The House Ethics Committee is reviewing allegations that New York Rep. Eric Massa sexually harassed a male member of his staff, Fox News has learned
Massa, after announcing Wednesday that he would not seek re-election because of a cancer recurrence, beat back reports on blogs and in other media outlets suggesting that charges of sexually harassing a male staffer were behind his decision.
"The allegations are totally false. I am a salty old sailor," Massa, a Democratic freshman congressman, said at a news conference. "These are blogs that are saying that I am leaving because of charges of harassing my staff. Do and have I used salty language? Yes, and I have tried to do better."
He called the blogs "a symptom of the problem in this city."
"I no longer have the life's energy to fight every battle.," he said. "I make this decision based on being a cancer survivor who, following the advice of my doctors in Washington and New York, cannot and will not prevent others from serving in the Congress that I hold in such great esteem."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said he was aware of the sexual harassment allegations.
Fox has learned that a member of Massa's staff went to a member of Hoyer's staff the week of February 8 to inform them of the allegations. Hoyer's staff then informed the majority leader. In turn, Hoyer told Massa's staff that the issue needed to be presented to the Ethics Committee "within 48 hours" or Hoyer would make the referral himself.
"I had some indication, yes," Hoyer told Fox News. "But I don't want to go beyond that. And my presumption is it will be dealt with in the course of business."
When speaking about Massa, Hoyer even invoked the case of former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., who resigned in disgrace just before the 2006 midterm elections following revelations that he was sending inappropriate electronic messages to teenage, male House pages.
"I don’t think it helps anybody in the instruction -- anyone of us on either side of the aisle. It certainly didn’t help Mr. Foley," Hoyer said. "And that’s why it’s so important that each of us conducts ourselves in a way that won't bring discredit on the institution."
Massa was stricken with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1996. He underwent aggressive treatment and stayed on as an aide to retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, a presidential candidate in 2004.
Massa said he experienced his third major cancer recurrence in December but only told his family.
"It was a very intense and personal experience, especially in light of having gone through this before," he said.
"I am a direct, salty guy who runs 100 miles per hour and my doctors have now clearly told me that I can no longer do that," he said.
The New York Democrat was facing a tough race in a district that flipped from Republican to Democrat in 2008. Massa defeated incumbent Republican Randy Kuhl in a district that has been dominated by Republicans since the Civil War.
Massa is the 16th House Democrat to retire. Nineteen House Republicans are stepping down at the end of this Congress.
Fox News' Chad Pergram, Jessica Weinstein and The Associated Press contributed to this report.