Rep. Eric Massa (D)
New York 29th District
The southern tier of New York is one of the nation’s forgotten stretches of territory, yet it has an interesting and distinctive history. Elmira was the hometown of Mark Twain’s beloved wife, Olivia, and is where Twain is buried. Corning is the headquarters of Corning Glass Works, a company successful over the years not only in manufacturing but also in its artistic distinction, which is showcased at a well-visited glass museum. This area has an Indian presence, with small reservations as well as the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum in Salamanca, plus miles and miles of dairy farms. Sheltered by hills, the lands at the edge of upstate New York’s deep lakes constitute the nation’s largest grape-growing area outside California and are the headquarters of prime New York wineries. But the region is isolated, and ill-served by air travel or interstate highways. Cattaraugus County, slightly inland from Lake Erie, is actually 110 miles closer to Washington, D.C., than it is to New York City, though getting to either destination requires considerable patience. The cruelest cut was the Internet bust. Corning’s prospects grew dramatically when fiber optics and other high-tech components were being installed at a feverish pace, but the reduction in orders following the bust forced the company to lay off more than 1,000 of its local workers in a town of only 11,000 people. In 2007, Forbes reported that the company was making a comeback as demand increased for its fiber products, which are key components of the liquid crystal display (LCD) glass used in flat-screen televisions and computers.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 29th Congressional District of New York includes much of the state’s southern tier, from Elmira to Cattaraugus County. To the north, it includes the westernmost of the Finger Lakes and the southern suburbs of Rochester. Politically, this has been Republican country since the party’s founding. The towns and the countryside are no longer homogeneously Protestant, and the trend in upstate New York has been toward national Democrats, but the 29th remains comfortably Republican for now. This was Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush’s best congressional district in New York in both 2000 and 2004. And it was one of four New York congressional districts that voted for Republican nominee John McCain in 2008, albeit narrowly. He got 50.5% of the vote.
Rep. Eric Massa (D)
Elected: 2008, 1st term.
Born: Sept. 16, 1959, Charleston, SC .
Education: U.S. Naval Academy, 1981.
Family: Married (Beverly).
Military career: Navy, 1977-2001 (Beirut, Desert Storm)
Professional Career: Special asst. to NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Wesley Clark (Bosnia)
The new congressman from the 29th District is Democrat Eric Massa, who returned this seat to Democrats by ousting two-term Republican Rep. Randy Kuhl in 2008. Born on a naval base in Charleston, S.C., Massa is the son of a nurse and career Navy aviator. A decade ago, he moved to Corning to work for Corning Inc. as a telecommunications specialist. Massa describes himself as “a rural FDR Democrat,” an appealing image to a politically moderate constituency primarily concerned with pocketbook, rather than social, issues. The gregarious Massa is no political neophyte, despite never having held public office. He spent more than two decades in the Navy and did a stint as a GOP aide to the House Armed Services Committee. He later switched parties. Massa opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, becoming disenchanted with what he called “the party of Karl Rove,” a reference to President Bush’s top political adviser, and signed on to retired Gen. Wesley Clark’s 2004 Democratic presidential campaign. Massa had worked as a special assistant for Clark from 1998 to 2001, when Clark was NATO’s supreme allied commander.
|Eric Massa (D-WF)||140,529||(51%)||($2,159,314)|
|John Kuhl (R-Ind-C)||135,199||(49%)||($1,501,652)|
|Eric Massa (D-WF)||Unopposed|
Massa in fact credits Clark with saving his life. Clark ordered Massa to see a doctor after Massa’s wife, Beverly, surreptitiously called him with concerns over her husband’s health. Massa was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Massa said that his experience with cancer is what got him into politics. “My passion in life became understanding the health insurance system,” he said.
Massa first battled Kuhl for the seat in 2006, narrowly losing by 6,033 votes. In their rematch, Massa benefited from high name recognition and a sizable war chest. By the end of September, he’d raised $1.7 million, compared to Kuhl’s $1.2 million. His impressive fundraising and near-win two years earlier attracted the attention and resources of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Massa also capitalized on an electorate eager for change. “The feel on the ground is fundamentally different this time than in 2006,” he said during his 2008 bid. “Instead of upriver, I feel like I am with the current.”
Kuhl was also well known in the district, having spent 24 years in the New York state Legislature. But Massa ran a more organized campaign this time around and benefited from the Democratic wave that swept through the state. He defeated Kuhl 51%-49%.
Early in 2009, Massa decided to begin accepting campaign contributions from corporate political action committees to help build a war chest for his re-election bid in 2010 even though he criticized Kuhl for such contributions in the 2008 race. The decision prompted the National Republican Congressional Committee to label Massa a newly converted Washington insider.