A Connecticut congresswoman who came under fire last week after admitting that her former chief of staff threatened and harassed a former employee, now says she will not seek re-election.
The state's representative from the 5th district, Elizabeth Esty, said Monday she wanted an expedited ethics committee inquiry into her actions following improper behavior by her former chief of staff.
Esty filed a formal request on Monday.
“Although we worked with the House Employment Counsel to investigate and ultimately dismiss this employee for his outrageous behavior with a former staffer, I believe it is important for the House Ethics Committee to conduct its own inquiry into this matter,” Esty said in a statement. “It certainly was far from a perfect process – and I would appreciate their advice, counsel, and review. I have apologized for my mistakes in the handling of this matter. I feel terribly for the victim of abuse. In seeking this inquiry, I want to clarify whether there was any wrongdoing on my part.”
Esty, a Democrat, came under fire last week after admitting that her former chief of staff, Tony Baker, threatened and harassed a former employee.
Esty's office confirmed that the abuse started after Baker and the female staffer started a relationship in 2014.
She issued an apology on Friday, however, on Monday, she said she won't seek re-election this year.
"From being a room parent in a first-grade classroom to serving on the library board, town council, state house and U.S. Congress, I went into public service to fight for equality, justice, and fairness. It is one of the greatest honors of my life that the people of Connecticut’s Fifth District elected me to represent them in Congress. However, I have determined that it is in the best interest of my constituents and my family to end my time in Congress at the end of this year and not seek re-election," she said in part in a statement.
Even though she says she won't seek re-election, do you think Congresswoman Esty should resign? Vote in our poll here.
In a statement, Gov. Dannel Malloy said "Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty’s decision not to run for another term is the right one. She has done important work on behalf of her constituents on gun safety, economic development, and much more. I spoke with the Congresswoman multiple times over the weekend and as recently as today, encouraging full transparency with the press and public, and also urging her to do what is in the best interest of her constituents and her family. I believe she is now doing that. The truth is, too many facts about how this incident was handled fall short of appropriate standards for responsible and responsive leadership. Fostering a safe and supportive workplace culture for staff must be a guiding principle for all managers, and especially all elected officials, from local office all the way up to the President.”
Over the Easter weekend, however, a flurry of lawmakers and state officials, many from her own party, demanded her resignation.
"I think she's done a good job on a wide variety of issues, but in this situation, she completely failed and I think it's too big of a mistake to overcome," said Senator Mae Flexer of Danielson.
State Democrats like Flexer feel Esty has been strong on women's rights, but think it's time for Esty to go.
"For someone who has stood out so strongly for the Me Too movement, and the Sandy Hook movement, and that's the irony, that she helped this gun get a job in an area that she has taken as her own," said State Representative Themis Klarides.
State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff of Norwalk issued a statement on the issue.
“Congresswoman Esty is someone who has worked hard and built up a list of accomplishments that have made the citizens of her district and the State of Connecticut proud. It is in the shadow of her record which makes it difficult but necessary to ask her to resign," Duff wrote in a statement. “However, no matter the hard work Elizabeth has exhibited and my admiration for her bi-partisan accomplishments, the news of the last few days is certainly disheartening."
Duff cited Esty's reluctance to speak out publicly before and after the story was published, a lack of information and transparency and using taxpayer dollars to fund a separation agreement.
A Connecticut women's and victim advocate, Donna Palomba, is weighing in on the controversy. Palomba, of Waterbury, founded "Jane Doe No More" years after she was sexually assaulted. Jane Doe No More encourages victims to come forward.
Palomba said "Our political leaders are in a position of power and we entrust them to advocate on our behalf. It takes courage to speak up and report abused and I applaud Anna Kain. We must start by believing the victim and take immediate action to protect them from further harm. If recent reports are accurate, that was not done in this case and it is wrong and should not be tolerated."
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman weighed in, but did not call for the congresswoman's resignation.
“Congresswoman Esty has identified the problems in her office and mistakes in her early management of the situation, and taken steps to address them, including calling for an outside examination of the matter," Wyman said. "It’s important that we get this right, for the safety of staff and to change the culture in Congress and across the nation."
She later released a statement on Monday saying "I think this is the right decision and I thank Congresswoman Esty for her many years of service to the residents of the fifth district and the State of Connecticut.”
Esty’s office said last week that the congresswoman found out within a week of the abuse and started her own investigation. It revealed Baker’s abuse was “not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern of behavior that victimized many of the women on my staff.”
However, Baker held his job for another three months before leaving. Esty also signed a non-disclosure agreement that prevented her from discussing Baker’s departure.
Esty and Baker also co-wrote a recommendation letter. According to his Facebook profile, Baker worked at the Sandy Hook Promise Ohio location.
Channel 3 was told that Baker was given a $5,000 severance. However, Esty said she repaid that money to the government.
Esty is also asking the House Ethics Committee to investigate her actions.
"If you're asking the Ethics Committee to investigate yourself, that's bad news," said Scott McLean, Political Science professor at Quinnipiac University.
McLean said an investigation could take months, but the political process could move at lightning pace, and Democrats don't want to lose in November.
Esty's decision not to run can help Democrats, if she can survive the next seven months.
"This is something that's only just beginning and you better buckle up, it's going to be quite a ride in the next few weeks with Elizabeth Esty," McLean said.
Channel 3 reached out to a handful of potential candidates-- Co-chair of the Working Families Party Julie Kushner, former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, and current State Rep. Liz Linehan, who all said they weren’t running.
“While I really appreciate it, my job in the state assembly is not done yet,” Linehan said.
On the Republican side, there are two opponents. New Britain’s Craig Diangelo and former Meriden Mayor Manny Santos. He urged Esty to resign last week and now he’s re-tooling his campaign.
“It introduces an uncertainty, not quite knowing who the opponent is going to be or even whether other Republicans will jump in,” Santos said.
While Democrats are still trying to find a candidate, female leaders are urging Esty to make the most of the rest of her time in Congress.“She has a unique opportunity to spend the rest of her months in office, really making sure she’s calling out the problems that go on within Congress,” Linehan said.
The rest of Esty's statement on Monday said "Too many women have been harmed by harassment in the workplace. In the terrible situation in my office, I could have and should have done better. To the survivor, I want to express my strongest apology for letting you down. In Congress, and workplaces across the country, we need stronger workplace protections and to provide employees with a platform to raise concerns, address problems, and work to reduce and eliminate such occurrences, in the first place. In my final months in Congress, I will use my power to fight for action and meaningful change. I’m proud of the work I’ve done in Congress fighting for what’s best for Connecticut: working for gun violence prevention and safer communities for our children, supporting our veterans, and fighting for women’s equality and access to health care. On these critical issues and many more, there is still so much at stake for my district and for our nation. I intend to spend the coming months doing what I’ve always done: working hard each and every day for the people of Connecticut."
Senator Richard Blumenthal issued a statement regarding Esty's decision saying "This decision is the right one. Elizabeth Esty has done much good and fought relentlessly for highly significant causes like gun safety. She made profound mistakes, as she has acknowledged. Harassment and assault in any workplace are unacceptable."
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy also released a statement. He said "Elizabeth is a friend and a colleague, who has fought hard on behalf of the people she represents for the past six years. I have spoke to Elizabeth at length over the past few days, and I support her decision to not seek re-election. No one should ever be harassed, assaulted or intimidated at work. Elizabeth knows she handled the dismissal of her former Chief of Staff badly. The decision she made today is the right one for her, and I look forward to working with her during the remainder of her term."
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro released the following statement regarding Esty's decision, which said "Anna Kain's story is heartbreaking, and she showed great courage by coming forward to share it. People should be safe from harm everywhere they go - especially at their workplace. Congresswoman Esty made a difficult decision, but the right one for her and the constituents of her District."
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