Rep. Eric Massa, a freshman Democrat from New York, announced Wednesday that he will leave Congress at the end of this term rather than run for re-election as planned.
In a call with reporters, the congressman said his decision was based on a third recurrence of cancer, and not on an ethics investigation, as was reported Wednesday.
Massa first received a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma while serving in the NATO force in Bosnia in 1996, but said in 2009 that he had fully recovered. On Wednesday, he said, “I am entering the final phase of my life.”
Hours before his announcement, Politico reported that the House ethics committee has been informed of allegations that Massa sexually harassed a male staffer, although the congressman told Politico reporters Wednesday he was unaware of that charge. On the call, the Navy veteran said that he had used “salty” language in his congressional office and blasted the speculation about his departure.
“Those kind of articles, unsubstantiated without fact or backing, are a symptom of what’s wrong with this city,” he said.
But Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Wednesday that House leadership had been informed of the allegations last month. Hoyer’s office released this statement:
“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. 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 has represented western New York’s 29th Congressional District just since 2009, but made himself known in Washington in that short time. He was one of 39 House Democrats to vote against health care reform because the bill was not liberal enough. He said at the time that he wanted to see a single-payer system.
Although he ousted a Republican incumbent in 2008, he was already considered vulnerable by fellow Democrats in his coming race against Republican Tom Reed, the mayor of Massa’s hometown, Corning, for the seat in New York’s most conservative House district.
Massa attended the Naval Academy and retired as a Naval commander after 24 years in the service. He worked as a staffer on the House Armed Services Committee, but his official Web site reports he was forced out of the office after he opposed the “failed pre-war planning” of the Iraq war. His Web site also notes that the congressman worked for a manufacturing company in Corning, but lost his job because of “unfair free trade agreements.”
With Massa’s retirement, the tally of departing House members now includes 15 outgoing Democrats and 19 retiring Republicans.