Massa The Congressman — Progressive Icon But Not Engaged With Colleagues

In the last few weeks we’ve learned a lot about former Rep. Eric Massa as he first said he was not seeking reelection due to a recurrence of cancer and then he formally resigned amid allegations he sexually harassed a male staffer. What’s lesser known is what Massa was like as a lawmaker and House freshman.

Massa (D-NY) was elected in November 2008 with 51 percent of the vote, a rematch with Randy Kuhl (R) following his narrow loss in 2006. During his short time in office he sponsored nine bills, from the naming of a post office to new broadband regulations. Of those, two were minor amendments that were approved on a nearly unanimous votes.

The 50-year-old former Republican became in some cases a progressive icon, blasting Sen. Chuck Grassley’s health care remarks as “treason” and complaining about Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly.Capitol Hill sources told us in interviews that Massa seemed checked out and distant this summer. One source suggested that he had a spat with leadership after first promising to vote for the cap-and-trade climate bill and then voting no. “It was clear he was doing his own thing,” the source said.

A Hill aide said Massa wasn’t a regular attendee of special Democratic events for freshmen and sophomores and was not considered a reliable voting member of the caucus. The aide said Massa was not engaged with leadership on message or legislative coordination in the same way as most other Democrats. Massa’s objection to the House health care bill was because he preferred a single-payer approach.

Massa’s claim that House leaders pressured him over health care sounds like an unfounded “conspiracy theory,” Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY) told me in an interview this week.

“That’s inconsistent with my five years of dealing with leadership,” Higgins said.

“It is a respectful effort at persuasion that is afforded all members but the fact of the matter is they can’t force you to anything, there’s no leverage,” he said. He said he infrequently interacted with Massa.

But Massa did become a regular on left-leaning cable shows, and appeared at Netroots Nation last summer.

When Massa first made his announcement and before clear allegations had surfaced, he told reporters he was entering the “final phase” of his life.

He said that after being briefly hospitalized due to his third major cancer scare in December his doctors “made clear” he couldn’t keep up his current pace of work. “I’m a very salty guy, a very direct guy and I run at about 100 miles an hour,” Massa said on a conference call last week.