2011: David Wu driven from office by scandals
Editor's note: This story is part of the The Times' special series, "Decade in Review." This series features three stories that helped to define each year of the 2010s. These can retell single stories that captivated readers of the time, a saga that played out across many articles, and even stories that were crowded to the margins by other news at the time but have made a lasting impact on our region.
Amid a "red tide" that washed away a Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and flipped statehouses across the country to Republican control in November 2010, Oregon Democrats breathed a sigh of relief as voters returned U.S. Reps. David Wu and Kurt Schrader to office by comfortable margins.
Well-heeled businessman Rob Cornilles had criticized Wu's liberal voting record in what looked like it might turn into a close race, but the Washington County congressman was elected to his seventh term by a nearly 13-point margin.
Schrader, who represents most of Clackamas County, is still in office nearly 10 years later. But for Wu, 2010 would be his last election.
Within weeks of Wu's swearing-in, multiple media outlets in Oregon, led by the reliably liberal Willamette Week, reported on the turmoil that had quietly swallowed his re-election campaign the previous year.
According to a trove of campaign emails and interviews with staffers, Wu's campaign staff had come to believe the congressman was suffering a mental breakdown in the wake of his divorce. Some tried to push him to check himself into a hospital for psychiatric treatment.
The enduring image of the scandal, such as it was, remains a self-shot photograph Wu sent to staffers in October 2010, days before the election: Wu sitting on a bed, grinning at the camera with his hands held up as though in mock surprise, wearing an orange tiger costume. That photo didn't surface until February 2011.
According to the reports, Wu's campaign effectively shuttered days before Election Day — highly unusual for a congressional campaign, even in a contest in which the candidate is heavily favored.
Right away, there were calls for Wu to step down and seek help. (The Times urged Wu to do just that in a March 3, 2011, editorial.)
However, Democratic leadership stuck by Wu, who had always had a reputation on Capitol Hill for being somewhat eccentric. Wu addressed Washington County Democrats and spoke at the Washington County Public Affairs Forum, saying that although he took "full responsibility" for his actions in October, he wouldn't step down.
"The story should not be about me," Wu insisted. "It should be about you, and what I am doing to help you solve those challenges."
While the Wu hullaballoo quieted down somewhat after that, it was only a few months before the next scandal hit — one that Wu couldn't recover from.
The daughter of a family friend and major campaign donor called Wu's office and left a voicemail accusing the congressman of forcing himself on her the previous November, when she was 18. The Oregonian/OregonLive.com reported that Wu's aides confronted him, and Wu admitted to the sexual encounter but claimed it had been consensual.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi hadn't joined in the public pile-on earlier in the year, but after the report of sexual misconduct broke in July 2011, she called for an ethics investigation into Wu. Other members of Oregon's congressional delegation turned on their colleague, saying publicly that he should resign.
On July 26, 2011, Wu announced he would step down from Congress. The resignation touched off a race to succeed him in a special election in Oregon's First Congressional District, which includes all of Washington County. Cornilles attempted another run, but then-state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici, a Beaverton Democrat, trounced him in a January 2012 special election. Bonamici has held the seat ever since.
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