Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Massa Massacre

My friend Maurice asked me today whether I would write a column on Eric J.J. Massa, the Democratic congressman from New York who resigned for ... for...for gosh knows how many reasons.

"Dunno," I said. "Why kick a guy when he's down."

Maurice and I both saw Massa corkscrew himself deeper and deeper in his final television tour with Glenn Beck and Larry King. It may have been great theater but I couldn't help feel sorry for the guy.

It got me to thinking. How in the world can a man that confused with his internal self ever be elected to national office. It seems he said the right things, knew the right general and ran in the right district at the right time.

The 29th Congressional District in upstate New York has a population of 650,000 of which 94% are white, according to the 2000 census.

Massa ended his Navy career of 24 years prematurely after being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer he survived. During that span, one of his assignments was personal aide to former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Wesley Clark. After his discharge one of the jobs he took was working for a Republican congressional committee in the nation's capital.

On his 2006 and 2008 congressional campaign Web sites, Massa said he quit the Republican Party in protest of the Iraq war and helped Clark, his former boss, campaign for president in the 2004 primaries in New Hampshire.

His 2006 effort was unsuccessful but he won the district by a 51-49 margin in the 2008 race over the two-term incumbent Republican. In both races, his platform was simple -- anti-Iraq war, universal health care, unrestricted free trade, expansion of farming programs and a demand of Homeland Security funds to help the 29th.

It was during the 2006 campaign that a red flag was raised over Massa's conduct. Joshua Green, senior editor of The Atlantic, said he received a call from, Sanford Dickert, who was the candidate's campaign manager.

Dickert claimed Massa had fired him and refused to pay him for work he'd done on Massa's unsuccessful 2006 run for Congress. Massa, he said, had retaliated by issuing a series of salacious charges against him, which Dickert denied, including that he had hired, and then given alcohol to, underage staffers, and also that he had made a pass at Massa's teenage son.

Following his joining Congress in 2009, the Republican Swing State Project targeted Massa along with 69 other House Democrats for the 2010 midterm races. Massa was one of numerous Democrats facing angry town hall voters on health reform legislation last August. Here is a partial transcript as reported by the Washington Times:

MASSA: I’m not going to vote for (House health care bill) 3200 as it’s currently written.  Step one, I will vote for a single payer option or a bill that does have a Medicare coupled public option, which we don’t have right now.  If my town hall meetings turn into the same media frenzies and ridiculousness, because every time that happens we lose. We lose another three million people in America.  They see that happening and negate us.

After several exchanges with the audience:

MASSA: So what happens in my town hall meetings frankly is important, because I am in one of the most right wing Republican districts in the country, and I’m not asking you guys to go back to wherever and send people to me. 
PARTICIPANT: Even if it meant you were being voted out of office?

MASSA: I will vote adamantly against the interests of my district if I actually think what I am doing is going to be helpful.

Massa not only stuck to his guns but because of it he claimed party leaders were out to get him. Among the incidents he cited was Obama Chief of Staff Rahn Emmanel berating him while both were naked in the Congressional gym shower locker.

The hammer fell when Massa, now 50, became the subject of an investigation by the House Ethics Committee on charges he groped three young male staffers. He eventually resigned and immediately embarked on a 24-hour media binge in which he used his Navy career as an example of the acceptance of groping other men. 
Hearing that, Joshua Green with the Dickert incident in mind called his former shipmates. Here's just one incident written for Atlantic:

According to Peter Clarke, a Navy shipmate, Massa was notorious for making unwanted advances toward subordinates. He tells the story of his friend Stuart Borsch, with whom Massa shared a hotel room while on leave during the first Gulf War. "Stuart's at the edge of the bed," Clarke says Borsch told him at the time, "and [Massa] starts massaging him. Massa said, 'You'll have to get one of my special massages.' He called them 'Massa Massages.'"

In all cases, the shipmates did not report the incidents because of fear of retaliation. "He was a cocky guy, competent, but he saw himself as a future admiral," Green quoted one of the officers.

On the Wikipedia Web site of the 29th District, Massa lives in Corning, New York with his wife Beverly, daughter Alexandra and son Justin. His eldest son Richard lives in California.



Congress with its 435 members in the House and 100 in the Senate is said to be a microcosm of American demographics. Eric J.J. Massa is one of those aberrant soles who slip through the cracks. We note from Joshua Green's article several of his former shipmates upon learning he was running for Congress considered but rejected blowing the whistle on their former commander. I admire the man for sticking to his principles for a single-payer, or, at least, a public option, on the health reform bills and telling his constituents in person they can stuff it. Meanwhile, his self-imposed position of authority allowed him to sexually grope his male subordinates which doesn't speak highly of the political climate in the ranks of the naval officers both in the Academy and aboard his ships. The man needs to turn himself into a mental health facility.

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