The Washington Post

Cain was known for casual style with staff at association

As a boss, Herman Cain made it a habit to stop by and talk to his employees, even the lowest-ranking. Often, he suggested that staffers, men and women, continue the conversation over drinks or dinner — one of many ways he blurred lines between the social and professional. He admitted that he hated to eat alone.

Cain was casual, confident and jocular, the same traits that have propelled him to the front of the Republican presidential race and kept him there in the face of sexual harassment allegations.

As he hit the campaign trail Thursday for the first time since the accusations surfaced nearly two weeks ago, his campaign said he had raised $9 million in the past six weeks. And the candidate expressed surprise at the size of the crowd he attracted to a morning event in Michigan, where more than 100 tea party supporters gathered to see him.

“I thought I was just going to sit down with a couple of people and have some bacon and eggs,” said Cain, once again exuding confidence, seemingly recovered from the moments last week when he was seen wiping his brow under questioning.

Thursday night, a potential obstacle for Cain to move beyond the story was seemingly cleared. A woman who had accused him of sexual harassment and had been seeking to organize a news conference with the other three accusers said that two of them had not responded to her requests to come forward. She said she would have no more comment and would not publicly detail her claims until all four agreed to do so.

When Cain describes how he would take charge of an ailing nation, he often cites his experience running Godfather’s Pizza and the National Restaurant Association, the job he held when, according to the allegations, he harassed the women. Those years in the private sector also offer a window into his personal style as a boss and leader.

As a chief executive, he was as comfortable conducting business across a dinner table as from behind a desk. At the restaurant industry’s annual trade gathering in Chicago, he was a big presence, holding meetings in an expansive top-floor hotel suite.

Stephen Caldeira, an association executive, said he never thought Cain’s casual style with the staff was a problem. “I never saw it as an issue. The staff worked hard, Herman worked hard,” said Caldeira, who was senior vice president of communications during Cain’s time at the association and later followed him to a technology start-up.

During his years as leader of the restaurant association, Cain lived alone in Washington, while his wife stayed in Omaha. The association paid for an apartment, car service, first-class airline travel, country club dues and, often, Cain’s restaurant tabs, said one current association official, who requested anonymity to speak frankly.

“He lived a great lifestyle,” the official said. “Meetings and whatever, he would hang out in the bar . . . late into the night,” often with staffers.

Several of Cain’s detractors and supporters describe a chief executive with an active social life, eager to build relationships.

More than a dozen subordinates and peers said they had never seen him do anything inappropriate. They said he went out of his way to get to know his employees and would throw his arm around their shoulders, drop in their offices to chat, take them out to lunch or hang around for cocktails.

One year at the office Christmas party, he sang a duet of “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Once, he took a couple of dozen association staff members for a week-long junket in Hawaii.

“One of the things that everybody came to realize was although he was the top person, Herman was very approachable,” said Spencer Wiggins, who ran the human resources department for Cain at Godfather’s and considers him a friend.

After-hours interactions are at the center of the complaints of three of the four women who allege Cain harassed them during his tenure at the association, according to one of the women, as well as friends, family members and former co-workers of the others.

Cain has adamantly denied the allegations, saying he never acted “inappropriately.”

At a news conference Monday, one of the women, Sharon Bialek, said Cain groped her after drinks and dinner in Washington.

One of the women who received a payment to leave the association made a formal claim of sexual harassment after a night of dinner and drinks led to what she later characterized to friends as an uncomfortable encounter, according to four sources. The woman has not come forward to speak publicly of her claim.

Cain has said he does not know Bialek and has characterized the claim by a second woman, Karen Kraushaar, as “baseless.” Krau­shaar, who had been trying to organize the news conference of the four accusers, has not described the details of her complaint, but she also received a payment when she left the association after alleging harassment.

In an interview last week on the Fox News Network, Cain described himself as a fun-loving boss. “There were times when some of the members of the staff would go out for Friday evening, you know, cocktails or appetizers and this sort of thing, and so typically, it could have been a group of us,” he said of his time at the association.

Cain said he recalled that one of his accusers may have been among those out at night. “She was in some of those group activities where we went out together. But it was never she and I alone or anything like that,” he said.

In his public appearances, Cain has described himself as the victim of a broader political and media assault against his candidacy. When he was asked a question about the sexual harassment claims at a GOP debate this week, the audience booed. Thursday, a woman he encountered in Michigan as he shook hands with voters told him to “stand up for yourself and keep going.”

“I’m going to be the president of the people and not of the politicians because, as you can tell, they’re starting to come after me,” Cain told his supporters. “They’re starting to attack me any and every way they can. Since they can’t kill the ideas, they’re trying to attack my integrity and my character. ”

Staff writers Philip Rucker and James V. Grimaldi and staff researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.

Krissah Thompson began writing for The Washington Post in 2001. She has been a business reporter, covered presidential campaigns and written about civil rights and race. More recently, she has covered the first lady's office, politics and culture.
Aaron Davis covers D.C. government and politics for The Post and wants to hear your story about how D.C. works — or how it doesn’t.

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