WASHINGTON — Rep. Elizabeth Esty announced on Monday she will not seek re-election amid mounting criticism for her delay in firing a chief of staff accused of sexually harassing a woman in her office.
The three-term Connecticut Democrat, an advocate for the #MeToo movement, waited three months to fire the chief of staff, according to newspaper reports.
She apologized over the weekend, saying she had not provided a safe work environment for a former staffer who said the chief of staff had threatened and harassed her.
Esty had been among those who called for the resignation of Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., last year when he was accused of sexual harassment.
Esty said she determined it was in the best interest of her constituents and family to not seek re-election.
“In the terrible situation in my office, I could have and should have done better,” she said in a statement Monday. “To the survivor, I want to express my strongest apology for letting you down.”
The decision came shortly after Esty requested a swift review by the House Ethics Committee into whether there was any wrongdoing on her part, saying “it was certainly far from a perfect process.”
Esty on Sunday apologized for failing to protect a former staffer, who obtained a restraining order on the chief of staff after he threatened to kill her. Earlier, the staffer alleged he had punched and sexually harassed her in Esty’s office, according to the Washington Post.
The Connecticut Post first reported on the accusations Thursday.
After learning of the allegations in the spring of 2016, Esty said she demanded her chief of staff get counseling and she launched an internal review. She learned through the process that the threat of violence was “part of a pattern of behavior that victimized many of the women on my staff,” she said Sunday.
“To this survivor, and to anyone else on my team who was hurt by my failure to see what was going on in my office, I am so sorry,” Esty said in a statement. “I’ve asked myself over and over again, how did I not see this? How could I have let down so many people?”
Esty serves as vice chair for the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. Her district includes Newtown, where 26 children and staffers were killed in 2012 in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
She told the Connecticut Post that she she paid the former chief of staff a $5,000 severance and gave him a favorable recommendation to Sandy Hook Promise, a gun violence prevention group. The newspaper reported he no longer works there.
In her statement Monday, Esty called for stronger workplace protections across the nation and pledged to use her final months in office working toward that goal.
Esty won re-election last year by a 16 percentage point margin, but won by just 2 points in her first race in 2012. With $1.4 million in her campaign account on Dec. 31, Esty had been seen as a “solid” bet for re-election by handicappers at the Cook Political Report. That rating was lowered to “likely” after her announcement.
Candidates seeking to run in Connecticut’s Aug. 14 primary have until June 12 to file.
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