U.S. Rep. David Wu tried to explain his odd behavior in the run-up to the November election during interviews last weekend with several local television and radio stations.
One week after Wu’s unaddressed mental-health problems first surfaced Feb. 18 on wweek.com, the Oregon Democrat went on KGW, KATU, KOIN, KPTV, OPB and KPOJ (he refused to talk with WW or The Oregonian) and placed a good deal of blame for his instability in the fall of 2010 on the recent dissolution of his 13-year marriage.
David Wu on KATU
“What happened last fall, it really goes back a little further,” the 55-year-old congressman told KGW. “I’ve been the primary person who’s been taking care of my two little kids, and that’s been going on for two years.”
Further reporting by WW reveals that some of the circumstances of Wu’s marital woes were more public than those that accompany the typical breakup.
But Wu’s explanations for his behavior continue to oversimplify the troubles surrounding his personal life and its impact on his public role.
Wu and his second wife, Michelle Reinmiller Wu, 48, separated two years ago. Their divorce is still pending. They have two children, ages 13 and 11.
Portland police reports from 2009 and 2010 offer a glimpse into Wu’s personal life and the additional stress it may have caused him.
On Aug. 24, 2009, Michelle Wu was placed in the care of paramedics outside Jake’s Restaurant on Southwest 10th Avenue around 8:30 pm after they had been called to the scene by a Radio Cab driver, according to police reports. The cab driver said Wu’s wife had lost consciousness in the back of his taxi.
When police arrived, one officer “immediately noticed that she had slurred speech, watery eyes and an odor of alcoholic beverage coming from her person,” according to an officer’s report.
Michelle Wu at that point was seated on the sidewalk with a BlackBerry next to her, the police report says.
“In order to get from sitting to standing, she had to get on all fours and then slowly stand up,” Officer Jacob Jensen wrote at the time. “She was swaying in a circular motion as she stood up.”
She refused to allow police to help her to her destination and told officers her husband was a congressman. When she tried to walk away, officers grabbed her and handcuffed her. An outreach van then picked her up and took her to Portland’s Hooper Detoxification and Stabilization Center, an alternative to jail that acts as a holding facility for drunken and disorderly Portlanders. (No charges were filed, as is typical in such cases.)
After the outreach van left for the detox center, Michelle Wu’s 69-year-old mother, Janice Reinmiller, arrived outside Jake’s. (Her daughter apparently had called her earlier at the request of police.)
“Reinmiller said she thought that [Hooper] was a good place for her daughter,” the report says. “She explained that her daughter had had problems with alcohol for a long time and that her daughter had gone into a rehabilitation program for alcohol at age 21.”
Five months later, on Jan. 22, 2010, as Wu’s sixth reelection campaign began, Michelle Wu again came to the attention of Portland police. They approached her at around 2:30 pm in the Southwest Hills, where she was sitting on a sidewalk with a “half-consumed can of beer.” She admitted to being drunk and was unable to walk or stand unassisted, the report said. She looked “very disheveled” and smelled strongly of alcohol.
An officer again took Michelle Wu to Hooper Detox.
Wu, through his D.C. spokesman, declined to talk with WW about his wife’s troubles.
In a written statement to WW on March 1, Michelle Wu acknowledged she had a problem with alcohol. But she says she’s since gotten extensive treatment.
“Recent news and statements from David cause me concern regarding my children,” she added.
On Saturday, Feb. 26, Wu denied having his own substance abuse problems, though emails from the period before his Nov. 2 reelection suggest staffers were then concerned about his drinking.
In interviews with other Oregon reporters in recent days, Wu confessed to having been hospitalized for a poor reaction in 2008 to Ambien and Valium prescribed to help him cope with stress.
Wu acknowledged to WW he’d stopped drinking for a five-month stretch ending Dec. 1. He told KGW on Saturday he stopped drinking again in January for weight-loss reasons.
“One thing I learned,” Wu told KGW, “if you do stop drinking, don’t brag about it because people think that you have a problem. And if you ever go back to drinking, people think that you really have a problem.”
Wu’s local broadcast-media blitz hasn’t stopped the barrage of questions. In battling to repair his image, Wu painted himself as a struggling single father.
But one statement he made on television undercuts that image of an attentive parent.
Explaining the origin of the photograph of Wu in a tiger suit Oct. 30, Wu said he was joshing around with his children, who had just flown to Oregon from the nation’s Capitol.
The congressman hadn’t seen his kids in 30 or 35 days, he said.
FACT: Wu, who won reelection last November with 55 percent of the vote, says he won’t resign. Last week he filed reelection paperwork for 2012.