Yielding to pressure, Rep. Elizabeth Esty announced Monday that she will not seek reelection following reports that it took her three months to dismiss her chief of staff after he threatened to kill a former colleague.
Esty (D-Conn.), who was first elected to the House in 2012, came under fire on Thursday after The Washington Post and other news outlets reported allegations that the chief of staff, Tony Baker, had repeatedly harassed and on one occasion punched a subordinate, Anna Kain, while the two worked in Esty’s office.
In a statement, the lawmaker said it was right for her to bow out of the next election.
“I have determined that it is in the best interest of my constituents and my family to end my time in Congress at the end of this year and not seek reelection,” Esty said. “Too many women have been harmed by harassment in the workplace. In the terrible situation in my office, I could have and should have done better.”
Kain sought and received a one-year restraining order against Baker after he threatened to “f---ing kill” her in a May 2016 voice-mail message obtained by The Post. He remained in his position until mid-August of that year after he and Esty negotiated a formal separation agreement that included a nondisclosure agreement and a promise that she would recommend him for jobs outside Washington. He soon obtained a job at Sandy Hook Promise, a group created after the 2012 mass shooting in Esty’s district.
With her announcement, Esty became the ninth member of Congress to see her career felled by allegations related to workplace harassment. The other eight — all men — were themselves the target of misconduct complaints; in Esty’s case, criticism was leveled at her handling of the allegations against Baker.
Possible replacements have plenty of time to launch campaigns, with the filing deadline June 8 and primaries Aug. 14. Esty’s western Connecticut district, which includes the town of Sandy Hook, went for Hillary Clinton by less than five percentage points in 2016, making it an attractive target for Republicans.
“The NRCC is ready to win this competitive seat this fall,” National Republican Congressional Committee Director Matt Gorman said in an emailed statement. “Democrats won’t be able to distance themselves from the stain Esty left on their brand.”
Still, until last week, Republicans had not seriously looked at the race in the 5th Congressional District. Esty had raised more than $1.2 million, while her main GOP challenger, a former IT worker who blamed immigration policies for the loss of his job, had raised just over $13,000.
Meredith Kelly, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s communications director, wrote in an email that the seat is Democratic and will “undoubtedly stay that way.”
Esty is the fourth member of Congress to announce her retirement but not resign immediately after a harassment scandal; the others are Reps. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.) and Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.).
Connecticut’s largest newspaper, the Hartford Courant, had demanded Esty that resign outright, calling her handling of her chief of staff a “colossal failure of judgment.”
“She was elected to represent constituents, not abusive men,” said Friday’s editorial.
As pressure built over the weekend, Esty said several times that she would not resign. She called on Monday for the House Ethics Committee to conduct an expedited review of her actions in the Baker case, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) endorsed the request while declining to call for her resignation.
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said Esty informed the Democratic leader of her decision by phone earlier in the day.
Baker, through friend and spokesman Andrew Ricci, denied that he punched Kain but did not challenge her other allegations. In a statement Monday, he said he has apologized to everyone involved and does not expect forgiveness.
“I can only hope that my actions moving forward and over a lifetime of recovery can prove that I am a better man than I was during the time that I worked on Capitol Hill,” Baker said.
Sandy Hook Promise dismissed Baker last week after The Post reached out to him.
Kain, in a statement, declined to comment on Esty’s retirement plans and said she hopes the result of her story is more help for victims of harassment on Capitol Hill.
“This is about a flawed system designed to protect powerful people and that isolates and ignores those who need protection most,” she said.
David Weigel contributed to this report.