Washington – Rep. Elizabeth Esty defiantly said on Saturday she had no intention of leaving Congress as several state Democrats, including the highest-ranking member of the state Senate, called for her to resign.
Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, followed Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, in demanding Esty step down amidst her campaign for a fourth term, as did former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, who has exploratory campaign for governor.
“Congresswoman Esty has long been a conscientious leader in the fight against harassment and abuse in the workplace,” Looney said. “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.”
Esty, D-5th District, said she is not leaving Congress.
“For those who have asked, I want to be clear that I am not resigning, that I have important work to do in Congress, including building on the lessons of this horrible series of events,” Esty said in a statement.
Flexer, a leader in the General Assembly in strengthening sexual harassment laws, was the first to call for Esty to go, later to be joined by Looney, Bysiewicz, state Reps. Diana Urban of Stonington and Kelly Juleson-Scopino of Manchester, state Sen. Paul Doyle of Wethersfield and Sen. Cathy Osten of Sprague.
“We must expect more from our elected officials. We must set the example. No employer should allow this conduct,” Flexer said in a statement. “Her failure to do the right thing here hurt us all, especially as more and more women are courageously coming forward. It’s time for Rep. Esty to step aside.”
Looney said the country is “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,” he said.
Looney’s call for Esty to quit Congress was likely to encourage others in his party to do the same.
In a statement posted on Facebook, Bysiewicz said the facts as acknowledged by Esty are enough to require her to quit.
“My daughters are 24 and 26 years old. I expect that their employers, and every employer, will provide a safe work environment free of threats and harassment,”Bysiewicz wrote. “When such incidents occur, immediate action must be taken to protect the safety of employees. Waiting for three months to take such action jeopardized the safety of her staff and others. I am sure that every parent shares that feeling, which makes this all too common story resonate personally.”
The state Republican Party, and the National Republican Congressional Committee, demanded Esty’s resignation Friday, as did Esty’s Republican opponent, former Meriden Mayor Manny Santos.
Esty who has championed the #MeToo movement on Capitol Hill, kept former chief-of-staff Tony Baker on her payroll for three months after learning of accusations against him that included harassment, physical violence and intimidation.
Allegations against Baker included leaving threatening messages on the cell phone of another staffer, Anna Kain, whom he once dated, and punching Kain in the back.
Esty eventually fired Baker, but gave him a $5,000 severance and a recommendation that allowed him to obtain a job with Sandy Hook Promise, a group formed after the Newtown shooting that fights against gun violence.
Urban, who is leaving the state House of Representatives to campaign for Bysiewicz, said the congresswoman’s role in helping Baker obtain a job at Sandy Hook Promise was especially galling.
Baker left that job about a week ago.
“You know what really gets to me as chairman of the Committee on Children, he got a job with Sandy Hook Promise. Someone with a history of sexual violence ended up there,” Urban said.
Urban also said, “There is no question in my mind that she has let women down.”
“I am also disappointed in fellow legislators who have not stepped up,” Urban said. “This is a watershed moment in history for women,” Urban said. “You need to treat women with respect.”
In the statement Esty released Saturday, she said, “My agenda going forward will include relentlessly pursuing specific actions to foster a better working environment on Capitol Hill, building on the work that has already been done to ensure safe environments for staff, looking to the best practices that have been developed in the private sector, and taking the next steps to further strengthen workplace protections and provide employees with a safe platform to raise concerns.”
But those goals and promises did not move state Rep. Kelly Juleson-Scopino of Manchester, the third Democrat in the General Assembly to demand Esty’s resignation Saturday.
“If this were a Republican and a male, there would be an outpouring of people asking him to step down,” she said. “This isn’t a political issue, this is a moral issue.”
Before the scandal, Esty’s seat was considered safely Democratic, even though Republicans have held that seat before.
Democrats, who are hoping to win a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in the November elections, can’t afford to lose Esty’s seat or spend party resources defending it.
Several Democrats have criticized Esty, saying she mishandled the situation, but have not called for her resignation. Those included Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
The only Democrat — in either Washington, D.C., or Connecticut — who has strongly defended Esty may be Nan Birdwhistell, formerly the three-term first selectwoman of the Town of Woodbridge.
“Elizabeth has learned first-hand the improvements needed to protect congressional staff, and has fought and will continue to fight to implement those needed procedures and protections,” Birdwhistell said in a statement.”She is an incredible legislator who has served her constituents and nation well, and she should continue to do so.”
Democratic state Rep. Liz Linehan, who like Esty calls Cheshire her hometown, said she had reached out to the embattled congresswoman.
“I felt it was vital she hear first-hand from a survivor of workplace harassment,” Linehan said in a statement. “We had a frank, firm conversation. She listened to me intently, not only as a survivor, but also as a state lawmaker and a constituent. This troubling matter shines yet another spotlight on why we continue to fight for stronger protections for those not always able to speak up for themselves. “
State Democratic Party spokeswoman Christina Polizzi issued a statement Thursday that said, “Congresswoman Esty has said herself that the actions she took were not enough,” and said it was critical to “fight for better workplace protections for women.”
Polizzi on Saturday said she had no further comment.
Capitol Bureau Chief Mark Pazniokas contributed to this story.