HARTFORD (CN) — Faced with calls from fellow Democrats for her resignation, three-term Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty said Monday she will not seek re-election, due to her handling of reports of abuse by her former chief of staff.
Esty has come under fire since Hearst Connecticut Media and The Washington Post reported last week that she had not fired Tony Baker immediately after hearing of a May 2016 incident in which he allegedly threatened a staffer with whom he had had a relationship.
Baker was fired three months 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, which fights gun violence.
Esty and Baker signed a nondisclosure 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 a May 5, 2016 alcohol-infused reunion of former and current staff members, Hearst Connecticut Media reported.
Esty insisted in interviews with Hearst and the Post that she did not know the young 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 adviser and left the office in March 2015, according to House records.
As the reports of how Esty handled Baker’s termination continued, Connecticut Democrats began to call for her resignation.
State Senator Mae Flexer, D-Danielson, was the first Democrat to call for Esty’s resignation, last weekend. She was followed by other powerful Democrats, including Senate President Martin Looney of New Haven.
“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,” Looney said.
“As I have said recently in public hearing testimony, we are in the midst of a national reckoning concerning sexual harassment and sexual assault. Sexual harassment is continuing to be exposed across all types of industries and all levels of government, regardless of party.”
Flexer said Monday that Esty’s decision not to seek a fourth term shows that she understands the gravity of the situation and the “huge mistakes that she made.” She said she hopes Esty will use the coming months to effectuate change in this area and that “that’s truly what’s in her heart.”
Esty said in a statement Monday: “In the terrible situation in my office, I could have and should have done better.”
Kain posted on her Facebook page last week that the story is not about her, but about Congress as an institution.
“I shared my story, but this isn’t about me,” Kain wrote. “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.”
Esty continued her apology.
“To the survivor, I want to express my strongest apology for letting you down,” Esty said Monday. “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.”
Earlier Monday Esty called on the House Ethics Committee to investigate her for any wrongdoing in the dismissal of her former chief of staff.
Connecticut Democratic Party Chairman Nick Balletto said he has no doubt that Esty will use this tough lesson “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.”
Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District is a swing district that Hillary Clinton won by just a few points in 2016.
The National Republican Campaign Committee’s communications director Matt Gorman said Esty’s “cover up 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.”