Last year, when U.S. Rep. David Wu crashed his rental car into a parked vehicle in Northwest Portland, he gave a police officer the home address of a close friend rather than the address on his Oregon driver's license.
Because the Portland cop wasn't issuing Wu a citation, the Democratic congressman did nothing wrong when he provided the officer the address of his friend Stuart Cohen, who happens to live a few blocks from the scene of Wu's February 2010 crash (see "Asleep at the Wheel," WW, March 16, 2011).
But by telling the officer he considered Northwest Portland his home, the seven-term congressman did make a startling admission. That home is not in the district Wu represents, but in the district of fellow Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer.
In fact, when Wu returns to Oregon from Washington, D.C., it appears that the Democrat does not often live in his home district, which stretches from Southwest Portland to the Oregon coast. That is based on what he told the police in February 2010, what a longtime neighbor of Wu's told WW this week, and what his own spokesman said.
Wu owns a home in his district, an 1,800-square-foot house in Portland's Southwest Hills. He's registered to vote at that home, which property records show he's owned since 1989. Wu's driver's license is registered to that address. But at least since announcing his separation from his second wife in December 2009, Wu hasn't regularly lived in the home.
Jim Park, who lives across the street from the home Wu owns, considers the house unoccupied. "There isn't anyone you could consider a permanent resident [there]," says Park, a Democrat. "About twice a year someone comes and cleans up the front yard."
Curiously, it's not against the rules for congressmen to live outside their districts. To run for the Oregon Legislature or Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, one must live in the district one wants to represent. To run for Congress in Oregon, one must only live somewhere in Oregon.
Is Wu committing voter fraud if he votes in one district but resides in another? Probably not, if his relocation is only temporary, which is how a spokesman for Wu characterized Wu's practice of staying with Cohen. Elections officials weigh several factors when determining where someone should vote, and an elector's intent figures heavily in the equation. Wu's "intent" could be to return to his Southwest Portland home eventually.
"Voters should know Congressman Wu has lived in the district for decades and will continue to do so going forward,â says Wu spokesman Erik Dorey.