Washington – Under increasing pressure to resign, embattled Rep. Elizabeth Esty Monday afternoon announced she will not run for re-election.
“I have determined that it is in the best interest of my constituents and my family to end my time in Congress at the end of this year and not seek re-election,” Esty said in a statement.
Esty has been at the center of a growing controversy since news broke last week of her handling of alleged sexual misconduct by her former chief of staff Tony Baker. She did not dismiss him for three months after learning he had verbally abused and punched Anna Kain, a member of her staff.
When she did dismiss Baker, she gave him a job recommendation, $5,000 in severance and signed a non-disclosure agreement concerning the details of his termination.
As the political firestorm grew, a number of state Democrats called for Esty’s resignation.
Until Monday she had dismissed the idea of resigning, preferring instead to ask the House Ethics Committee to determine if she was guilty of any wrongdoing — a move publicly endorsed Monday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shortly before Esty announced her decision not to run again.
A Pelosi aide said the Democratic leader and Esty spoke by phone on Monday.
“The leader was informed of the congresswoman’s decision [not to run again] before the announcement,” he said.
Pelosi has in the past called for the resignation of two House Democrats — Rep. Ruben Kihuen of Nevada and former Rep. John Conyers of Michigan— after reports emerged last year that they both engaged in sexual misconduct. Conyers stepped down in December, while Kihuen announced that he will not run for re-election in November.
Pelosi did not ask Esty to step down, but she did chide the congresswoman.
“As Congresswoman Esty has acknowledged, her actions did not protect Ms. Kain and should have,” Pelosi said.
In her announcement, 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,” she said.
An apology and a promise
Esty also addressed the special abuse alleged by Kain.
“To the survivor, I want to express my strongest apology for letting you down,” Esty said.
Esty also said that “in my final months in Congress, I will use my power to fight for action and meaningful change.”
Sen. Richard Blumental, D-Conn., said Esty’s decision “is the right one.”
“Elizabeth Esty has done much good and fought relentlessly for highly significant causes like gun safety,” he said. “She made profound mistakes, as she has acknowledged. Harassment and assault in any workplace are unacceptable.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy also said Esty made the right move.
“I spoke with the congresswoman multiple times over the weekend and as recently as today, encouraging full transparency with the press and public, and also urging her to do what is in best interest of her constituents and her family,” the governor said. “I believe she is now doing that.”
Connecticut Democratic Party Chairman Nick Balletto said, “Make no mistake, this was not about politics for the congresswoman or for the leaders of our party, this was about the real issues that women face in our workplace and across our communities.”
While Blumenthal, Malloy and the Connecticut Democratic Party did not demand Esty resign, plenty of other Connecticut Democrats did.
The latest was Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk. “Congresswoman Esty is someone who has worked hard and built up a list of accomplishments that have made the citizens of her district and the State of Connecticut proud,” Duff said in a statement released Monday. “It is in the shadow of her record which makes it difficult but necessary to ask her to resign.”
“They didn’t want to be caught in the hypocrisy story,” said University of Connecticut political science professor Ron Schurin. “Republicans would say to Democrats, ‘You did not condemn one of your own when she was not diligent in dealing with someone on her staff who committed outrageous acts.”’
Schurin also said some of the Democrats who demanded Esty’s ouster think they have a better chance of keeping the 5th District seat in Democratic hands without her.
A number of Republicans also have called for Esty’s resignation, including her GOP challenger, former Meriden Mayor Manny Santos. The latest Republican to demand Esty resign was state House Minority Leader Themis Klarides.
Time to recover politically
Esty’s announcement that she won’t seek re-election gives Democrats plenty of time to field a candidate that can keep that seat in the “blue” column, said Larry Sabato, head of the “Crystal Ball” political forecasting unit at the University of Virginia.
“Preferably a woman who is squeaky clean and has a local following,” Sabato said.
Democrats need to flip at least 24 seats to retake the U.S. House and can’t afford to lose the one in the 5th District — once considered a swing seat but one which has been trending more Democratic. Hillary Clinton won that district by 4 percentage points in 2016.
Still, the scandal over Esty’s handling of Baker’s firing makes the seat more competitive for the GOP, Sabato said.
He said he downgraded the status of the 5th congressional district from “Safe Democratic” to “Likely Democratic” just an hour after stories about Baker’s belated firing broke late Thursday.
Meanwhile Baker, the man who sparked the firestorm, issued a statement of apology late Monday in which he called Esty a “victim.”
“I have previously apologized to Anna, Representative Esty, and many others who were hurt or impacted by my actions,” Baker said “While there are still many who I owe apologies to, I do not expect forgiveness from anyone, whether they are survivors like Anna or victims like Elizabeth and others.”
Baker also said, “I can only hope that my actions moving forward and over a lifetime of recovery can prove that I am a better man than I was during the time that I worked on Capitol Hill.”