Fri March 4, 2011

Ore. Congressman Back, 'In Good Shape,' After Gaffes

U.S. Rep. David Wu (D-OR) is back in Washington, D.C., after a week at home fending off reports of odd behavior and allegations of drug use. Seven members of his staff quit in January, and both parties have their eye on his district.

Wu's troubles began when he sent a photo of himself wearing a tiger costume to staffers last Halloween. It was accompanied by text messages that he signed as though they were from his teenage son. All of a sudden, his political future seemed shaky.

"Maybe if I'd worn a duck costume instead of a tiger costume, some of this wouldn't be happening," Wu says.

Despite reports that his staff questioned his mental health, he says he will serve out his term. And he takes the allegations against him seriously, he says.

Driven by media reports, Wu confessed to taking what he has called an alternative pain medication. He also disclosed a 2008 hospitalization that he says was brought on by a reaction to prescriptions for the muscle relaxant Valium and the sleeping aid Ambien.

"I sought the appropriate professional help that I needed then, and I consult with professional help on an as-needed basis. I get the counseling that I need, and when necessary, I have some medication," Wu says. "I am in good shape, and that's what I want to reassure Oregonians."

Wu won't speak about the specifics of his diagnosis. He says last fall was stressful, with a contested election, his ongoing divorce and the death of his father.

His former staffers have refused to speak on the record about their concerns, and other members of the Oregon congressional delegation aren't commenting, either.

But Allen Alley, Oregon's Republican Party chairman, says the information about Wu's recent behavior tells him it's time for Wu to step down and attend to his health.

"As human beings and fellow citizens, we feel compassionate for David and what he's going through. The point that I make is there are a few jobs in the country that transcend what your typical personal responsibility would be," Alley says.

Elizabeth Furse, Wu's Democratic predecessor in Oregon's 1st District, says she hopes Wu will "put his constituents first."

"All I can say is that being a representative, you take on a very grave responsibility. You don't have the luxury to be distracted," Furse says.

Although Wu is serving his seventh term in the House, he hasn't been able to parlay that tenure into political power. He has sided against big Oregon players like Nike and Intel on trade issues. And he hasn't landed plum committee assignments.

The leader of the Oregon Democratic Party, Meredith Wood Smith, continues to support Wu. And the Democratic House leadership says calls for Wu's resignation are premature.

One of Wu's constituents also is reserving judgment.

"I was absolutely surprised, actually," says Jagmohan Jhooty, who lives in Wu's district and has voted for him. He says he believes there is probably more to the story — and along with his judgment, he's also reserving his vote.

"It hasn't changed my mind one way or the other," he says. "The truth eventually is going to come out. You can't hide the truth, so I'm going to wait till I make up my mind."

He has time. Wu has filed papers indicating he will run again in 2012. Copyright 2011 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit http://www.opb.org.

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