A Scent of Scandal

Freshman Democratic Rep. Eric Massa announces retirement for health reasons amid reports of sexual harassment, ''allegations of misconduct''

Rep. Eric J.J. Massa (D-N.Y.) told reporters this afternoon that health problems – and not reports of sexual harassment allegations – were keeping him from a second term in Congress. Massa appears to face significant questions in coming days, however, as Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) released a statement Wednesday night saying that his staff had received ”allegations of misconduct” that have since been relayed to the bipartisan House Ethics Committee.

Massa spoke to reporters this afternoon without taking questions after Politico reported allegations that Massa ”sexually harassed a male staffer.”

Massa, who is married to a woman, read a prepared statement to the nearly 20 reporters and videographers who gathered outside his office in the Longworth House Office Building on Wednesday afternoon.

Telling reporters that he ”underwent [his] third major cancer recurrence scare” this past December, Massa said, ”I am a direct, salty guy who runs at 100 miles per hour, and my doctors have now clearly told me that I can no longer do that.

”It is only fair and right that I announce that I will not run again in time for others to consider a run for this office,” he said. ”I will now enter a final phase of my life at a more controlled pace.”

Raising the allegations that had led the reporters to his office, Massa said, ”There are blogs that are saying that I am leaving because of charges of harassing my staff.

”Do I and have I used salty language? Yes, and I have tried to do better,” he said. ”But these blogs are a symptom of the problem in this city and I no longer have the life’s energy to fight every battle.” Without denying the allegations, Massa left the reporters.

Shortly after the press conference, when asked directly by a Metro Weekly reporter whether he denied the allegations that he sexually harassed a male staffer, Massa refused to comment.

Politico reports that ”Massa told POLITICO early Wednesday afternoon that no one has brought allegations of misconduct to him,” and in response to a question about the sexual harassment allegations, reports that he said, ”When someone makes a decision to leave Congress, everybody says everything. I have health issues. I’ll talk about it [later].”

While stating that he does not know if the allegations are true or false, Hoyer’s statement makes clear that the issue was brought front and center to the majority leader, even if not to Massa himself:

”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. Mr. Hoyer’s staff immediately informed him of what they had been told. Mr. Hoyer instructed his staff that if Mr. Massa or his staff did not bring the matter to the attention of the bipartisan Ethics Committee within 48 hours, Mr. Hoyer would do so. 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.”

Massa is a retired Naval commander who served in the first Gulf War and won his seat in Congress representing the 29th District in New York as the first Democrat to do so in decades. He was endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign in his 2008 run.

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