa thought Massa’s strong will may have been a detriment to him during his time in office, something Massa himself alluded to in his press conference on Wednesday, after he decided against running for a second term.
“When he speaks, he almost yells,” Shinagawa said. “People liked his energy. That was something he couldn’t turn off. … It makes you wonder if that would make you a good politician.”
Massa’s resignation represents a significant opportunity for Republicans to regain a seat in House of Representatives. A special election to fill the seat will be held this spring, but no date has yet been set.
It is not clear which Democrat will run in the special election, but Ithaca’s State Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton is rumored to be considering throwing her hat into the race, according to The Ithaca Journal.
“[The 29th District] was one of the places where the Republicans targeted, so it was going to be tough anyway, but it is definitely going to be tougher now that Massa is not running,” Smith said.
Smith added that the Democrats hope to continue canvassing in the 29th District in preparation for this November’s election. Whichever Democrat decides to run will face an uphill battle against popular Corning Mayor Tom Reed, the only Republican who has declared his candidacy for the seat.
Winning this race for the Democrats “is definitely going to be a scramble,” Shinagawa said.
Original Author: Ben Eisen