We repost articles about mental health and and addiction policy and opinion in Oregon regardless of whether we think the article is responsible or the authors intelligent. Our task is to document and archive the public experience of mental health.
This article captures an all-time low for The Oregonian newspaper; typically terrific on mental health issues. If it’s not a plant by Republican operatives it’s a fairly baseless attack on a person who may be in a psychological, psychiatric or existential crisis. What harm has Representative Wu done? Perhaps he has behaved strangely – so what?
Please see Mental Health Association of Portland’s news archive on this topic – click here.
Three days before the Nov. 2 election, U.S. Rep. David Wu’s most loyal and senior staffers were so alarmed by his erratic behavior that they demanded he enter a hospital for psychiatric treatment.
Their concern had been spiking for weeks in tandem with the Oregon Democrat’s increasingly unpredictable performance on the campaign trail and in private. He was loud and sometimes angry, some of them told The Oregonian. He said kooky things to staff and — more worrisome with a tough election fast approaching — around potential voters and donors.
Most of all, they were worried for Wu, a 55-year-old single father of two children.
Earlier and gentler efforts had failed, so the tight-knit group of high-level staff took other steps, including quiet inquiries about the availability of beds in hospitals in Portland and Washington, D.C., multiple sources familiar with the effort told The Oregonian.
Several staff members confronted Wu for the final time on Oct. 30. Wu’s psychiatrist was brought into that meeting as well, joining the group at the Portland campaign headquarters by speaker phone. The meeting was held after four consecutive days of troubling behavior that led the staff to agree that Wu needed a higher level of medical care, according to people intimately familiar with the events of that period.
“This is way beyond acceptable levels and the charade needs to end NOW,” wrote Lisa Grove, a senior and long-serving campaign pollster, in an e-mail to colleagues that day. “No enabling by any potential enablers, he needs help and you need to be protected. Nothing else matters right now. Nothing else.”
Wu, however, remained defiant, sources said. He left the meeting and said he was going to a movie.
Faced with a stalemate, the campaign essentially shut down at the very time when most other candidates were at their most frenzied. No public announcement was made, but campaign staff withdrew and Wu did not hold another formal campaign event until he emerged on Tuesday night after winning a seventh term.
Last month, The Oregonian reported that at least a half-dozen members of Wu’s staff had resigned after he won re-election in November. That group included his longtime chief of staff and his spokeswoman. In addition, he lost his campaign pollster and his fundraiser.
Wu declined to be interviewed for that story, and he declined to be interviewed for this one, despite multiple attempts by The Oregonian to reach him. He rushed away from a reporter after a speech on the U.S. House floor on Friday.
Late Friday his office sent a prepared statement. In it he said that he was “not always at my best with staff or constituents” and that he sought “professional medical care.”
“Some of my stress was derived from a very tough campaign, but I was also dealing with raising two children alone and the death of my father,” he wrote.
“I fully acknowledge that I could have dealt with these difficult circumstances better, and I remain focused on being a good father to my children and a strong representative for the people of Oregon,” the statement said.
This account is based on The Oregonian’s interviews with multiple sources who worked for his congressional office, his campaign, and in some cases, both. Each had detailed knowledge of campaign events and the rippling concern about Wu. The people interviewed are still working in politics in Washington and in Oregon, and talked on the condition that they not be named. Together, they offer a consistent and independent account, backed up by e-mails, that reveals serious and expanding concerns about Wu’s deteriorating condition in the last days before the election.
Beginning of the end
For some staffers, the beginning of the end was Wednesday, Oct. 27, when Wu delivered a belligerent and rambling 19-minute monologue to Washington County Democrats that some in the audience said was inappropriate for the friendly crowd. His behavior left staff members aghast.
That Thursday, on a downtown Portland sidewalk in front of Central Drugs, several staff members pleaded with him to get into their car for a private intervention. Wu refused and took off on foot. His campaign staff could only watch helplessly, afraid what their candidate might say or do.
They returned to the campaign office and sent the few remaining people home. He later called in his employees and reprimanded them for blowing things out of proportion and accused the predominantly female staff of being overly emotional, sources told The Oregonian.
On Friday, Oct. 29, Wu attended a fundraiser at which U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was the featured guest. Wu tried to get Sebelius to talk to his children on his cell phone.
That evening, he talked his way through security at Portland International Airport in order to meet his young children at the gate, only to solicit votes from passengers as his kids skipped ahead, according to a report filed with Port of Portland police. Later, the duty manager was reprimanded for letting Wu past the security checkpoint.
In the early morning of Saturday, several odd messages written from Wu’s private House of Representatives e-mail address were sent to some staffers, all female, with still others copied on them.
One message was written in the name and voice of Wu’s son. “Cut him some slack, man. What he does when he’s wasted is send emails, not harass people he works with.”
Yet another was purportedly signed by both children, who are adolescents. It praised the female staffer for sticking by Wu. “My Dad says you’re the best because not even my Mom put up with him for [REDACTED: #] years and you have. We think you’re cool.”
Aides with knowledge of the messages told The Oregonian they were convinced all were written by David Wu. The messages were sent from his BlackBerry around 1:30 a.m. Moreover, the private e-mail address of a member of Congress is closely guarded and it would be highly unusual for another person other than the elected official to have access to the account.
Wu also forwarded a cheery photo of himself dressed as a tiger for Halloween. He had both hands — paws — held up to either side of his face. He was grinning broadly.
At that point, staff knew something was terribly wrong with their candidate. That Saturday, Oct. 30, they checked for available hospital beds and consulted with his psychiatrist. Veteran pollster Grove sent staffers the e-mail that signaled the end. She declined to comment for this story but earlier told The Oregonian that she would never work for Wu again.
There was no doubt Wu was having a rough 2010. He had separated from his wife, and he faced a credible opponent — Republican Rob Cornilles — in a difficult year for all Democrats. He told people he had stopped drinking in July.
But staffers and others who encountered Wu say his behavior that fall was not an ordinary response to stress. As the campaign wore on, they said, Wu became unpredictable and sometimes loopy, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and often not making sense. Nor would he own up to their concerns.
Campaign staffers were seeing an entirely different picture of the campaign than the public. Upbeat Facebook feeds under Wu’s name, written by his communications team, appeared on the campaign’s website. They bore little similarity to real life within the campaign, which by then had split largely into two — Wu and the rest of staff.
He made few campaign appearances and near the end of the campaign was even placed under what one campaign official characterized as “house arrest.” A spokesman disputed that, saying Wu went to a football game that Saturday and on other errands and activities through the weekend.
Previous erratic behavior
Wu had shown signs of erratic behavior before. In 2007, he accused the Bush White House of acting like fake Klingons. In 2003, he appeared to go catatonic before a crucial vote on Medicare.
Sources reported that over the years Wu would have normal periods, followed by times when he seemed disturbed. Each episode seemed more erratic, they said. But just before the election, they said, was the worst they had seen.
As Election Day approached, the prevailing mood, according to one person, “was that the only thing worse than losing the campaign would be winning it.”
Voters saw none of the turmoil within the campaign. On Sunday, Oct. 31, Wu’s Facebook page thanked “incredible volunteers” for knocking on doors to get out the vote.
On election night, as returns were tallied, Wu’s staff posted a final message on his page.
“In a year of hard-fought contests, my race was no exception. I am humbled by the confidence that Oregonians continue to place in me and grateful for all the volunteers, staff, and friends who have stood by my side throughout this campaign. Thank you for your support!”
Wu had been elected to a seventh term in Congress.