The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Brandy Brooks pauses campaign amid sexual harassment allegations

Brandy H.M. Brooks. (Brandy Brooks campaign)
Placeholder while article actions load

Brandy H.M. Brooks, a progressive activist running for Montgomery County Council, is taking a two-week break from her campaign amid allegations that she sexually harassed a member of her campaign staff. She said she behaved inappropriately with an employee but denied perpetuating a “pattern of sexual harassment.” She says she does not plan to withdraw from the election.

Brooks, 45, said she told a full-time paid member of her campaign staff that she had a “romantic and sexual attraction” to them in January, adding at the time that she did not want them to respond because she wasn’t ready to be rejected.

The now former employee, who is 27 and uses they/them pronouns, said Brooks’s behavior continued for months and that Brooks eventually told them that she did not know if they could continue working together, though she had earlier indicated that if elected, she would consider them for her chief of staff.

In extended interviews Thursday and Friday, Brooks said she regretted talking to her employee about her personal feelings at the workplace.

“I was naive about how power dynamics operate in a workplace even when you have an existing personal relationship,” Brooks added.

The former employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their privacy, alleged that Brooks harassed them over a period of six months, sending personal text messages late at night and after work hours, expressing romantic and sexual interest on multiple occasions, and pressuring them to have an intimate relationship. On March 14, they filed a complaint to Brooks’s campaign manager, Michelle Whittaker — who is also her sister — and the two parties entered into a formal mediation that concluded last month.

The former employee, who left the campaign in March, said Brooks has failed to take “full accountability” for what she did, adding that the past six months have been “agonizing.”

The allegations, supported with documents and text messages reviewed by The Post, have caused a painful rift among Montgomery’s progressive activists and leaders, many of whom have known Brooks, an Afro-Latina activist, and supported her political ambitions for years. Several of her closest advisers and supporters recently resigned from her campaign and some have urged her to withdraw from running.

People closely affiliated with the campaign, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal, said they’ve felt betrayed by what Brooks did as well as how she has handled the situation. Others have said they think she handled it as best she could.

“For her to say there’s no pattern is completely false,” said the former employee. “This was a pattern of abuse and manipulation that centered about sexual harassment.”

Jews United for Justice announced Wednesday that the advocacy group would be suspending its support of Brooks. The Metro DC chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, of which Brooks is a member, said in a statement on Twitter that members plan to vote soon on rescinding the organization’s endorsement of Brooks, citing “credible allegations of persistent sexual harassment.”

“Her behavior indicates a fracture from the values that we hold and that we expect from both a member and an endorsed candidate,” the DSA chapter said.

Brooks, in return, has said she has felt deeply disappointed by the condemnation that she has faced.

“This is an attempt to destroy my work and my reputation by members of a community that consistently tout restorative and transformative justice values,” she said.

Women dominate early field of new candidates for Montgomery County Council

Born in Massachusetts, Brooks, a racial equity consultant and community organizer, finished seventh in the crowded 2018 race for at-large Montgomery County Council members and has been a vocal advocate for more women, people of color and renters to be elected into public office.

She was among the first to announce a council bid last February and the first to qualify for public matching funds. As of the most recent filing period, she had raised $261,000 — $91,000 in direct donations and $170,000 in public matching funds —, which was more than any other at-large council candidate. She has also in recent months picked up a flurry of endorsements, including from Montgomery’s influential teachers union and Casa in Action, which represents Latino and immigrant residents.

“We are deeply troubled by the allegations and are discussing next steps internally,” Dustin Jester, a representative of the Montgomery County Education Association, said Friday.

Brooks, a tenant and board member on the Montgomery County Renters’ Alliance, had positioned herself as a progressive candidate on various issues, from education to public safety. In private and in public, she had touted herself as a “healer,” who, if elected, would work on increasing access to health care in underserved communities and advocating for rent stabilization in the county.

The former employee had been friends with Brooks since 2018 and was among the first people she asked to join her campaign last year.

In October, Brooks sent them a series of personal text messages saying that she wanted someone with whom she could “cry together and hold hands” and be vulnerable. The former employee said they found the messages perturbing and responded by trying to maintain a professional distance from Brooks. But in late January, the two had lunch at a Chipotle in Rockville where Brooks told them that she had a “romantic and sexual attraction” toward them.

The former employee said they have never had romantic feelings for Brooks and tried to defuse the situation by making a joke.

Brooks said she did not expect her feelings to be reciprocated.

“It was something I was struggling with and trying to navigate … I fully recognize now that it was not an appropriate conversation,” she added.

The former employee said after the Jan. 24 incident, Brooks continued to behave in ways that felt inappropriate to them, including by texting them outside of work. On Feb. 28, after they asked Brooks not to contact them on their days off, Brooks approached them at the campaign office, saying that they had “betrayed her trust.” Brooks confirmed that this happened, but said again that she felt as though she was talking to them as a friend, not an employee.

On March 6, after a three-hour conversation, Brooks sent them an emotional email saying she “needed you to not let me go.” The following day, Brooks told them that she wasn’t sure they could continue working together.

The former employee said this series of events caught them off guard since Brooks had previously indicated that if elected, she planned to include them in her council team, possibly as chief of staff. Brooks said she did change her mind on appointing the employee as chief of staff, but didn’t see it at the time or now as a form of reprisal for not returning her affections.

“She’s someone who I thought shared my values,” the former employee said. “Through this process, it’s been revealed to me that she doesn’t.”

One of the requirements of the mediation agreement, which was moderated by a neutral third party, was that Brooks had to explain why the employee had left the campaign. At a closed-door meeting with staff and advisers on March 26, Brooks read from an “accountability statement” that had been approved from the employee and admitted that she had sexually harassed them on Jan. 24. Those at the meeting responded in a mix of anger, disappointment and disbelief; some of her closest supporters cried, said three people affiliated with the campaign.

A liberal county proud of its covid response asks: Who deserves credit?

“I took the complaint seriously and went into mediation in good faith,” Brooks said.

“I’ve been very transparent about the emotional challenges of running for office,” she continued, “But it feels now like that vulnerability as a leader is being used against me.”

Virginia Onley, co-chair of Brooks’s campaign and one of the employees who has chosen to continue working with her, said she thinks Brooks handled the situation “perfectly” though she does not know the exact details of what occurred between Brooks and the former employee.

“That will have nothing to do with the kind of council member she will be for Montgomery County,” Onley said.

Brooks said in an interview Friday that she wants to conduct a more “thorough” investigation into what happened and to denounce the “patently false” rumors that she perpetrated a pattern of harassment. She said she knows “intent does not equal impact” and that she may have hurt the former employee, but believed until this week that the issue had been resolved after the mediation process came to a close. She didn’t understand why people, including some who once supported her, were trying to “defame [her] character,” she said.

“We will not be withdrawing from the race,” she said.