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Congressman Accused of Harassing Male Aide to Retire

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Mar 4, 2010
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A Democratic congressman from New York who has been accused of harassing a male aide has announced that he will not seek reelection, reported Politico in a March 3 article.

Rep. Eric Massa--a married Navy veteran with two children--cited health concerns as the reason he is stepping down after only a single term, saying his doctor had told him to slow down. "I’m a very salty guy, I’m a very direct guy, and I run at about 100 miles per hour. And my doctors have made it clear to me that I can no longer do that," Massa said. The congressman was hospitalized late last year in what he called a "third major cancer reoccurrence scare" following an earlier bout of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

"I will now enter the final phase of my life at a more controlled pace," Massa announced at a brief media teleconference on March 3. His retirement means he will not face an aggressive challenge by Republicans, who had lined up a challenger for the upcoming midterm elections.

"The allegations are totally false. I am a salty old sailor," a March 3 Fox News.com article reported Massa saying. "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 announcement brings to sixteen the number of House of Representatives seats that Democrats are leaving. New York’s Democratic governor, David Paterson, has also announced that he will not run for re-election. Nineteen Republican House members will also be retiring, but whereas eleven of seats being vacated by Democrats face stiff competition from GOP challengers, most of the seats currently occupied by retiring Republicans are viewed as likely to remain with the GOP.

In a statement, the office of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer recounted, "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."

The statement continued, "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."

Hoyer told Politico that the allegations would probably not affect the outcome of the race, which involves a seat that has traditionally been Republican. Hoyer referenced a sex scandal in 2006 that preceded the retirement of Florida Republican Rep. Mark Foley, saying that such allegations don’t give a boost to "anybody in the institution, any one of us on either side of the aisle." However, added Hoyer, "When there were allegations about Mr. Foley or others, I think the institution suffers. 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."

The New York Times noted in a March 3 article that Republicans had known about alleged sexual text messaging between Foley and a male page in his teens, but had kept it quiet. Hoyer was quick to respond and react to the allegations of harassment brought by Massa’s unidentified staffer. None of the media stories had substantiated claims that the alleged harassment was sexual in nature, though the Politico article characterized the harassment as consisting of "unwanted advances."

A March 4 Associated Press article reported that while women remain far in the majority of those who report sexual harassment in the workplace, more men are now coming forward to report such experiences.

Update: A blogger named Bob Lonsberry claims he knew of Massa’s "problem" (his term) for over three years.

"During his Navy career, Eric Massa allegedly touched at least two men inappropriately and may have exhibited a pattern of putting himself in situations where he would see men naked - particularly younger and lower-ranked men," Lonsberry wrote. "These allegations come from general shipboard understandings and conversations, and were relayed to me by shipmates of Eric Massa."

He goes on to describe a shore leave in which Massa arranged for only one bed in a hotel and allegedly came onto a fellow officer. The same lieutenant, Lonsberry wrote, awoke one night to find Massa’s hand in his shorts. And another lieutenant reported the same behavior.

Neither officer, however, made any formal complaint. Lonsberry also alleges that Massa insisted on using junior officers’ shower instead of his own, even though it was inconvenient for him.

None of the officers making the allegations wanted their names used, according to Lonsberry.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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