- Stover E. Harger Iii
- South County Spotlight - News
In the face of 'unwanted sexual encounter' allegations, Democrat will leave office
Beleaguered Congressman David Wu announced Tuesday he will resign from the U.S. House of Representatives in the face of sexual misconduct allegations and rapidly building pressure from high-profile lawmakers calling for him to leave office.
Many prominent politicians, including state Rep. Brad Witt, have pressed Wu to resign after allegations surfaced in the state's largest newspaper Friday of an 'unwanted sexual encounter' with an 18-year-old California woman last November. Wu has reportedly claimed the incident was consensual and he did nothing illegal.
Wu has remained mostly secluded since the news broke. He has not publicly responded to the allegations that came to light when The Oregonian newspaper reported the teenage daughter of a longtime friend and campaign donor accused the embattled Democrat of aggressive and unwanted sexual behavior. Unnamed sources reportedly heard a telephone message from the young woman left for Wu in May, accusing him of the encounter.
Witt, from Clatskanie, announced this month he is entering the race for Wu's 1st Congressional District seat. He believes the seven-term lawmaker needs to address the allegations head-on.
'I, and I think most people, have to presume it's not just smoke. There's fire there,' Witt said Monday. 'The next question is, 'how much fire is there.'
'I think he owes a detailed explanation to his constituents.'
That explanation has yet to come as Wu continues to dodge reporters. He did release a one-sentence statement to The Oregonian late last Friday when the paper broke the news on its website.
"This is very serious, and I have absolutely no desire to bring unwanted publicity, attention or stress to a young woman and her family."
Wu initially said he would not run for reelection next year, but that he would finish his current term. A press release announcing his resignation came minutes after U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkely issued a joint statement calling for Wu to step down. The senators called the accusations against Wu 'both jarring and exceptionally serious.'
Wu did not set a date for his resignation, but said it would be "effective upon the resolution of the debt-ceiling crisis."
'This is the right decision for my family, the institution of the House, and my colleagues,' he wrote in the statement. 'It is also the only correct decision to avoid any distraction from the important work at hand in Washington. I intend to go forward with new resolve and love of family, the state of Oregon and our nation.'
Support for Wu has seemed to dwindle since his reelection last November when reports of erratic behavior and questions about his mental health arose. Seven Wu staffers resigned in the months following his election victory.
Wu separated from his wife in late 2009 and is in the process of getting a divorce.
Gov. John Kitzhaber now must call a special election to replace Wu. Depending on when that occurs, there could be a primary election to pick the Democrat and Republican candidates who would vie for his congressional seat. If not, the state parties will pick the nominees.
Kitzhaber spokeswoman Amy Wojcicki said the governor is considering his options and will announce a decision shortly.
In a statement Monday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for an ethics investigation into Wu with 'deep disappointment and sadness.'
Former 1st District Congresswoman Elizabeth Furse said she agreed with Pelosi's decision to launch the probe. Furse, who said she won't run for the seat, hasn't talked to Wu since revelations about his fraught behavior ahead of the November 2010 election emerged.
"I'm extremely distressed about everything that's happened over the last couple years because I love the first district," Furse said. "It's a 24-7 job and you can't be distracted."
In 2004, The Oregonian reported that when Wu was a student at Stanford University in 1976 he was disciplined for trying to force an ex-girlfriend into sex. No charges were filed. The story ran three weeks before the 2004 election, which he went on to win with 57.5 percent of the vote.
-Additional reporting by Christian Gaston and Jim Redden