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07.26.11

Sex Scandal Sinks Tiger-Suit Pol

Oregon Rep. David Wu had survived a bizarre viral photo of him in a tiger suit, but at last he resigned from Congress after an allegation of an unwanted sexual encounter made by the 18-year-old daughter of a campaign donor. Winston Ross on the strange saga.

For years Rep. David Wu had managed to bounce back from one strange escapade after another. Oregonians re-elected the Portland Democrat to a seventh term in November, not yet knowing that he'd emailed his staff bizarre pictures of himself in a tiger suit. The pictures later went viral, and “David Wu tiger” became the most popular Google search term for the congressman.

But Wu’s long, strange career in Congress has come to an end at last, amid accusations that he finally did something offensive enough to warrant a congressional ethics investigation. The congressman was urged to resign immediately over a teenager’s allegations that Wu forced her into an unwanted sexual encounter. He had resisted calls to leave office, though promising to not seek reelection in 2012. Today Wu finally gave in. “With great sadness, I therefore intend to resign effective upon the resolution of the debt-ceiling crisis,” Wu said in a statement. “This is the right decision for my family, the institution of the House, and my colleagues.”

According to a report that ran in The Oregonian over the weekend, a “distraught” 18-year-old girl left a voicemail at Wu’s Portland office accusing him of an “aggressive” sexual encounter. Wu, 56, acknowledged that some kind of sexual encounter did occur with the 2010 high-school graduate, the daughter of a longtime friend and campaign donor, but claimed it was consensual, the newspaper’s sources said. While the girl didn’t contact police at the time of the "unwanted" sexual behavior, Wu isn’t necessarily denying it.

“This is very serious,” Wu had said in a statement. “I have absolutely no desire to bring unwanted publicity, attention, or stress to a young woman and her family.”

The teenager has declined to comment, but the newspaper’s sources say she’s the daughter of a high-school friend of Wu’s in Orange County and that the alleged incident took place last Thanksgiving weekend. The sources said the woman didn’t think there was enough evidence to press charges, given the lack of witnesses. Why she decided to bring it up months later, and via an emotional voicemail, is anyone’s guess. But Wu has decided that this is the political scandal straw that broke the camel’s back. Even before resigning, spokesman Erik Dorey had told The Daily Beast early Monday that Wu had decided not to seek reelection in 2012.

Asked why Wu wasn't quitting, Dorey declined to elaborate. But the congressman, whose staff tried unsuccessfully last fall to get him to check himself into a psychiatric hospital, was not able to make it until the end of his term, since calls for his resignation had continued to mount.

“It’s probably time for him to resign,” Jim Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University, in Wu’s district, said earlier. “But knowing his personality, and him, I don’t think he will.” But apparently the pressre proved too great.

The congressman doesn’t have a life he can hop right back to, Moore said, and may want some time to figure out how he’s going to earn a living.

Wu had survived scandal before, and he likely tought that this, too, would have passed. In 2004, he apologized for a 1976 incident that led to an allegation the congressman tried to rape his former girlfriend. He then handily won reelection. Portlanders don’t bounce liberal pols from office very often.

In 2004, he apologized for a 1976 incident that led to an allegation the congressman tried to rape his former girlfriend. He then handily won reelection. Portlanders don’t bounce liberal pols from office very often.

“His experience says if you just hunker down, these things will blow over,” Moore said.

The survival of Wu had depended on the outcome of the congressional ethics investigation that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for on Sunday, though she notably stopped short of asking for Wu to step down. Moore said he thinks Pelosi’s decision reflects a prevailing attitude that Wu’s creepy behavior doesn’t rise to the level of, say, Anthony Weiner, whose resignation she did call for after the New York congressman was caught sending lewd pictures to numerous women.

“What I think is going on is the age difference between the two, and the fact that The Oregonian characterized this as an unwanted sexual relationship,” Moore said. “That’s what pushes it over the line.”

Wu likely realizes his chances at keeping his seat were slim, especially with a growing list of candidates who lined up to challenge him. Among them was Oregon Democrat Brad Witt, who offered a somewhat muddled demand for Wu’s resignation in an interview with The Daily Beast on Monday.

Wu should quit, Witt said, if “seeking out the professional help and the magnitude of the help he needs would undoubtedly divert him from his ability to provide first-rate representation for his constituents. I just can’t imagine, given the series of poor judgment calls and improprieties, that he’s going to be able to address this in just a couple of days.”

The congressman needs to resign now, Witt said, because “if this is true, then it’s another person, at least one other person who has been harmed by this, and it rises to a higher level than perhaps the past series of events.”

State Rep. Mitch Greenlick, a Portland Democrat, said Wu is “obviously having an episode of mental illness” and that people shouldn’t be forced out of their jobs but instead need to be given the opportunity to seek treatment.

Still, this should have been the congressman’s last term, Greenlick said. “One shoe after another kept dropping. And my suspicion is that there’s probably more stuff that’s going to show up,” he said.

Allen Alley, chairman of the Oregon Republican Party, said it have been “ridiculous” to allow Wu to finish his term.

“The citizens of Oregon made a decision without having all the data on this guy,” Alley said.