Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) will resign Monday at 5 pm amid allegations that that he sexually harassed a male staffer.
Massa denied the allegation Wednesday, saying he planned to retire after only one term because of a recurrence of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“The allegations are totally false. I am a salty old sailor,” Massa said at the time. “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’s the son of a Naval officer and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1981. Before coming to Washington, Massa served as a top aide to former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark.
But Friday afternoon, Massa decided to step down, describing himself in a statement as a “deeply flawed and imperfect person.”
And Massa pinned his resignation on the use of a sharp tongue in the workplace.
“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.
He added that an aide “believed I had made statements that made him feel ‘uncomfortable.’”
The office of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) indicated Wednesday that the leader became aware of allegations surrounding Massa in early February. A Massa aide brought the accusations to the attention to a member of Hoyer’s staff who then told the leader.
Hoyer in turn told Massa’s staff to report the issue to the House Ethics Committee within 48 hours or he would do it.
FOX confirmed Wednesday that the ethics panel was investigating Massa. The committee published a formal statement Thursday signaling that the New York Democrat was under review.
In a brief comments on Wednesday, Hoyer would not characterize the specific nature of the allegations involving Massa. But without prompting, Hoyer invoked former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL). Foley resigned in disgrace in 2006 after it came to light that he was sending inappropriate electronic messages to teenage, male House pages
“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 at the time. “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.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Thursday that she was only aware of what she called “a one, two, three person rumor that had been reported to Mr. Hoyer’s office.” The speaker said she spoke with Massa Wednesday and said her office never received any notification about the allegations.
“This is rumor city,” Pelosi said. “Every single day there are rumors. I have a job to do and not to be the receiver of rumors.”
Massa said that his “difficulties are of my own making. Period.” He went on to call Washington, DC an “incredibility toxic atmosphere.” And Massa invoked the specter of former Clinton Administration Aide Vincent Foster who committed suicide in 1993. In his statement, Massa said that the destruction of leaders in Washington has “become a blood sport” and noted that “an ethics investigation would tear my family and my staff apart.”
Blood Sport is the title of a 1996 book by James B. Stewart that unravels Foster’s strange suicide in a Virginia park just outside Washington, DC.
With Massa’s Monday resignation, he becomes the third House Democrat to step aside this year before their terms expired. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) resigned in January to head a Middle East think tank. Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) stepped down earlier this week to run for governor of Hawaii.
Massa faced a re-election campaign this fall. In 2008, he flipped his upstate New York seat in 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 was one of 39 House Democrats who voted against the comprehensive health care reform bill in early November. He was not present for votes in the House on Thursday.
Once Massa’s resignation is effective Monday, the House will have 431 members, with four vacancies. Democrats will still retain a 253-178 edge over Republicans.