Dear Former Eric Massa Staffers:
The Daily News seems to be willing to swallow your implied self-characterization as victimized innocents:
“It’s like he had people trapped,” said a Hill source.
At the house on E St. Southeast yesterday, which Massa had shared with five of his staffers, clothes were piled on the floor and half-a-dozen pairs of shoes mingled with dirty towels next to an open pink suitcase in the living room.
In hindsight, Democratic insiders wondered about activities that before had just seemed odd. They said Massa hired a surprisingly large percentage of young gay men, and paid them so little that staffers were forced to live in the house with him.
“It’s not the gay part that’s a problem, it’s the abuse, if it’s true,” said one Hill source.
“The guy’s a freak,” a close friend of one embattled Massa aide told the Daily News.
I say “implied” because it’s just possible that you all are genuinely thinking of the constituents in your district and working to facilitate a discreet transfer of the seat to a new congressperson. It’d be nice to think so.
But I doubt it. Dignity doesn’t seem to be your strong suit, any of you. First look at the living room of the house you occupied:
WTF? No potted orchid on the coffee table? Junk left at odd angles on the floor? No decorative screen in front of the space heater? A throw pillow left with a crease? (I just want to reach in there and fluff that poor fellow up! It’s agony.) No self-respecting fag would go near that place.
Speaking of self-respect: look, I hope Massa gets whatever’s coming to him. It seems pretty clear that he’s been getting excessively familiar with subordinates and then relying on his position of authority to get them to keep quiet about it, for years—an unambiguous abuse of power. But here’s the thing: when he was in the navy, people were presumably assigned to him and thus had no choice but to live in close quarters with him. They really were trapped.
I find it really difficult to see you in the same light, though. Yes, my small-government-libertarian side makes me instinctively distrust the sort of person who lusts after the sort of career that starts with being a congressperson’s go-fer—I own that up front. But this is about more than just instinct.
There isn’t an openly gay man in his twenties in America who doesn’t know exactly what it means when some middle-aged straight guy fusses, gets touchy-feely, and compulsively flits around him. And somehow seems to surround himself with lots of other men in their twenties, several of whom are also openly gay. And has five of them living in his house. If your danger signals weren’t flashing from the get-go, you’re award-caliber morons. If your danger signals were flashing, and you overrode them to take advantage of a position with an up-and-coming politician who gave appearances of being susceptible to more about you than your legislative potential, don’t cry about it now.
America has been laughing at that whole tickle-fight story, but I’m not at all certain it couldn’t have happened pretty much as Massa described it: after hours, the boss’s birthday, a good opportunity to toady, a little of the playful shoving and teasing he likes, then everyone either realizes it’s gotten out of hand and suddenly feels the need to pile on…or just piles on in order to be part of the rowdy fun. (Stand-offishness is no way to work your way up the ladder!) I’m sure the same scenario has played out with male politicians and bevies of young, fresh female staffers plenty of times, too. Tolerating over-the-line behavior in order to ingratiate yourself with a supervisor is one of the oldest stories—sorry, we call them “narratives” now, right?—in history.
If most staff members were interviewed and hired before they had enough contact with Massa to figure out what his deal was, perhaps we really are talking about a case of aggrieved innocence. And perhaps some of them did draw the line, in no uncertain terms, like adults and had to take some time to decide what to do when they were ignored.
But, as I say, color me skeptical. And if I’m right, it’s unfortunate. There will always be people who want to leverage their authority to take advantage of underlings, but when the underlings play along until a scandal ends the game, it just sends a signal to the next guy that he might be able to make it work if he’s just a little more discreet about it.