Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Lots Of Tragedy To Go Around-- Due Process Could Be Very Helpful


In his delineation of the tragedy of Ruben Kihuen, Jon Ralston wrote Monday that it was Reid who elevated "someone with so many known ticking time bombs in his past." Ralston expressed sympathy, not with the Democratic Party establishment or even Kihuen but with so many people who "had reposed faith in and who so many must now re-evaluate. His announcement that he will not run for re-election, as inevitable as August triple-digit temperatures in Las Vegas, is unalterably sad for so many young people, especially Hispanics, who believed in the first DREAMer in Congress... [They] saw Kihuen as a symbol of hope in a Trumpian world where their futures are uncertain. And it wasn’t just DREAMers-- Kihuen has been a heroic figure to many younger Hispanics and others, too, people who saw him as the embodiment of the American Dream. Imagine their nightmare now.
I find some of the rationalizations I have heard whispered-- he was single, women threw themselves at him, the women never said anything, back then-- to be grotesque. I understand denial by those close to him, perhaps. But everyone else needs to open their eyes and see Kihuen for what he is: A playboy-as-predator who has exploited many professional situations with women and caused them to feel he cared only about sleeping with them. He was relentless in his pursuit, not taking “no” for an answer and either not considering or not caring that they were people who were dependent upon him, be it for votes or a salary.

...There are other stories out there. There are women who have experienced Kihuen’s relentless and juvenile attentions, unwanted and parried, who simply do not want to have their stories told. That is their right, and we will apply no pressure on anyone put in a difficult situation by Kihuen or any other elected official who has misused the power dynamic. The women these men have diminished and demeaned have the right to say when and whether their stories are told.

Which brings me to the question of whether Kihuen’s attempt to stave off resignation will work.

Kihuen, too, is a gambler. Just as he bet that none of these women he harassed would ever come forward-- maybe he thought they were thrilled he was coming on to them or believed his superior position would intimidate them-- he is rolling the dice that he can survive for a year with the floodgates not opening.

I thought the New York Times’ Alex Burns put it well, describing what Kihuen and fellow harasser Blake Farenthold are doing as a “plea-bargain,” trying to get their parties to allow them to have the lesser punishment of not running to avoid resigning.

(My guess is that in his current state of delusion Kihuen might actually believe that by March, when filing opens, the Ethics Committee will clear him and he can run again. Denial is powerful when one is clinging to one’s job title for dear life. More on that in a moment.)

The thought is ludicrous that Kihuen can possibly be effective-- as if he ever has been-- when the leaders want him gone and his Democratic colleagues from Nevada have either said he should resign or implied he should.
There was also a post Monday morning from Politico noting that several Democratic senators are urging Al Franken to reverse his resignation. In fact, Joe Manchin "who urged Franken not to step down to begin with-- at least not before he went through an Ethics Committee investigation-- said the Minnesota senator was railroaded by fellow Democrats," calling Gillibrand's lynch party "atrocious." They also noted that Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who issued a statement calling for Franken's resignation, has since told him privately that he regrets doing so."
“I think we acted prematurely, before we had all the facts,” said a third senator who has also called for the resignation, and has since expressed regret directly to Franken. “In retrospect, I think we acted too fast.” The senator asked not to be named because of the political sensitivity of the issue among Democrats.
As we mentioned yesterday, state Senator Daylin Leach-- the front-running candidate for Pat Meehan's suburban Philly seat-- has come under attack and and that attack became more serious as Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat up for reelection-- a weak, insecure, frightened guy, in way over his head, who is deathly afraid of pissing anyone off-- called for Leach to resign from the state Senate. "This disturbing behavior is absolutely unacceptable. Sen. Leach should resign," the governor said in a stinging rebuke of a fellow Democrat. "While he has been a leader on important policy issues, this conduct cannot be excused. As I have said previously, this is not a partisan issue. The lack of adequate structure for victims to report this type of behavior and feel protected is inexcusable, and underscores that Harrisburg’s culture must change." Leach is an old friend. I asked him if he was planning on resigning or withdrawing from the congressional race.

He told me he is "absolutely" staying in the race and absolutely not resigning. "Nobody can make me resign. And I never would. And if anyone wants a different nominee, they are going to have to beat me in a primary. Lets see if they can do that." A couple hours later I got a press release from his office saying "I am taking a step back from the congressional campaign to focus on my family..." Sunday night Daylin sent me a very long, "too long," he told me explanation of what was going on from his perspective. Monday I asked him if I could run it and he said ok. I doubt you'll see anything like it anywhere else.
The Philadelphia Inquirer has released a story which mentions me in connection with the #MeToo movement. I feel compelled to respond. First, I will lay out a chronology of how this story came to be, then I will tell my side of the story, and finally, I will offer some thoughts on where we are now as a country.

In 2014, when I ran for Congress, a woman (Colleen Kennedy) volunteered for my campaign. She worked enthusiastically and the campaign ended without incident. In fact team and I helped her find another job in politics and for some months after the campaign, she continued to express her support for me on social media.

I was therefore surprised when 6 months later, this supporter attacked me on twitter for what she mistakenly believed was me missing a vote on an education bill. She said I was a false progressive and a hypocrite, etc. When I tried to explain, she continued to attack me, so I disengaged from her and have not interacted with her since.

In June of this year, the first press stories about me contemplating a run for Congress in PA-7 appeared. At that time, out of the blue, I began hearing about a whisper campaign claiming that I was a sexual predator. Such whisper campaigns, while insidious, are not uncommon in politics. When I first ran for office in 2002 there was a whisper campaign that I was an anti-semite. Given that I was a life-long practicing Jew, (albeit with a non-Jewish last name) this was easy to disprove.

After several weeks, we heard from numerous people that my former supporter from 2014 was behind this. She did not claim that I had ever done anything to her, and in fact I was never alone with her in my life. This was just something she believed.

She proceeded to approach numerous press outlets and tell them that there were all kinds of sexual harassment complaints filed against me with the Senate, and she encouraged reporters to file “Right to Know” (RTK) requests to access said complaints.

Despite this former supporter’s representations, the answers to the RTK requests revealed that no ethical, civil, criminal or employment complaints had ever been filed. Most of the media then abandoned the story.

The exception was a pair of reporters from the Philadelphia Inquirer. Despite clear evidence that their “source” was not credible, they persisted and filed a second RTK request for the names of all “employees, interns or contractors” who had ever worked for me.

The Inquirer then began calling select former staffers and asking leading questions with no basis in fact. For example, “Did Daylin Leach ever do or say anything that made you uncomfortable?” If they said no, they were asked “Did he ever make jokes that made you uncomfortable.” If the answer was still no, they asked, “Did he make jokes that COULD make someone uncomfortable?” If still no, then “Would it surprise you to hear that others were uncomfortable?”

I know these things because many of the staffers, colleagues and political opponents they contacted, called me immediately afterwards asking me what the calls were all about, and to tell me word-for-word what was asked. The people who called were unanimous in their feeling that The Inquirer reporters were really hoping to hear something unseemly about me.

It is important to note that at this point, no one had come forward and complained that they were either the victim or had first hand knowledge of anything improper I had done.

If someone files a suit, or holds a press conference, it is perfectly legitimate to contact that person to check out the story. But what The Inquirer did in attempting to manufacture a scandal was so antithetical to basic journalistic ethics that I, and people I told about it, found it hard to believe.

Also since this started in June, I had been hearing that my primary opponent, Dan Muroff, was pushing the whisper campaign started by my former supporter. Several people called me to say that members of Mr. Muroff’s team and Mr. Muroff himself were calling them and saying versions of “something bad is going to come out about Daylin, so you had better support Dan.” [Ed- I might add at this point that, s an officer of a PAC, I've heard exactly the same thing from Muroff supporters and have heard the same thing from several campaigns in other parts of the country about other candidates trying to take advantage of what I sometimes refer to as "The Terror."]

We then became aware of the very close personal relationship between my former supporter and the Muroff campaign. Specifically, it was relayed to us that my former supporter and Dan Muroff’s campaign manager were “best friends.”

Concurrent with The Inquirer filing their initial RTK request, the Muroff campaign and my former supporter started referencing The Inquirer as where the damaging story about me was going to appear (despite the fact that there was no appropriate reason that either of them would have been notified of the RTK request).

I can’t express how personally painful the Muroff connection to this story was for my wife Jen and me. We had thought of Dan as a very close friend. We had been to each other’s homes (and his boat) and hung out as couples many times, and I had always supported Dan when he ran for office previously. This year, Dan chose to move into district I’ve lived in for 19 years to run for Congress, which he has every legal right to do. But he was very angry that I was running for the same seat.

Despite calling many of my former employees, The Inquirer was still coming up empty. In fact, the

I never claimed to be anybody’s Meow. But I knew I always treated my employees well. That’s why I have one of the lowest turnover rates in the Senate, and why many of my employees have stayed with me for well over a decade.

Over the course of the 31 years since I graduated law school, I have had more than 300 female employees, interns, and students. Not once has any ethics complaint, lawsuit, or criminal charge ever been filed against me. Further, nobody has ever complained to me, or quit a job, or dropped a class because of any conduct I engaged in.

This does not mean that I was a perfect person or that it’s not possible that someone could have disliked me, or felt unhappy with something I said or did. Certainly in the course of normal human interaction, very few people never say the wrong thing or are never perceived as annoying. But it seems like the bar which triggers some sort of full investigation by a respected newspaper should be higher.

Eventually after calling numerous people, the Inquirer notified my office that there were “allegations”. As presented to us, there were 4 allegations. They were all anonymous. The reporters wouldn’t tell me who was accusing me, or when specifically the incidents happened, or even what exactly they were about. Here is what I was told:
1. Someone said that in 2008, at the campaign office I told a joke referencing a wet T-Shirt contest as a fundraiser.
2. Also in 2008, also at the campaign office, there was a discussion of the attractiveness of Hollywood actresses, and I had offered my opinion.
3. In 2012, I had said “something” that “made a DNC volunteer mad” at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte. Said what? To who? Where? What context? The reporter indicated she didn’t know any of that information.
4. An unnamed attendee at a political fundraiser who did not work for me, said that during a conversation about getting petitions signed, I had momentarily touched her leg, not in a sexual way, but that she had felt uncomfortable nonetheless.
It is important to know that the RTK requests did not provide the names of the people described above as the RTK does not cover campaigns. It only applies to state employees. These were not state employees. So how did they find these people? It turns out that they are connected to the Muroff campaign and my former supporter.

In fact, 3 of these 4 allegations were from Aubrey Montgomery, a woman who now claims she was very upset about my sense of humor when she worked on my campaign in 2008, but who has continued to donate to me, come to my house for parties, give me advice, and pretend she was my friend in the years since.

I would now like to respond to these allegations. As I see it, they fall into 2 categories. The first one is humor.

I find it ironic that the Pennsylvania media loves to write stories tut-tutting about my humor. These same reporters have enthusiastically invited me to raise them money by performing comedy at their annual charity Gridiron Dinner for the past 9 years. The lead Inquirer reporter on this story has come to see me perform many times.

Some may remember that a reporter named Mario Cattabiani wrote a long expose about my humor 12 years ago. Yet after one of my gridiron performances, he took the time to call me and say that I was the “funniest comedian he had ever seen.”

Those who know me know that humor is an integral part of my personality. Frankly, it literally saved my life during a difficult childhood. I never met my father who ran off before I was born. My mother did her best, but had a lot of issues and was not a particularly engaged parent. I was placed in a series of foster homes which were often neglectful and even abusive. It was only by seeing the world through an absurdist lens was I able to cope.

I also think humor is a force for good in a very dark world. It helps us get through tough times, and is invaluable to me as an elected official. I am one of the most requested speakers in the state because I give a good speech, which is usually, in part, funny. Humor diffuses tension and makes people feel included. It’s one of my few traits of which I am unambiguously proud (as opposed to my hairline, singing voice, pole-vaulting ability, etc.)

The vast majority of my humor is not in any way sexual. Like most people, i joke around about food, or New Jersey, or the news or something Donald Trump said, or…New Jersey. But I am not pure. I have on occasion laughed at or told off-color jokes. I will admit to liking Sarah Silverman, or South Park or Chris Rock. But while I laugh at that sort of thing, that is not the brand of humor I usually use.

My humor is never mean. It is never directed at someone present. It is mostly self-deprecating, and if anyone is the butt of my jokes it’s almost always me. (or Trump, but…I mean..come on!). I’d also note that my jokes have gotten tamer over the years. Maybe its just a function of aging.

As for the specific jokes allegedly told in the campaign office, I honestly don’t remember them. It’s a lot of years to remember a joke. And frankly, without any context, or even hint as to who else was present, they don’t sound like things I’d say. But putting all of that aside, are silly jokes told in the presence of other adults a decade ago really worthy of an expose in the Philadelphia Inquirer?

The other allegation involves me touching someone’s leg. And to be clear, I do not know this person. She did not work for me. I have had no contact with her before or since. I am told I had a brief conversation with her about getting ballot petitions signed. As for touching the leg, I have absolutely no memory of this conversation or any interaction with her leg.

That said, as a general matter, it is possible that I touched her leg. I do sometimes touch people, men and women, when I am talking to them. I might place a hand on a shoulder, or clasp a fore-arm, or punctuate the end of a conversation with a pat on the back or the knee and a farewell. Some of you have seen the recent viral video of Representative Matt Bradford touching Representative Darryl Metcalfe’s arm, and Rep. Metcalfe freaking out.

Well, I sometimes do the same thing (the Bradford thing, not the Metcalfe). I always viewed it as a way to connect, and often do it without even noticing. Again, I have never received a complaint.

Further, I will concede that it is not all that difficult to tell me and George Clooney apart. Yet, for whatever reason, I am touched all the time. My shoulder or arm is clasped, strangers and acquaintances put their arms around me for photographs, I am hugged, kissed and patted on the back a number of times every day when I am out in public. I never interpret these touches as sexual, because they aren’t.

But maybe this woman didn’t like some man touching her leg. And she has every right to not like it. It’s her body. But there was nothing sexual about it, and nobody alleges there was. In fact, the reporter specifically told me that nobody alleged that I touched them in a sexual way.

And again, why this is a story in the newspaper is not clear. I am far less touchy than many other people we all know (see e.g. Joe Biden). And if we are doing a story on everyone who ever touches anyone else in politics, or in life, the Inquirer will have to add a new daily section to the paper.

As someone who has been dragged through this for several months, I’d like to conclude by offering some thoughts on where we are.

First, to be clear, the recent discussion of sexual assault is long overdue. Harvey Weinstein is a monster. He has raped or assaulted scores of women. He should be in prison. Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore and Donald Trump appear to be serial predators. No person should have to endure or fear this sort of assault, not only on their body, but on their dignity and their very worth as a human being.

I have spent my life fighting to change the laws to reflect our highest aspirations for gender equality. Equal Pay legislation, access to emergency contraception, contraception equity, the banning of shackling of pregnant prisoners, and mandatory paid family leave are all my bills. All of my employees who have children may take 3 months of paid maternity (or paternity leave). If you search Youtube, you will see my repeated and passionate floor arguments against efforts to restrict women’s reproductive choices.

I hire and promote women aggressively. Women have been my Chief-of-Staff on the legislative side, and four of my campaign mangers on the political side. I have supported groups like Emerge to increase the number of women elected to office in our Commonwealth. I am married to an incredibly strong woman who is among the most talented psychologists practicing. Our daughter Brennan, at 16 has already taken on the national right-wing attack machine and is currently in Washington DC as a US Senate Page.

Obviously, a good history on women’s rights is no justification for bad conduct. But I do believe in assessing allegations as thin and obscure as the ones against me, intent is important. And whether one has a history of respecting or disrespecting women is relevant.

However, I worry that there are some off-notes about the current frenzy over sexual misbehavior. We want to stop predatory and demeaning behavior. We don’t want to stop all normal human interaction. We don’t want to metaphorically turn every humorous quip or innocent pat into an unpardonable crime.

If a man or a woman is uncomfortable with a non-sexual squeeze of the arm or an offered high-5, then they should feel free to say so and that should be respected. But the default option should not be that men and women view each other as radioactive. We shouldn’t all wear Hazmat suits to work for fear that the slightest arm-brush will trigger an investigation.

Men who have done horrible things to women, using force, or groping or persistently propositioning or sending unwanted obscene photos, etc., should be held to account. But having men steeped in terror, staying up nights wracking their brains for who in the last 40 years they may have told the wrong joke to, or who might have misinterpreted a congratulatory hug on the receipt of good news as a sexual come-on does not help women. Fear is not respect. And avoidance is not equality.

We must also remember that our entire system of justice is founded on the notion of due process. Credible accusations of serious misconduct must be taken seriously. But blind belief of either side in a dispute is not a part of our justice system for a reason. Remember, in the context of the current discussion, some of those accused will be our brothers, sons, fathers. They deserve to be heard too.

What I’m saying is that exposure and reckoning have their place, but so does proportionality and a recognition of how people actually live their daily lives. I’ve been to many work-places, not just my own. People pretty much are the same in all of them. They like to be friends, or at least friendly with their co-workers. They like to laugh and feel connected. They want to feel safe within a bond of trust. And trust comes from seeing your colleagues as real people.

I wish the media was more responsible and focused on how our elections are being stolen or what its like to live in deep poverty, or maybe how our current economic policy disproportionately harms women, and less on gotcha stories designed to earn clicks. I wish they covered actual stories rather than tried to create sensational ones. But I can’t control that.

What I can do is refuse to let a newspaper, which allowed itself to be weaponized by a rival political campaign stop me from fighting for what I’ve fought for all my life. And that’s exactly what I will do.

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At 9:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

South Jersey machine boss George Norcross is trying to extend his influence into Philadelphia and its Pennsylvania suburbs, and he doesn’t like progressives. (Just ask Alex Law!)

Norcross was apparently behind some major out-of-state contributions to Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney’s 2015 campaign.*

In that and other behind-the-scenes political shenanigans in the city, Norcross has worked with fellow political boss John Dougherty, the business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 in Philly and the brother of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty.

John Dougherty is a very conservative “Democrat” with political influence that extends to Harrisburg and Washington. And Norcross has some Washington connections, too. Although he’s never held public office, he’s a member of the DNC, and he was a major bundler for Hillary Clinton last year!

Don’t be surprised if it turns out that Norcross, Dougherty or both of them are behind the character assassination of Daylin Leach. He’s definitely not their kind of candidate.

* http://www.phillymag.com/citified/2015/05/13/carpenters-donation-jim-kenney/

At 12:38 PM, Anonymous Hone said...

This sexual harassment issue is getting WAY out of hand. We need to step back and let reason take over. Complaints need to be investigated and the stance of zero tolerance reexamined. Interaction between the sexes is gray, not black and white. A touch on someone's back or a stupid sex joke are not comparable to forced sexual behavior or rape. I mean, really! Zephyr Teachout called for "proportionality" in an editorial and she is on target. (I hope she runs for Congress again and wins this time!)

Americans are way more screwed up (no pun intended) about sex than our European friends, who think we are out of our minds. Birth control and sex are discussed right out there in the open with teenagers. We give totally mixed messages and often lack any common sense - just look at Pence, who would not have lunch with a woman without being accompanied. What century is he living in?

I heard from a young female friend, who is thirty, gorgeous and well grounded, that she and her friends often get text photos of guys' penises after going out with them on dates. Being female and in my sixties, I had no idea this was so common. This is what young men are doing on the net, for fun, shock or whatever. Apparently Weiner, whom I believe is now in prison, was just doing just what men do these days, although to an underage girl. We are a sick society when it comes to sex (along with many other things). To realize that this abominable behavior is prevalent on the net but fairly innocuous behavior such as a crude joke is unacceptable is insane. Clearly Americans are insane when it comes to sex.

At 2:48 PM, Anonymous ap215 said...

That's terrible Hone my prayers go out to your friend i hope she contacts the local police to investigate & i agree with you Zephyr i hope she runs for congress in 2018 & wins next year screw the establishment


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