David Wu, Back in the News

David Wu strikes again.  For background, read below.  For the latest, click here.

The Strange Case of David Wu.

(Published March 17, 2011)

Anytime you bring 435 people together, there is bound to be an odd bird or two among them.  Perhaps that explains the strange case of Congressman David Wu, whose reelection last November demonstrates that such birds have a nest even in such august institutions as the United States House of Representatives.

Wu spent the first decade or so of his congressional career winning a lot of votes but making few headlines, at least not in newspapers outside of his Democratic-friendly Portland-area district.

Yes, there was that strange speech on the House floor in 2007, in which Wu claimed that there were “Klingons in the White House.”  These weren’t, he added, the “real Klingons of Star Trek;” instead they were “faux Klingons” that were sending “real Americans to war.”

Strange stuff, but not the kind of thing that created much of a stir in 2007.  By that time, most Americans opposed both the Bush Administration and the Iraqi War, and criticism was commonplace.  But one suspects that a few eyebrows were raised in Spock-like fashion by Wu’s reference to the “real Klingons of Star Trek.”

In the days leading up to the 2010 election, however, Wu’s behavior raised eyebrows even among his own staff and supporters.  According to The Oregonian, staff noticed an uptick in strange behavior.  He was “increasingly unpredictable,” “loud and sometimes angry,” and said “kooky” things.

For the most part, these symptoms were apparent only in private, but Wu’s problems started to become public on October 27, 2010.  Scheduled for a “pep talk” to Democratic canvassers in Washington County, Wu embarked on a speech described by a Democratic state representative as “ranting and raving” and “bizarre.”  His staff, according to The Oregonian, was “aghast.”

Adding to concerns was the fact that, the day before, Wu had a flare up of ongoing neck pain, apparently caused by “being on the phone so much.”  Having left his prescription pain killers in DC, Wu took two pills from a donor.  The donor says the pills were “ibuprofen.”  Wu’s staff says the pills were “Oxycodone.”  Wu says only that the medicine was an “alternative painkiller,” but that “if anyone says they know what it is, then they know more than I do.”

Following these incidents, staff tried to arrange an intervention.  Wu, according to The Oregonian, “refused and took off on foot.”  When staff did manage to communicate with Wu, the Congressman insisted he was fine and encouraged staff not to be “overly emotional.”

Over the next couple of days, Wu’s strange behavior continued.  Arriving at Portland International Airport to meet his children, he maneuvered past security, moved to a restricted area, and began soliciting votes from deplaning passengers.

Of most concern, however, was a flurry of emails sent from Wu to his staff early on Saturday morning, October 30.  The first email, sent at 1:03 am, included only a photograph of Wu inexplicably dressed in a head-to-foot tiger costume, with his paws sticking up in the air, as though under arrest for impersonating Tony the Tiger, Kellogg’s breakfast cereal mascot.

Other emails to his staff followed.  The emails were signed in the names of Wu’s children, and appeared to be in early-teen vernacular (e.g., “Cut the dude some slack, man” and “We think you’re cool”), but Wu later admitted that he actually wrote the emails.

Another email message included a second picture.  In this picture, Wu, again dressed in his fuzzy tiger suit, is face down on his bed and his son is grabbing the back of his neck.  The picture was published in Williamette Week (an alternative weekly in Portland), with a caption reading “It’s not clear what exactly this photo depicts.”

David Wu in His Fuzzy Tiger Suit

Additional emails from Wu’s “children” compounded staff’s concern, and later that day, according to The Oregonian, Wu’s campaign pollster sent an email to colleagues reading, “No enabling by any potential enablers, he needs help and you need to be protected.  Nothing else matters right now.  Nothing else.”

Seventy-two hours before election day, Wu’s staff met to take action.  They called hospitals to check on the availability of beds, they consulted by speaker phone with Wu’s psychiatrist, and they encouraged Wu to seek immediate psychiatric care.  In the end, Wu resisted these steps, and the campaign staff simply suspended all formal campaign events, keeping the candidate, as much as possible, away from potential voters and the media.

Wu won the election by 13 percentage points, a decisive election, if not quite the margin that Wu would have liked in a heavily Democratic area.  But as the details of his 2010 campaign have come to light, there has been significant fallout.

Six members of his congressional staff resigned following the election, as did three members of his campaign staff.  Some of his home-state newspapers have called for his resignation, as have, predictably, Republicans.

In response, Wu has travelled the Oregon television circuit and visited with friendly groups in his district.  He has deflected some of the more sensitive questions (“Do you suffer from mental illness?”), apologized for his behavior, and conceded that last “October was not a good month.” In short, he’s promised to change his stripes.

Thus far, he has held up well under the questioning.  He acknowledged that he has sought medical care, reassured constituents that his behavior is under control, and reiterated that he is working hard for his constituents.

Maybe Wu believes in “real Klingons,” and maybe he likes to dress up in fuzzy tiger suits.  Congress is a big place, and maybe there’s room for such a character.

For now, Wu has declared his intention to run again in 2012, and his outlook appears much improved.  When asked how things are going for him, he confidently asserts that he is “in a very good place.”  And for a man that wants to win reelection, that response is a heck of a lot better than shouting, “They’re Ggrrreeeaaatttt!”

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