Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) denied Wednesday that he’s retiring from Congress amid allegations that he sexually harassed a Congressional aide.
“The allegations are totally false. I am a salty old sailor,” Massa said. “There 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.”
Massa contends he’s leaving after only one term because of health reasons. He previously suffered from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“This last December I underwent my third major cancer recurrence scare. I kept this private only to members of my immediate family. I did not tell my staff,” Massa said. “It was a very intense and personal experience especially in light of having gone through this before.”
In a brief interaction with reporters, Massa took issue with the sexual harassment allegations, posted on the internet.
“These blogs are a symptom of the problem in this city. And I no longer have the life’s energy to fight every battle,” Massa said.
Word about Massa’s retirement and the sexual-harassment allegations punctuated what had already been a rough day for House Democrats. And specifically House Democrats from New York. Earlier Wednesday, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) announced he was stepping aside as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee due to an ethics probe.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said he was aware of the sexual harassment allegations swirling around Massa beforehand.
“I’ve had some indication, yes,” said Hoyer. “But I don’t want to go beyond that. And my presumption (is) it's being pursued in the course of business.”
When speaking about Massa, Hoyer even invoked the specter of former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) who resigned in disgrace after it came to light that he was sending inappropriate electronic messages to teenage, male House pages.
Foley resigned just before the 2006 midterm elections.
"I don’t think it helps anybody in the institution---- 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."
Regardless, Massa expected a tough re-election campaign this fall. Massa flipped his upstate New York seat in 2008 from Republican to Democratic by upending former Rep. Randy Kuhl (R-NY) by about 5,000 votes. He nearly toppled Kuhl in 2006.Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) edged out President Obama in that district in the 2008 presidential election. But President Bush won by a 14 point margin six years ago.
Massa is the 16th House Democrat to retire. Nineteen House Republicans are stepping down at the end of this Congress.