“He did not have the temperament to be an association executive,” said William Fisher, Cain’s predecessor at the organization. “He did not like to have to go to a board of directors to get authorization to do certain things. He did not like criticism from the state associations.”
It was during this period that Cain established himself as a Washington figure, meeting with the city’s power brokers and becoming a regular presence in the halls of Congress. It is also a time that has suddenly received new scrutiny in the wake of allegations that he sexually harassed three female colleagues at the organization, a controversy that threatens his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
His problems at the restaurant association mirror those that have plagued his campaign. A talented orator, Cain has inspired a level of enthusiasm in conservative voters that his rivals can only envy. But he has struggled to maintain an organized campaign, with staff members in key states quitting out of frustration.
Boosting group’s visibility
More than a dozen former colleagues and board members consulted for this article said any allegations of sexual misconduct were not known throughout the organization. Outside the association, Cain was becoming known for building it into a much more visible Washington presence. Internally, he was outgoing and charming and enjoyed socializing, not unusual for someone in the hospitality industry.
Cain was chummy with employees and board members. He took young staff members out to dinner and built a social life in Washington.
One weekend, after a long week of association meetings, he joined Oshel B. Craigo, owner of Better Foods in West Virginia, poolside for an evening of sunbathing. The two men laid back and talked.
“He is very outgoing, friendly, likable, always talking to people,” Craigo said. “He’s just a very friendly guy. It is a hospitality organization, so everyone is friendly and outgoing. That is the nature of the business. He was likewise as the executive director.”
Before he was courted by the restaurant association, Cain had developed a reputation as a passionate pro-business advocate. As chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza and president of the restaurant association’s board of directors, Cain drew national attention when he challenged President Bill Clinton during a televised town hall meeting on Clinton’s health-care plan. He stepped forward and questioned the president’s calculations about how much it would cost businesses to provide health insurance to their employees.