HARTFORD, CT — A Courant editorial has called for U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty to resign, but her Congressional colleagues are defending her as she seeks to navigate what the paper is describing as “a full-blown political crisis” in an election year.
In statement Friday, Esty said “I want to be clear that I am not resigning.”
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the only other female Congresswoman from Connecticut, said she wishes Esty had “handled the situation differently.”
However, she pointed out that Esty is making changes in her office.
“This story is heartbreaking,” DeLauro said. “People should be safe from harm everywhere they go — especially at their workplace.”
Hearst Connecticut Media and the Washington Post ran stories detailing how Esty kept an aide on staff for three months after she learned he threatened to kill another younger female staffer. In an emailed statement to all the media outlets Thursday, Esty apologized for failing to act sooner in 2016 when Tony Baker, her former chief of staff, was accused of harassing, threatening, and punching a female former staffer.
JR Romano, the chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party said that “the Connecticut Democratic Party should join me in calling for her resignation.”
He said she “has shown a lack of integrity and character in paying off of a male staffer who physically abused a female staffer. While at the same time recommending him for a new job, she used taxpayer money for the payoff,” Romano said, referring to the $5,000 severance Baker received.
Esty said she has since reimbursed the U.S. Treasury for Baker’s severance following an internal investigation of Baker’s conduct, after which she fired him.
None of her Democratic colleagues who responded to requests for comment were willing Friday to call for her resignation.
“This clearly wasn’t handled the way it should have been,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, who represented Esty’s district before she was elected. “I talked to Elizabeth, and I’m glad she acknowledges this. Nobody working in a congressional office or any other setting should feel afraid to come to work. Protecting victims of workplace harassment needs to come first, and the rules of Congress need to change to ensure that happens.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney also expressed his disappointment with the way the situation was handled in a statement released Friday.
“Whether abuse is taking place in the private sector or in a government office, there is no question that the needs of victims must be put first. The internal process that took place in this situation clearly did not live up to that standard,” Courtney said.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said that Esty has already said she should have handled the situation differently and he agrees.
“There is absolutely no place for sexual harassment or abusive behavior in the workplace — whether that be the halls of Congress, state houses, or the White House,” Malloy said. “Every woman — every person — deserves to feel safe in their places of employment. The fact is that there is more work to be done to make this a reality. And I commend this young woman, like the thousands of other brave women of the #MeToo movement, for having the courage to come forward and give voice to victims of harassment. Our society as a whole is stronger because of their strength.”
Should she resign?
“What she does in the future really is a decision for her constituents,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Friday. “I’m still learning all the facts.”
Based on what he does know, Blumenthal said, “I’m deeply disappointed. There should be no tolerance for harassment or assault in the workplace.”
Esty represents a swing district in Connecticut. Two Republicans, Craig Diangelo and Manny Santos, are vying for the nomination to challenge her.
Esty was first elected in 2012. She has since won re-election with 58 percent of the vote in 2016 and 53 percent of the vote in 2014.
The district is listed among those being targeted by the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Republicans haven’t held one of Connecticut’s congressional seats since 2006.
In response to Republican calls for Esty’s resignation, AFL-CIO President Lori Pelletier released a statement suggesting Republicans were being hypocrites Friday.
“Once again the CT GOP is duplicitous,” Pelletier said. “Not once have they or any of their leadership called on President Trump to resign following any of the dozens of stories, settlements, and NDA’s as a result of his actions over the past 18 months. So, now from their island of hypocrisy they are calling on Congresswoman Esty to resign. To borrow a phrase, I say, ‘BS’.”
Pelletier continued: “The Congresswoman gave a detailed explanation of the situation and apologized. Congresswoman Esty has been and will continue to be a fierce advocate for working women and their families as her exemplary AFL-CIO voting record shows. In order to achieve real change in the workplace, working women need to have an efficient way to join together in a union and gain collective power.”