- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 9, 2010

ROCHESTER, N.Y. | Former New York Rep. Eric Massa is now blaming his resignation announcement last week on a conspiracy by House Democratic leaders to force him out before a crucial vote on health care, his third explanation for leaving office after he earlier cited health issues and an ethics investigation.

One of 39 Democrats who voted against an earlier House version of the health care bill in November, Mr. Massa said in his weekly radio address Sunday that Democratic leaders will “stop at nothing” to advance the health care overhaul.

“Mine is now the deciding vote on the health care bill,” Mr. Massa said on WKPQ-FM in Hornell, a city in his western New York district. “And this administration and this House leadership have said, quote-unquote, they will stop at nothing to pass this health care bill.

“Now they’ve gotten rid of me and it will pass. You connect the dots.”

Katie Grant, a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, said Monday that Mr. Massa’s accusation is “completely false.” Mr. Massa didn’t respond to phone calls for comment.

Facing a harassment complaint from a male staffer, Mr. Massa said Friday he would step down from his seat Monday. Days earlier, he had announced he wouldn’t seek re-election because of health problems.

The ethics complaint, Mr. Massa said, stems from a remark he made across a table of male staffers during a New Year’s Eve wedding reception. When an aide suggested he should be chasing after the bridesmaid, Mr. Massa said he responded by making a sexual comment to another staffer sitting next to him.

“Was that inappropriate of me? Absolutely,” he said.

But Mr. Massa insisted politics was the broader reason that led to a move to force him from office. “I was set up for this from the very, very beginning,” he said.

Mr. Massa’s departure reduces the majority House Speaker Nancy Pelosi needs for passage of health care legislation to 216.

Mr. Massa, 50, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1996, defeated Republican Rep. Randy Kuhl in 2008 in a district long dominated by Republicans. He said his cancer returned in December.

Mr. Massa is a 24-year retired Navy commander who served during Operation Desert Storm and later was special assistant to Gen. Wesley Clark during the conflict in Bosnia. His cancer diagnosis forced him and his family back to the U.S. for treatment. He spent his last year in the Navy as a cancer outreach advocate and later took a professional staff job with the House Armed Services Committee.