Join the Campaign in Welcoming
General Wesley Clark, Former Supreme Allied Commander Europe
For a Luncheon in Support of Eric Massa
At Mario's Via Abruzzi, 2740 Monroe Avenue, Rochester, NY 14618
Wednesday, August 2, 11:30 am - 1:00 pm.
(To be Preceded by a Press Conference and VIP Reception)
Please contact Nicole Haber, by email (firstname.lastname@example.org),
or phone (607) 857-2409 for more information or to RSVP
You can download the invitation (pdf) here.
Individual donations may be made on Eric's ActBlue Page, on the netroots endorsed candidate page, or on the WesPAC ActBlue page.
When I want to stand with any man I will choose General Wesley K. Clark.
General Clark's venture into my district is not just because we are friends and former colleagues. It is because my campaign is part of General Clark's strategy to get Democrats elected in '06 to take back Congress from the neocon cabal and to put America back on course. General Clark will hear no talk about a possible presidential run in '08 because he is putting all his effort into getting Dems elected to Congress in '06. Taking back the Hill is a strategic prelude to taking back the White House. General Clark is a true patriot who does what is right whether it is politically correct or not.
Something Out of the Ordinary
I know this to be true because I served General Clark as a military aide for several years, even acting as his congressional liaison. I have to admit that my first reaction to the Pentagon's effort to have me sign on as his aide was not positive. I told my story back in 2003 and I have cherry picked some of the parts the way the Concord Monitor wrote it up.
As a junior Navy officer, Eric Massa had no choice the first time he went to work for Gen. Wesley Clark in 1996, as Clark's assistant in Panama. The Navy set up the interview, and Massa hoped to mangle it with blunt honesty.
"I didn't want the job, and I told him so," said Massa.... I had worked for senior officers who didn't care about people, and I didn't want to do that again."
In all, Massa spent 25 years in the Navy, 16 of them on sea duty. In the mid-1990s, Massa's commanding officer told him it was time to decide how he wanted to fulfill his joint duty, a requirement for officers to spend part of their service with another branch of the military.
When Massa said he wanted to do something out of the ordinary, he was told an Army general by the name of Wes Clark was looking for a Navy aide. All he knew about Clark was that he had stars on his Army uniform, and that didn't carry much weight with Massa.
Their 50-minute interview, however, convinced Massa to withhold judgment.
"He had questions I didn't expect from a military man," Massa said. "He asked me if I was familiar with Greek literature, if I read Homer, what I thought about the Iliad.
"And the last 20 minutes were devoted to people questions," Massa said. "He asked me what I would do if a young soldier came to me and told me his wife had died. Or a homosexual soldier told me he was being harassed. His whole thing was treating people with dignity and respect."
Three hours later, Massa was on a plane with Clark to Panama, where Clark was commander in chief of the U.S. Southern Command. Massa described his job as Clark's executive assistant and deputy chief of staff.
Once there, Massa asked Clark what the Homer question was about. Massa remembers the answer: "He said he was looking for someone who was well-rounded enough to talk about issues beyond military terms."
For about 13 months, Massa shadowed Clark, keeping notes of his meetings and drafting follow-up letters to the people Clark had met.
When Clark was promoted to Supreme Allied Commander and Commander in Chief of the European Forces in 1997, he asked me to stay on and I moved my wife and kids, who had been waiting for him back in San Diego, to Brussels, Belgium. After Clark arrived, I was again a close assistant and became one of Clark's main liaisons to Washington, D.C. And so I was with Clark at the beginning of the Kosovo campaign and know about that venture intimately. I have even suggested that Kosovo could be the model for solving the political and cultural problems in Iraq. You can read about that on one of my weekly diaries at kos: A New Vision for Success in Iraq. I wrote:
When the Balkans erupted in a three way, multi-ethnic religious war in the 90s, it was NATO, brought to the table by American leadership, that brought a cessation of fighting in a hostile region and laid the groundwork for peace. Bosnia is now on the cusp of joining the European Union. This is a true success story, whose lessons learned need to be captured and utilized in Iraq. Those of us who were on the ground, learned first hand how to apply this model and must now work to correct the mistakes of this Administration.
There is more, but that is another story. Working for Wes was a different assignment. If I write well, it is because Clark demanded clarity. If I am at all humble, it is one of the lessons he helped reinforce. For example, Clark forbade his staff to begin any of his correspondence with "I" because Clark wanted the emphasis on the recipient, not himself.
Below is a picture of "The Boss" and his troops.
Really Supporting the Troops
I can give examples of how General Clark was an exception leader. For example, in 1991, Clark was cited in his annual performance evaluation as a "great leader who takes care of soldiers and families." In Clark's 1993 evaluation, he was praised for "focusing intently on the quality of life of the soldiers and families of the division." One example of General Clark's work: his battle to improve schools for the families of his troops stationed in Europe. Massa's son was in the fourth grade when he was stationed in Europe. His son had always been a straight-A student in America, but was struggling in his new school. Massa began to examine his son's textbooks and realized that they were poorly written. He showed the textbooks to Clark, who agreed. After further investigation, Clark called an academic review conference at the base school and updated the school's curriculum for the first time in more than a decade. Another example, in 1998, Clark went to Congress to fight budget cuts that would affect schools on military bases. "We must provide an environment designed to prepare students for success in a dynamic, global environment," said Clark. He continued, "We must look forward to making technology a reality in our schools. Technology and connecting our schools to the Internet will ensure our students, particularly those in remote areas, have the requisite tools to meet the challenges of tomorrow. Although, this may be an expensive short-term proposition, we must recognize its long-term value. Our children deserve the best, and we owe our service members an aggressive and vibrant education system that enhances all aspects of [quality of life] programs."
Forced Departure from NATO
I had every intention of staying in Europe as Clark's assistant until late 1999. I had run a half-marathon and was having trouble recovering. I just chalked it up to the flu and ignored a doctor's appointment my wife had made. I figured I would work it off.
Then On Nov. 9, 1999, I was sitting at my desk and General Clark walked out of his office. He said, "Eric, Beverly called me." I thought, "This can't be good when you're wife calls your boss." He said, "She says you're not feeling well." I told him that I was OK, just had the flu or something. And he said, "Beverly says she's made appointments for you with the doctor and you've cancelled them." I said, "I'm OK." He said, "I've made an appointment with the doctor for you." I said, "Gee, General, I appreciate your concern, but really, I'm fine."
Then Clark pulled down his glasses from his eyes and gave me the only direct order I recall receiving in four years, "I think we have lost the fundamental relationship between a four-star general and a Navy commander," Clark told him. "You will go to the doctor."
Although I had never smoked, the doctor diagnosed me with advanced lung cancer and gave me four months to live. The boss fought his way through layers of red tape and bureaucracy and had me and my family on a plane back to an American hospital for treatment. Just before I left, Clark convened the staff and awarded me the Legion of Merit medal. Clark had received the same medal in the 1970s when he was a speech writer for the then-supreme allied commander. It's one of the few times I ever saw Clark cry.
Everyone thought that was goodbye because I was dying, but in San Diego, doctors were more optimistic and I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, not lung cancer, and they began aggressive treatment.
Unknown to Massa, Clark had a soldier tracking Massa's surgery. As soon as Massa came to in recovery, staff told him he had a call. It was Clark. Clark was the first person to call the hospital after Massa's surgery, and he continued to check up on Massa throughout the eleven-week bombing campaign in Kosovo.
General Clark is the reason I am alive today and the last thing I did in uniform was to attend Clark's retirement.
As I experienced my own complete recovery, I spent the next year, my last in the service, counseling other recovering servicemen. It was probably at this time that I began to question my commitment to the Republican Party. Yet, when I retired, because of my experience in working with Congress as a liaison for General Clark, I got a staff position on the House Armed Services Committee and one aspect of my job was overseeing part of the Navy budget.
The Cost of Conviction
But my time with General Clark as my "Boss" was not over, but my time as a Republican staffer was nearing an end.
The true story behind my job on Capitol Hill as a Professional Staff member for the House Armed Services Committee is neither a political conspiracy nor an issue for my campaign.
I want to make sure the story is straight, and accurate and told in my own words and not in those of a reporter or surrogate.
When our government was discussing the Iraq invasion, I still had all of my military security clearances active from my job as the aide to the Supreme Allied Commander, NATO. I was involved in the discussions about invading Iraq and wrote dissenting memos about logistical concerns I had for the invasion - I voiced my opinion that we were getting into a situation that we would not be able to get out of. I also wrote very strongly worded memos about my concern that the Administration was working against the passage of concurrent receipt, a key Veterans issue. I was appalled by the treatment that returning soldiers were getting at the hands of an unprepared military system and a Department of Defense that didn't seem to place a priority on our war wounded. I spent many days at Walter Reed talking with soldiers about their needs and personally worked to get clothes, snacks and anything else they needed. Individually involved officers, and personnel were doing all they could to help - but the leadership of the Department was not. This became very clear to anyone who was following this through the news.
As my memos around the office circulated, General Clark announced his run for President. Along with a Democratic Congressman, a personal friend of many years, I went to meet him on Capitol Hill to say hello outside of an event at the residence of a supporter not far from the Democratic Headquarters. My Congressman friend was witness to the exact chain of events and has retold that story publicly, as recently as June, 21st at my announcement event.
The next day I was called into a Congressional Office and told if I renounced my friendship with General Clark, I would still be able to keep my job. At one point the actual statement was made that "if I liked Wes Clark so much I should go work for him." I did not renounce my friendship or loyalty to Wes and instead departed the Staff. Some said that I was fired others said that I left - but bottom line is, that particular future was closed to me and that position was over. I filed paperwork to change parties as soon as I was physically able to get back from New Hampshire where I was part of the Clark campaign. This change went into effect the day after the general election, as required by New York State Law.
My public statements on the subject were published and became fodder on the blogs with many wanting me to attack my former employers and others wanting me to put my head in the sand. I did neither. Most cancer survivors know that time is too valuable to waste with frustration and anger. At that time, as now, I made it clear that my focus was on the future and not on the events that made it clear to me then that I no longer wanted to be part of the highjacked Republican Party. It also cost me relationships and friendships that go back to my earliest days. I join a long and growing list of Americans who did not leave the Republican Party but rather who witnessed the Republican party running away from them .... And then kept on going right over the deep end. The purpose of Government should be to help those who have little, have more; not to double a two million dollar stock portfolio. The central truth of decision making in American politics should flow around the common good, not the good of the exceptional few.
We have arrived at this point in American history largely on the strength of the American middle class as embodied by the working family. Today the working family is under attack by policies put in place that make every step along the way more difficult and less obtainable.
I was brought to this candidacy by strength of personal conviction, not by years of personal calculation. Nothing proves this with greater clarity than the cost to change my political party, clearly think through my entire world view of the issues facing our nation, and step into the public light. The brightness and intensity of this light, which attracts friends and foes alike, is an unknown reality until a candidate is standing under it.
I began working for Clark's army again, this time as a campaign staffer trying to get him elected to the White House in the '04 primary race for vet outreach. I wasn't looking for the job this time, either, but the Boss asked me to come on board after learning that I had "involuntarily resigned" at the urging of Republican bosses upset that I had visited Clark. They said I was a political liability and that if I liked Wes Clark so much I should go work for him. So I did.
Building the Democratic Party from the Ground Up
I soon began my own campaign. I had tried to run for Congress in '04, but could not register as a Democrat in New York State until after the current cycle. I even tried to get special permission from the State Democratic Party, but was turned down. But I started running from the very beginning of the current election cycle. Some of my small success stems from trying to build the Democratic Party in NY-29 from the ground up. It was a moderate Republican district until Randy "Rubberstamp" Kuhl ignored his election profile to become a neocon clone.
Although a "red" district with many characteristics of rural PA and VA, the tide is beginning to change. I helped get a Democratic mayor of Corning elected to office, the first Democrat in that position in about 40 years, and another mayor elected in Elmira, the first Democrat is several decades in that position. I have received the endorsement of every Democratic County Committee in the district, and the support of unions. Because I have done and am doing my groundwork, pounded the pavement, put up yard signs, and traveled around the district continuously, I was able to push back attempts to mount primary challenges to my campaign. In the end, the DCCC and the NY Democrat have back my candidacy. In this way, I have tried to bring together both the grassroots organization and the state and national institutions behind our drive to turn this district blue - or rather, Red, White and Blue.
To those candidates who are working in similar "red" districts, I think my campaign can be a model. I have worked the grassroots and the netroots, the local and the national, and I did it from the day after the '04 election. If I have any word of advice to those who lose campaigns this cycle, it is to use the networks you have established and aim for '08 by building the Democratic Party in your district "from the ground up."
I would like to recommend viewing the speech made by Lisa Feinberg Duckett, Allegany County Democratic Committee Chair. It was so straightforward and sincere that it co-opted the speeches of others, including myself, General Clark, an Admiral and a Congressman! It is work a look.
The Future of America
And now the General and I and the other Fighting Dems, vets and non-vets, are working together to put America back on course: to support working families and single workers, to provide national health care, to insure fair taxation, to protect Social Security, to restore American values, to fully fund programs to aid education, the poor and disabled, equality of opportunity for all Americans, and to push for sound environmental policies to safeguard our land. Good solid progressive values that have always served America well.
We also believe that a strong America is one that engages its allies rather than antagonizes them, one that goes after terrorism where it exists rather than invading countries that distract from this mission, and, as military men, we believe that using force to accomplish international objectives should be used only as a truly last resort.
And one more thing. We want an America that is Red, White and Blue -- a land in which all Americans share common values, aspirations and dreams. To do this we are intent on taking Congress back from those who have hijacked our nation, distorted our values, devastated our economy, damaged our nation's credibility, derailed the middle class, and distracted us from the War on Terror by sending our fathers and sons, mothers and daughters and brothers and sisters to be maimed and to die fighting a war that did not need to be fought.
And here I stand with a man I admire beyond all others: my former boss and friend General Wesley K. Clark.
Our hearts are strong, our resolve and commitment is total, and in our hands we carry the torch that will light the future of the 29th District as we fight for the families who will build a better tomorrow for our children and for our grandchildren.
-- Eric Massa, Kickoff Fundraiser Speech, 21 June 2005
By the way, kos has a diary on Jay Fawcett. Go give Jay a Recommend and Comment. He is one of the finest Fighting Dems we have. And that is saying a lot with all the great brothers and sisters who are vets running to take back the Hill.