By Jordy Yager and Aaron Blake - 03/09/10 12:59 AM EST
Rep. Eric Massa resigned on Monday, but he didn’t go quietly.
The freshman Democrat from New York lambasted House leaders and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on the way out the door before officially resigning at 5 p.m.
Massa’s edgy comments about Emanuel drew the most attention.
Massa called Emanuel “the son of the devil’s spawn” during his Sunday radio show and told a story about a naked Emanuel angrily confronting him in the congressional gym’s shower. Emanuel was angry that Massa was not going to support the president’s budget, according to Massa.
“Do you know how awkward it is to have a political argument with a naked man?” Massa said.
Massa had fought with Emanuel since the 2006 election.
“He is an individual who would sell his mother to get a vote,” Massa said on the radio show. “He would strap his children to the front end of a steam locomotive.”
The White House did not respond to an e-mail asking for comment.
Massa announced his retirement on Friday, one day after news hit that the ethics panel was considering an investigation of him over inappropriate comments he allegedly made to a male staffer.
After initially saying he would serve out his term but not run for reelection, Massa changed course a day later and said he would resign.
Massa cited health concerns, not the ethics probe, as the reason for his resignation, saying that because of a possible flare-up of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma he was concerned for his health.
But later the congressman said he feared that his family and his staff would not be able to cope with the scrutiny that would come with an ethics investigation.
“There’s no doubt that this ethics issue is my fault and mine alone,” he said. “But in the incredibly toxic atmosphere that is Washington, D.C., with the destruction of our elected leaders having become a blood-sport ... there is also no doubt that an ethics investigation would tear my family and my staff apart.”
By resigning, Massa is avoiding the probe, as the House ethics panel does not have to report results of a probe that never got past the preliminary stage.
“This administration and this House leadership has said, quote-unquote, they will stop at nothing to pass this healthcare bill,” Massa said on radio station WKPQ on Sunday. “And now they’ve gotten rid of me and it will pass. You connect the dots.”
With Massa out of office, the threshold for passing the bill dropped to 216 out of the 431 current members.
Massa offered his explanation of the impetus for the ethics probe during the radio show.
According to Massa, it stemmed from a New Year’s Eve wedding he attended for his communications director. Massa, who attended the wedding with his wife, said he danced with the bride and a bridesmaid after his wife became ill and left the party.
After the dance, he was sitting with a number of staffers, all bachelors, who had been drinking champagne and gin-and-tonics.
“A staff member made an intonation to me that maybe I should be chasing after the bridesmaid and his points were clear and his words were far more colorful than that,” Massa said.
“And I grabbed the staff member sitting next to me and said, ‘Well, what I really ought to be doing is fracking you.’ And then tousled the guy’s hair and left, went to my room, because I knew the party was getting to a point where it wasn’t right for me to be there.”
Afterward, a third staffer reportedly filed the complaint with the ethics panel, saying that the comment had made him feel “uncomfortable.”
After the third aide informed House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s (D-Md.) office of the incident, that office told Massa’s staff to tell the freshman congressman that he or someone from his staff had to file a complaint with the ethics committee within 48 hours or that Hoyer would do it for him.
But Massa said that this account is not true.
“Steny Hoyer has never said a single word to me ever. Not once,” Massa said. “This is a lie. It’s a blatant false statement.”
Hoyer’s office said it is standing by its initial comment last Wednesday, in which Hoyer never claimed to have spoken directly with Massa, but rather said that the staffs of the two lawmakers had spoken about the incident.
Massa’s chief of staff, Joe Racalto, said the office will stay open until it is filled through an election.
A special election would be held 30 to 40 days after the governor proclaims it, but there is no requirement as to when it must be proclaimed. That means Gov. David Paterson (D) has plenty of latitude. In two previous special elections this cycle, he has given both sides a few months’ heads-up about when he would proclaim the election date.
The race to replace Massa was slowly forming even before he resigned.
Corning Mayor Tom Reed has been a top GOP hope against Massa, and Republican leaders are standing by him even as others emerge.
Those weighing their options include Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks and the man Massa beat in 2008, former Rep. Randy Kuhl (R-N.Y.).
On the Democratic side, nobody had stepped forward to run in Massa’s stead. Hornell Mayor Shawn Hogan and Monroe County District Attorney Mike Green both said Monday that they would not seek the seat.
Hogan, whom Massa promoted for the seat after his retirement announcement, told the New York Daily News on Monday that he thinks Massa has lost it.
“Now he has more conspiracy theories than Glenn Beck does,” Hogan said. “I think he has just gone over the edge.”