Wednesday, March 3: It was a busy day, and my Blackberry seemed glued to my ear and fingers the whole time. My last phone conversation of the night was a long one with Congressman Eric Massa’s Chief of Staff, Joe Racalto. I’m sure I’ll have more phone conversations with all sorts of people tomorrow and in many of the coming days when it comes to Rep. Massa’s stepping down at the end of this term -– but to Racalto’s credit he offers me the most substance on this news story thus far. So here goes:
As to Rep. Massa’s Health: This is why he announced today that he’s not seeking re-election. Racalto tells me he picked Massa up from the hospital in December, the morning of his cancer exam; as you may know, he’s survived cancer once already in this life. There were abnormal blood conditions during that physical and there is/was a threat to his health. Racalto says that since then Massa’s schedule has been cleared at certain times, most recently last week, so he and his family can discuss what course of action should be taken. “He is retiring for health reasons,” Racalto said. “The reality is he’s sick.”
Racalto tells me the conversation kept coming back to a simple question: “At what cost do you want to remain a Congressman?” In the end, the answer often included a desire to see his two children graduate college. (A son attends Syracuse University; a daughter is at Big East Rival Georgetown.)
As to Complaints & Allegations: First and foremost, Racalto insists that Rep. Massa has never been contacted by the House Ethics Committee. On Monday, Racalto says he reached out to the Ethics Committee to see if it had any information concerning allegations or complaints against Rep. Massa. “I’ve asked for a formal complaint, and they’ve told me they don’t have one,” Racalto said. “I’d be happy to comment on the complaint if there is one.”
Racalto said that the law states after 19 days the committee has to produce a complaint if substantiated. (Writer’s note: I will attempt to independently verify this Thursday.) Wednesday night, the Associated Press reports that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer claims to have received a report “the week of Feb. 8” about allegations by a staff member in Rep. Eric Massa’s office. With that in mind, the 19-day window could still be open as I understand it; once again I’ll try to learn more about this Thursday.
Various reports swirling seem to reference the sources as “aides from both sides of the aisle” to which Racalto wonders, who? Interns? Ex-employees? Staffers from some other Representative’s office? Who is not speaking up as a named source? Personally, I’m sure we’re all wondering to some degree where these unnamed sources are coming from… most especially in light of what we’re seeing unfold in Albany with Governor David Paterson and a month’s worth of rumors and reports. But to this point Racalto tells me he and Rep. Massa are actually looking forward to responding to whatever complaint or allegation may or may not exist. “Just tell me what I’m fighting,” Racalto said.
Left with little knowledge of any actual allegation (so says Racalto), Rep. Massa sort of assumed it must be related to “salty” language – which he made reference to in his announcement Wednesday. “We’re talking about a Navy guy, he uses salty language,” Racalto said. Racalto also added that there have been other complaints in the office related to language used by Rep. Massa and other staffers.
To the specific reports circulating about harassment allegations, be them sexual in nature or not depending on the report you read, Racalto had this to say: “I can confirm my sitting staff has not contacted them (Ethics Committee)…I can confirm to the best of my knowledge that the harassment charges are unfounded.”
Lastly on this point, Racalto insists it is he and Rep. Massa who voluntarily bring forth any word of complaints against (or within) their office directly to Rep. Hoyer and Speaker Pelosi. Racalto said they don’t have to but they choose to play everything “above board” and so that’s how they proceed with any such complaint.
A release late Wednesday night from Rep. Hoyer’s office further confirms that “a member of Rep. Massa’s staff” brought this to the attention of his staff and later to the bipartisan Ethics Committee.
My Take: I avoid editorializing, I hope you know, but I don’t think it’s an “opinion” to say that we should all see how this plays out. I know from covering his campaigns and term in office thus far that health is a more than legitimate concern for Rep. Massa; he’s a cancer survivor with a “full speed ahead” attitude that happens to be Congressman; I would expect that’s a challenging mix on the human body.
As to all of these other allegations, complaints, reports, and rumors? You’ve heard one side of it above, and we’ll no doubt hear other sides. Heck, we may even hear this side change its tune in the coming days and weeks. I suggest we apply some diligent journalism to these various reports and figure out if there really is another reason for Massa’s stepping down. As of this posting, I'm not seeing a substantiated one, but I’ll post again the moment I believe differently.