By Aaron Blake - 03/04/10 01:12 AM EST
Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) will retire after just one term in Congress, citing a recurrence of cancer.
Massa responded to reports that House ethics investigators are looking into allegations he sexually harassed staff, saying he used “salty language” with aides but that’s not the reason he’s retiring.
Massa, 50, said he recently underwent his third major cancer recurrence scare, in December. He had kept that news inside his family since then.
A 20-year Navy veteran who is married and has children, he was originally diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma while he served in the military.
“I’m a very salty guy and a very direct guy, and I run at about 100 miles per hour,” he said. “My doctors have made it clear to me that I can no longer do that.”
Massa became the ninth Democrat to retire without seeking another office, and all but one or two of those open seats are expected to be competitive.
Republicans, who have been reduced to holding just two of the 29 House seats in New York over the past two cycles, had placed Massa near the top of their target list.
He announced his decision on a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon.
On the call, he said reports he had sexually harassed staffers were unfounded and lacked context.
“There are blogs who are saying that I’m leaving because there are charges of harassment against my staff,” Massa said. “Do I or have I ever used salty language when I’m angry — especially in the privacy of my inner office or even at home? Yes, I have. And I have apologized to those where it’s appropriate.
“But those kind of articles, unsubstantiated without fact or backing, are a symptom of what’s wrong with this city.”
The conference call lasted about one minute, and Massa did not take questions from reporters.
Massa cited his experience with cancer as a reason he ran for Congress in the first place.
A former GOP aide to the House Armed Services Committee, Massa’s outspoken and brash style shone vividly in a documentary following his and three other Iraq veterans’ 2006 campaigns for Congress. Massa was known for clashing frequently with then-Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel.
After falling narrowly to Rep. Randy Kuhl (R-N.Y.) in that race, he edged him 51-49 in a 2008 rematch. But the district went 51-48 for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the presidential race, and Massa faced a potentially tough first reelection campaign against Corning Mayor Tom Reed (R).
Massa’s independent, “FDR Democrat” style made him a different kind of swing-district Democrat. For example, he is a fierce advocate for single-payer healthcare and isn’t afraid to talk about it. He opposed the current healthcare legislation because it didn’t include single-payer provisions.
Massa said on the conference call that he will now “enter the final phase of my life,” but he did not elaborate on his diagnosis.
He did not indicate that he will resign early, instead saying he will keep working for his constituents and wanted to give those looking to succeed him ample time to get their campaigns started.
Democrats have their work cut out for them in the district, with the environment tilting in the GOP’s direction and Reed using his head start to bank $123,000 at year’s end. Reed has been named to the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Young Guns program.