Representative Elizabeth Esty steps down after supporting abusive staffer

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Elizabeth Esty
US Representative Elizabeth Esty (D-Connecticut), photo: WestConn, CC2.0

The #MeToo movement has picked off another member of Congress, but this time the circumstances are unique: Representative Elizabeth Esty (D-Connecticut) is a woman, a previous advocate for sexual harassment victims, and is resigning because of allegations of abuse by a member of staff she failed to deal with satisfactorily.

A reunion leads to abuse

At a 2016 Cinco de Mayo celebration at a Washington, DC bar, several of Esty’s staff past and present gathered for a reunion. At the party, according to an affidavit for a protective order filed following the incident, Esty’s then chief of staff Tony Baker called former staffer Anna Kain on her cellphone fifty times. He reportedly left threatening voicemail messages saying he would track her down and kill her.

The affidavit also told of a patter of abuse during the time Kain worked in Esty’s office:

“Throughout the Winter of 2014, respondent [Baker] repeatedly screamed at petitioner [Kain] in the workplace, making the woman feel intimidated and caused petitioner to feel she could not report respondent’s actions without putting her safety at risk.”

According to a letter Elizabeth Esty sent out to fellow House of Representatives members last week, once she learned of Baker’s behavior she “demanded counseling for my offending, then-Chief of Staff and…launched an internal review of management policy and practices and an investigation into what was going on in the office.

“Unfortunately, through the review process I learned that threat of violence was not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern of behavior that victimized many of the women on my staff.”

Esty did go on to replace Baker, but kept him on the payroll for three months after learning about the event. She also wrote him a reference, entered into a non-disclosure agreement with him, and awarded him a $5,000 severance package.

A few months later, gun-control group Sandy Hook Promise called Esty to check Baker’s references for an advocacy position in Ohio. Esty followed their prior agreement, she wrote a recommendation, and Baker got the job.

Elizabeth Esty clings on…for a while

Despite the fairly immediate calls for Esty to resign following the revelation of her 2016 actions, the Connecticut Democrat at first decided to cling on.

“I was not the perpetrator of this,” she told the Hartford Courant. “I think there’s a whole record of what I’ve accomplished.”

But the calls for her to resign began to mount up, both from Republican challengers, and Democrats from the Connecticut state legislature. Notably, neither Nancy Pelosi nor any member of the Connecticut Congressional delegation called on Elizabeth Esty to resign.

But despite the lack of heat from her Congressional colleagues, the pressure grew too great for Esty on Monday afternoon. Posting on her Facebook page she announced:

“…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.

“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 Democratic hands since the 2006 election, it seems unlikely Esty’s resignation will create an opportunity for the Repubicans or any other party in this year’s elections. But the scandal and resignation do indicate that the #MeToo movement is continuing to reshape American politics in unexpected ways.

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