THE BLOG
05/10/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Eric Massa and the Small Town Democrats

My father was the town Democrat. At least it felt that way growing up in Corning, N.Y.

Before my father, my maternal grandfather pretty much held the title in the small, scenic company town (Corning Inc.) in the Republican stronghold of southwestern New York State.

Joe Daley and Paul V. Lovette Sr. were Democratic aldermen in a place where Democrats won elected office about as often the local temperature hit 100 degrees on Thanksgiving morning. For decades, Congressional representation in that part of the state was the private reserve of dull Chamber of Commerce Republican businessmen. When the Sisters of Mercy had control of me in grade school, the local congressman was W. Sterling Cole, a stolid GOP lawyer from Painted Post, N.Y. who held the seat for more than 20 years.

When popular Jamestown mayor Stan Lundine somehow won the seat after the retirement of the GOP member in 1976, he became the first Democrat in the 20th century to represent the district in the House of Representatives. A few years later, then-Gov. Mario Cuomo, showing his legendary political savvy, sent Lundine into permanent public obscurity by picking him as his lieutenant governor. Republican Amory Houghton Jr., former Chairman and CEO of Corning Inc., won the seat, which, it must be said, he ably held for nearly two decades.

My father was resigned to Houghton's tenure in Washington, believing it only fair that a man who owned the district might as well represent it in Congress. The truth is, Houghton was an independent sort who voted against the Iraq war and was possessed of a political spine as alien to Massa and Democrats such as Ben Nelson, Max Baucus and Blanche Lincoln as webbed feet. Houghton's retirement and the election of garden-variety GOP Rep. Randy Kuhl in 2006 seemed to signal more of the same for the district.

So the 2008 election of Democratic Rep. Eric Massa to the House from the 29th district looked like a pretty big deal, at least to a Steuben County native son and political junkie who had been away a long time. There was some evidence that the local politics was shifting. In 2008 President Barack Obama won nearly 49 percent of the vote in the district (John McCain drew 50.5%). In 2006, then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton ran strong for re-election in the "Southern Tier," in part because she wasn't afraid to show up in places such as Corning, Hornell and Jamestown.

So having set aside my official journalist's cap some time ago, I sent Massa a modest $50 campaign contribution, which earned me a handwritten thank you note (not sure who the hand belonged to).

It did not take Massa long to bring me to my senses.

Having once voiced support for a single-payer health care system, he quickly signed on with 38 other House Democrats to vote against his own party's health care reform bill. Which is something Randy Kuhl could have done, and would have done.Through modern electronic channels, never having met the man, I told Massa to take me off his money list. I was a trifle let down, but what's the worst that can happen? Well, it turns out there's resignation and disgrace and whining and conflicting rationales and the overwhelming likelihood the district will again have a Republican serving in the House.

If it was a Democratic renaissance, it was a short one.

Last week, Eric Massa of Corning followed New York Gov. David Paterson and Rep. Charles Rangel into political ignominy in the Empire State. On a Wednesday Massa announced he would not be seeking a second term in the House, citing a recurrence of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. On Friday, after published reports that he had been accused of sexual harassment by a male employee and was the subject of an inquiry by the House ethics committee, Massa resigned effective this week and booked a date on the Glenn Beck program.

Joe Daley and Paul Lovette are gone, and so it appears are the Democrats in my old hometown and its environs. Local savants say the mayor of Hornell would make the best Democratic candidate to replace Massa.

My guess is they'll elect a Democrat to Congress sometime before the next Ice Age.

Steve Daley, a native of Corning, N.Y., is a former reporter and columnist for the Chicago Tribune.