David Wu

f surviving a sex scandal is a prerequisite for becoming a high-profile politician, David Wu paid his dues early as a 21-year-old Stanford junior. During the summer of 1976 the campus police was called because Wu was suspected of having tried to force sex on a fellow student. Allegations of that sexual assault surfaced publicly 28 years later on October 12, 2004 as Wu was fighting a heated battle for his fourth term as a U.S. congressman representing the suburbs of Portland.

     The precise events on that college summer evening seem to have yellowed around the edges with the passage of time and the fading of memories. A few facts are suggested by the accounts of counselors, professors, campus officers and a friend of the alleged victim who had known Wu since both were freshmen and who had apparently broken off their relationship that spring, a few weeks before the incident. But on the evening of the incident the couple had been necking in her dorm room. She said he had tried to rape her and muffled her screams with a pillow. The campus cops saw Wu with scratches and a stretched tee-shirt. The alleged victim declined to press charges or even to give the officers a physical description of sexual assault. On that basis the Santa Clara County DA's office told the campus police that nothing could be done.

     The one disciplinary measure taken by Stanford was to deny Wu the dorm RA position for which he had already been accepted that spring. Both the alleged victim and Wu sought counseling. That fall the alleged victim began dating an 18-year-old freshman named Peter Buffett who happened to be the son of Warren Buffett, the world's most successful investor. She told Peter about the incident. He clipped out a magazine article about rape and tucked it under the windshield wiper of Wu's car.

     "I wanted him to know, 'I'm not going to let you forget what you did,' " Buffett recalled. "I remember her being hurt that nothing happened [to Wu]. I think that's part of why I did what I did, and that I cared for her."

     Given the miscues and hormonal fog that often confuse the motivations underlying youthful sexual encounters, the most damning assessment of Wu's actions comes from the statement Wu himself issued on the day The Oregonian story broke.

     "As a 21-year-old, I hurt someone I cared very much about," Wu said. "I take full responsibility for my actions and I am very sorry. This single event forever changed my life and the person that I have become."

     Despite that clear admission of what many would regard a serious offense, David Wu, then 49, won his fourth term as Congressman for a district evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. His Republican opponent was a telegenic, hawkish Iranian woman who had graduated from Stanford a year after Wu. In 2006 Wu easily won a fifth term and is favored to win his sixth on November 4, 2008.

     Looking at David Wu's record some may be baffled as to how he managed to become the first and only U.S. congressman of Chinese descent, especially representing a district in which Asians and Pacific Islanders are only about 7% of the population. He did graduate from elite Stanford and from Yale Law School but had dropped out of Harvard Med School after a year. He did clerk for a federal judge before starting his legal career, but showed little interest in public service. Instead, in 1988 he and a partner started the law firm of Cohen and Wu to serve the tech companies of Oregon's Silicon Forest. In fact, Wu's only experience in public service before being elected to his first congressional term on November 3, 1998 was a 1986 appointment to the Portland Planning Commission on which he served for three years. He became active in Democratic politics in 1984 and worked for the presidential campaigns of Gary Hart and Walter Mondale.

     Wu's congressional track record is considered unexceptional. He serves on the Committees on Education and Labor, Foreign Affairs, and Science and Technology. His sole leadership post is chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation. On paper Wu's only claim to distinction is becoming the first and only person of Chinese descent to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

     What makes David Wu notable, even inspiring, is his unusual knack for avoiding the kind of doubletalk that makes most politicians frustrating to listen to. When Wu is for or against something, he says it straight out and with some verbal flair. First, of course, is his quite straightforward admission of guilt in the dorm incident at a time when many would have deemed it fatal to his reelection campaign.

     More recently, in endorsing Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in his capacity as a Democratic Superdelegate, Wu said, "I am endorsing Barack Obama for president today because I believe that he is best suited to turn the page on this sorry episode in American history. He and I both had the judgment to oppose the Iraq War from the very beginning."

     In a January 10, 2007 speech on the House floor Wu, a Star Trek fan, seized on the Bush campaign team calling themselves "Vulcans" based on the statue of the Roman god in Birmingham, Alabama, Condoleezza Rice's hometown. Unlike "the Vulcans of Star Trek [who] make decisions based on logic and fact", Wu pointed out, Rice and her cadre behave more like the warlike Klingons. "There are Klingons in the White House," Wu continued. But unlike "real Klingons" who are known for their courage and code of honor, the White House Klingons "have never fought a battle of their own". Wu concluded his speech by exhorting, "don't let faux Klingons send real Americans to war!"

     Wu's capacity for colorful and forceful public expression is especially notable because it shatters the stereotype of Asians spouting comically-accented gibberish.

     David Wu was born in Hsinchu, Taiwan on April 8, 1955. His parents had fled China with the Kuomingtang in 1949. When David was barely one his father immigrated to the United States with nothing in hopes of establishing a home for his family. Six years later when the rest of the family came to join him in Latham, New York, David only recognized him from photos.

     The Wus were the town's only Asian family. While his parents strived to maintain a middle-class living standard David attended public schools. His distinguished academic record won him admission to Stanford from which he graduated in 1977 with a B.S. After a year in Harvard Medical School he gave up his dream of becoming a doctor and set his sights on law. He earned his J.D. from Yale Law School in 1982 with enough distinction to earn a clerkship with a federal judge.

     Wu married a blonde school teacher whose family had been in Oregon for six generations. He and Michelle had a son, Matthew, in 1998 and a daughter, Sarah, two years later.

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“As a 21-year-old, I hurt someone I cared very much about. I take full responsibility for my actions and I am very sorry.”

Michelle Wu was a school teacher for 10 years before marrying David and having Matthew and Sarah.

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