HARTFORD, Conn. - The cries for embattled U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty to step down for not protecting female staffers who said they experienced violence, death threats and sexual harassment by her former chief of staff intensified on Saturday, with fellow Democrats saying the allegations were shocking and she needed to "do the right thing."
Esty, an outspoken advocate for the #MeToo movement, was put in the awkward position of having to apologize for not protecting the staffers in her Washington office. But she has repeatedly dismissed calls for her to resign, and on Saturday her office said she was standing by her statement from a day earlier: She's not leaving.
Among those suggesting Esty leave office were former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, who said the emerging story of "battery, harassment and threatening" from Esty's ex-chief of staff and Esty's handling of the response were "very troubling."
Bysiewicz, who has two daughters in their 20s, said employers should provide safe work environments and Congress should hold itself to an even higher standard but, "Sadly, this is clearly not the case, and this needs to change immediately."
"I know Congresswoman Esty to be a woman of action rather than words, and in this case, words are not enough," said Bysiewicz, who is exploring a run for the governor's office. "I believe that under the circumstances, Congresswoman Esty must step down from her position."
Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney said Esty has long been a leader in the fight against workplace harassment and abuse but if recent news stories are true "Congresswoman Esty should do the right thing and resign."
"The heartbreaking stories of so many victims only reinforce the need to ensure that we must do all within our power to protect those who depend on us and ensure safe work environments so that no one at her or his place of employment ever feels exposed to discrimination, harassment or retaliation of any kind," Looney said in an emailed statement.
Esty has issued press releases calling for tougher harassment protections for congressional staffers and was among those demanding that then-U.S. Rep. John Conyers, of Michigan, resign amid allegations of misconduct. She issued her own public mea culpa on Thursday following newspaper reports she didn't suspend or fire her chief of staff until three months after learning about allegations against him in 2016.
She said she regrets not moving along an internal investigation, which revealed more widespread allegations of abuse, and regrets providing "even the slightest assistance to this individual as he sought a new job."
In her apology, she said she was "horrified and angry" to learn of allegations a former employee had been harassed and physically harmed by former chief of staff Tony Baker. She said she demanded Baker receive counselling and then conducted an internal review of her office practices, later learning "the threat of violence was not an isolated incident" but a pattern of behaviour by Baker affecting many female staffers.
Baker went to work as the Ohio state director of Sandy Hook Promise, an anti-gun violence advocacy group created after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Esty's district, but he no longer works there. A spokesman for Baker told Hearst Connecticut Media and the Washington Post that he denies some of the allegations. A phone number listed for a Tony Baker in Columbus, Ohio, was disconnected.
State Sens. Mae Flexer and Cathy Osten also said Esty should resign, as did several Republicans. The state's Republican Party sent out emails accusing Esty of being "complicit in covering up assault."
Esty's Republican challenger in the 5th Congressional District, Manny Santos, said Esty had committed a "gross mishandling of abuse within her office." He said she claimed to be "a champion of women's rights" but "did everything possible to hide this terrible abuse perpetrated by her own Chief of Staff."
Esty received mild criticism from fellow Democratic members of Connecticut's congressional delegation, with nearly all noting that Esty acknowledged she had made mistakes.
"I'm deeply disappointed," U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said.
Asked whether Esty should resign, Blumenthal said it was "really a decision for her constituents."