U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty is right not to seek re-election to her 5th District seat. She has let down the people in her district and across Connecticut.
Ms. Esty failed at job No. 1: Doing what’s right.
When her former chief of staff allegedly threatened and bullied a woman who had worked in her office, Ms. Esty’s first move should have been to protect the woman from further abuse and to suspend her chief of staff on the spot. But she chose instead to perpetuate a culture of silence.
Ms. Esty kept Tony Baker on staff for three months after the incident. She wrote a job recommendation for him. She signed off on a $5,000 severance payment and agreed to keep her mouth shut.
It wasn’t until the full story became public that her profuse apologies issued forth.
But we have to question the sincerity of the apologies, for they have been accompanied by a tendency to blame the ills of the system for her own failures.
In a press release issued late Monday, Ms. Esty said, “I could have and should have done better. To the survivor, I want to express my strongest apology for letting you down.”
The very next sentence gives pause: “In Congress, and workplaces across the country, we need stronger workplace protections and to provide employees with a platform to raise concerns, address problems, and work to reduce and eliminate such occurrences, in the first place.”
Yes, of course, and Ms. Esty should have been that stronger workplace protection herself. Her chief of staff left the former staff member a recording that said “You better f—— reply to me or I will f—— kill you.”
Ms. Esty told The Courant, “The next day, I confronted him about this and said, ‘This is completely unacceptable.’ … He did not deny that this happened. He was contrite. I told him he had to get anger management and basically stop drinking.”
Then she called the lawyers.
She should have, and could have, done what’s right — suspend her chief of staff, initiate a transparent investigation, and go to whatever lengths necessary to ensure that the woman was protected.
Ms. Esty complained that Congress doesn’t have “a process in place” to deal with threats and intimidation in the workplace. But that’s painting herself as a casualty of the culture — a culture that has rewarded silence about sexual assault, harassment and intimidation, as she did.
The Courant called for her to resign, and she should have. But at least now, with a growing chorus of calls for her resignation in the background, she has acknowledged that her actions — or inactions — fatally compromised her ability to govern.
Her decision not to seek re-election is the right decision for the people she represents. It’s the right decision for victims of harassment and intimidation. And it’s the right decision for the U.S. Congress, which must make clear that any representative who lacks the backbone to stand up to this kind of abusive behavior is complicit.
On many issues, Ms. Esty has been a competent advocate for the people of Connecticut and her district. We hope she uses her last few months in office to fight for victims of harassment and intimidation in Congress and elsewhere.
Ms. Esty could have made a heroic choice two years ago. Her choice now is, at last, the right one.
©2018 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)
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