Wu’s Actions Leave His Allies Disgruntled

Posted May 27, 2005 at 5:50pm

Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) has a knack for angering Members of his own party and supporters. His latest move upset the single biggest contributor to his 2004 re-election campaign — organized labor.

As a result, rumors of a primary challenge abound, though no Democrat has moved to run against him yet, and even labor seems unwilling to abandon him.

Wu penned a letter to federal corrections officials on behalf of a sick constituent who is in prison. The problem was the convict, Andrew Wiederhorn, is serving time for bilking union members out of millions of dollars.

“For someone like Wiederhorn to get the Congressman’s support was extremely disappointing,” said Mano Frey, a Seattle-based Laborers International Union of North America vice president. “We wanted to make sure he knew that we were disappointed with what he did.”

What he did, according to The Oregonian newspaper, was write the U.S. Bureau of Prisons a letter asking prison officials to send the diabetic Wiederhorn to “a facility where he can be under his own physician’s care.”

In an open letter to the paper, Wu later apologized, saying his request to prison officials was made in response to one of more than 36,000 requests his office received and that it should not have been sent.

Wu’s wife is a childhood friend of Wiederhorn’s. He also received campaign contributions from the disgraced executive and his wife, and Wu owns stock in a company that Wiederhorn co-founded.

In the letter to the newspaper, Wu said he has not accepted a contribution from the Wiederhorns since 2001 and that the stock in question is only worth $740.

The letter is just the latest embarrassment for Wu, and one Oregon Democratic operative who did not want to be named said there is growing discontent with the four-term Congressman.

“There are many quiet conversations going on regarding David’s future,” the source said. “The ghosts of the past as well as concerns about his competency have a lot of people concerned about his ability to hold onto that seat.”

Late in the campaign last year The Oregonian reported that Wu allegedly sexually assaulted his college girlfriend almost 30 years prior.

Wu apologized, calling his behavior at Stanford University “inexcusable” and admitting that he “hurt someone I cared very much about.”

Wu was never charged with any wrong-doing.

Wu has also angered House Democratic leaders.

In 2003 he was just one of 16 Democrats to vote for President Bush’s plan to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare.

During the marathon vote, which remained open for almost three hours, Wu “sat stone-faced as dozens of Democrats urged him to vote no,” The Oregonian reported. “He fixed his stare at the Speaker’s dais, waiting for his moment.”

In 2000, the Taiwanese-born Wu voted against then-President Bill Clinton’s efforts to grant China permanent normal trade relations status, despite the wishes of Portland’s high-tech industry and pressure from some Asian-American constituents.

Labor, however, was very happy with that and other trade votes and has increasingly supported Wu financially.

“We have a good working relationship with him,” Frey said. “We’re not involved in trying to find opposition to run against him, he has reached out” to the unions.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the state party and Wu’s spokeswoman all deny that any serious Democrat is thinking of challenging Wu.

He has not had a primary opponent since his first election in 1998 and he has increased his margin of victory in almost every subsequent election.

He defeated the highly touted Goli Ameri, a Republican businesswoman, 62 percent to 34 percent last year, receiving only slightly less than the 62.7 percent he earned in 2002.

But the Democratic operative said the allegations about Wu’s conduct in college may have been aired too late to have any impact on the election result. Oregonians vote by mail, and some ballots had already been returned by the time the newspaper printed its article.

“If the allegations dating back to Stanford had come out sooner, Democrats may have decided to remove David on their own but the timing made that impossible,” the source said. “Now Democrats will take a second look.”

At least two Democrats have already considered challenging Wu but decided to pass.

“There have been several groups that have approached me over the last six months or so and offered support,” said state Rep. Brad Avakian, who refused to elaborate about who those groups were. “At this time I’m not interested in doing that.”

Beaverton Mayor Rob Drake, who is said to have higher aspirations, also said he would not challenge Wu.

“I’m not considering it,” Drake said. Drake said he looked at the 1st district seat in 1998 but decided against it then too.

“I wouldn’t discount a run in the future but I think a run against an incumbent in my party would be very hard,” he said.

Drake said he supported Wu last year.

“I don’t agree with everything David has said and done.” As to endorsing him next year, Drake said he would have to “wait and see.”

A spokesman for the Oregon Democratic Party said Wu will have the party’s support.

“David’s the incumbent,” party spokesman Kelly Steele said. “We expect he will run for re-election and that he will win.”

Bill Burton, a DCCC spokesman, also dismissed the rumors.

“There’s rumors in every district, every cycle and you have to take each one with a big grain of salt,” Burton said. “We absolutely support Congressman Wu, who is a strong leader for Oregon.”

The Democratic source said that a primary challenger could still emerge.

“It’s too early to say whether he’ll get a strong challenge but a number of elected Democrats will take a look at it,” the source said.

Republicans say they will aggressively challenge Wu again but no one has come forward yet.

“This is a seat we are definitely going to take a look at,” said Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “It’s a definitely a seat with potential, especially given Wu’s problem and even more so if he faces a primary challenge.”

Burton said that is wishful thinking by Republicans.

“I think that’s a bunch of chest-thumping on their part,” Burton said. “They can’t win where there’s such a strong Democratic incumbent.”

Wu is known as an excellent campaigner and fundraiser and he has outperformed his predecessors in an increasingly Democratic district that includes parts of Portland and extends west to the Pacific Ocean.

“We’re not concerned,” Wu spokeswoman Jillian Schoene said. “Any election, whether it’s the primary or general, will come in due course.”

As of March 31, Wu had $224,905 in the bank.

His district supported Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) over Bush in the last year’s presidential election 55 percent to 44 percent.