WASHINGTON— (Updated 5:45 p.m.) U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty on Monday announced she would not seek re-election this fall as a growing list of state Democrats called for her resignation over her handling of alleged abuse by her former chief of staff.
Esty earlier in the day had called on the House Ethics Committee to investigate her actions for any wrongdoing in the dismissal of her former chief of staff, Tony Baker.
Esty has come under fire since Hearst Connecticut Media and the Washington Post reported last week that she had not fired Baker immediately after hearing of a May 2016 incident in which Baker allegedly threatened a staffer with whom he had had a relationship.
Baker was dismissed weeks after an internal investigation was completed. He received $5,041.67 in severance and a letter of recommendation from Esty that landed him a job as the Ohio coordinator for Sandy Hook Promise. Esty and Baker also signed a non-disclosure agreement concerning the details of his termination.
Esty fired Baker on July 20, 2016, after an investigation she commissioned showed a pattern of abusive behavior culminating with the May 5 alcohol-infused reunion of former and current staff members, the Connecticut Post reported. Esty insisted in interviews with the Post that she did not know the female staffer — Anna Kain, who has since gone public with her allegations — had been in a relationship of any kind with Baker, let alone an abusive one.
Kain was hired in January 2013 as Esty’s scheduler. She was promoted a year later to senior advisor and left the office in March 2015, according to House records.
The Connecticut Post reported that Baker began work in November 2016 as Ohio coordinator for Sandy Hook Promise, co-founded by family members of those who died at the Dec. 14, 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Nicole Hockley, who lost her son, Dylan, in the Newtown shooting, said Baker was not employed by Sandy Hook Promise.
After Senator Mae Flexer of Danielson first called for Esty’s resignation, Majority Leader Bob Duff of Norwalk and Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney of New Haven followed suit.
Duff criticized Esty for failing to speak out before and after the stories were published. Her lack of transparency and the use of taxpayer dollars to fund the separation agreement caused him the most concern.
“The calls for Elizabeth’s resignation by many in the political world might have been avoided had there been more concern for the victim and better judgment shown from the day this all happened in a Congressional office up and until the story broke in the media,” Duff said Monday.
“Congresswoman Esty has long been a conscientious leader in the fight against harassment and abuse in the workplace,” Looney said Saturday. “However, I agree with Senator Flexer that if the facts of this matter involving former staff of the congresswoman’s office are as they are alleged to be in recent news articles, then Congresswoman Esty should do the right thing and resign.”
Karen Jarmoc, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, met with Esty to discuss the incident and said she the congresswoman did not act swiftly enough.
“Facts disclosed to date reveal that Congresswoman Esty failed to promptly respond by holding the offender accountable and offering support for the victim,” Jarmoc said. “This is wrong and deeply disappointing.”
Flexer told CNN Monday that what she finds unforgivable is that Esty failed to act and then allowed him to leave the staff for three months and also to travel with her to the Democratic National Convention in July.
“Any other member of her staff would have died to accompany her to the national convention,“ Flexer said. “Just so many mistakes unfortunately.”
Reacting to news that she wouldn’t seek re-election, Flexer said Monday that she thinks Esty’s decision demonstrates that she understands the gravity of the situation and the “huge mistakes that she made.”
Flexer said she hopes Esty will use the coming months to effectuate change in this area and “that’s truly what’s in her heart.”
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said party and politics should not matter when it comes to workplace violence.
“No one, man or woman, should be subjected to the verbal and physical abuse and emotional trauma that this staffer suffered in her workplace.”
In her statement Monday, Esty 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.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he spoke with Esty over the weekend.
“Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty’s decision not to run for another term is the right one,” Malloy said Monday in a statement. “She has done important work on behalf of her constituents on gun safety, economic development, and much more.”
He said her actions fell far short of “appropriate standards for responsible and responsive leadership.”
Sen. Chris Murphy, Sen Richard Blumenthal, and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro issued separate statements Monday in support of Esty’s decision not to seek re-election.
“I have spoken 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,” Murphy said.
“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,” Blumenthal 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,” DeLauro said.
After the Connecticut Post broke the story, Kain posted the following statement on her Facebook page:
“I shared my story, but this isn’t about me. This is about a flawed system designed to protect powerful people and that isolates and ignores those who need protection most. Abuse and harassment occur in congressional offices far too often, and this problem extends beyond Members of Congress themselves. I implore the Senate to act now to pass meaningful reform.
If you work on the Hill and are going through this, I want you to know that it’s real, it’s a problem, and nothing about it is okay. I hear you and I believe you. It is not your fault and you are not alone. And you are stronger than you think you are.”
Connecticut Democratic Party Chairman Nick Balletto added that he has no doubt that Esty will use these experiences “to fight for workplace protections and continue her work on women’s issues, of which she has been a leading advocate for the entirely of her career.”
The district is a swing district that Hillary Clinton won by just a few points in 2016. In 2014, the Republican gubernatorial candidate won the district by 8 percent, but it wasn’t enough to help him to victory. The 5th district is the state’s most Republican congressional district.
National Republican Campaign Committee Communications Director Matt Gorman said Esty’s “coverup over her staffer’s domestic violence scandal was as reprehensible as it was morally bankrupt.”
Gorman added that Democrats “won’t be able to distance themselves from the stain Esty left on their brand.”