The claim by a former campaign volunteer that in 2001, while he was running for Public Advocate, Scott Stringer sexually assaulted her has halted the City Comptroller's momentum in the Democratic primary for Mayor but has not cost him key union allies yet.
An April 28 press conference called by Jean Kim, a political lobbyist, in which she accused him of having "inappropriately and relentlessly pursued a sexual relationship with me" 20 years ago, quickly cost him the support of two progressive State Senators, Jessica Ramos and Jabari Brisport, from the wing of the party that has been a key part of his base.
Not Exiting, But...
Two unions that are potentially major voting blocs for the June 22 Democratic primary, the United Federation of Teachers and Teamsters Local 237, said the following morning that they continued to back Mr. Stringer but indicated a certain uneasiness about the allegations despite his strenuous denials the previous afternoon of any improper behavior. He said then that what occurred with Ms. Kim had been a brief, consensual relationship long before he married Elyse Buxbaum, with whom he has two children.
Local 237 President Greg Floyd, who a week before Ms. Kim's charges had given Mr. Stringer his 24,000-member union's endorsement, said in a phone interview, "I'm not rethinking it. We know Scott Stringer. We do represent a significant number of women, and I'm going to be asking him for an explanation, but we're not rethinking it."
A spokeswoman for UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who had given Mr. Stringer the backing of the city's largest public-employee union April 19, said in a statement, "The union has a long history of working with Scott Stringer and has always found him both supportive of educators and an advocate for women. At the same time, any accusations of this nature need to be listened to and carefully weighed."
A call to a third prominent public-employee union that endorsed the Comptroller, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, was not returned.
Defections grew the following day, however, with several progressive lawmakers and the Working Families Party withdrawing their endorsements.
Ms. Kim said she was introduced to Mr. Stringer in 2001 by Eric Schneiderman, then a State Senator who went on to become State Attorney General, only to resign from office three years ago after four women told The New Yorker magazine that he had physically assaulted them and been verbally abusive.
Assaults and a Promise
She said that after she became involved in Mr. Stringer's unsuccessful run for Public Advocate, during cab rides they took together, "he repeatedly groped me, put his hands on my thighs and between my legs and demanded to know why I would not have sex with him." On another occasion, she alleged, he had stuck his hand into her pants and groped her.
Ms. Kim, standing alongside her attorney, Patricia Pastor, as she spoke to reporters near City Hall. said Mr. Stringer warned her not to tell anyone about his conduct but also offered to help her become the first Asian-American Democratic District Leader on the Upper West Side, which he represented in the Assembly at the time. But, she said, he attached a condition to that help, telling her, "You would have to prove yourself to me."
The Comptroller several hours later held a press conference outside his lower-Manhattan home in which he made a point of disputing her claim that she had been an intern in the campaign, calling her a volunteer and noting that at the time he was 41 and she was 30.
He told reporters, "Sexual harassment is unacceptable. I believe women have the right and should be encouraged to come forward, and they must be heard. But this isn't me. I didn't do this. I'm going to fight for the truth because these allegations are false. The behavior described is inaccurate and completely antithetical to the way I have conducted my life."
Wife Stands by Him
His wife, Ms. Buxbaum, said she had been a victim of sexual assault in the past and would not have married him 11 years ago if she wasn't convinced that he was incapable of that kind of behavior.
Some political supporters were less certain about that, with Alessandra Biaggi and Julia Salazar, whom he had backed in their 2018 campaigns to unseat Democrats who were members of the moderate Independent Democratic Conference, among those who renounced him.
Those two, along with Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, had been strongly critical of Governor Cuomo as he faced charges of sexual harassment and, in once case, assault, from past and present female staffers. Before withdrawing their backing, the three women issued a statement saying that "our zero-tolerance standard regarding sexual assault applies to abusers like Andrew Cuomo, if not more so, to our friends."
Political consultant George Arzt, who has done campaign work for Mr. Stringer in the past, when asked about the damage done to his campaign by Ms. Kim's allegations, said, "It's too early to know. If this is one [accuser], it will be damaging—it already has been—but he could get through it to the election. If it's more than one, he's in a lot of trouble."
Another veteran consultant, Maureen Connelly, wondered whether politics had played a role in Ms. Kim's revelation, eight weeks before the primary, 20 years after she claimed Mr. Stringer sexually abused her.
"The timing is troubling," she said. "To come out now because Scott condemned sexual harassment recently?" She noted the Comptroller had spoken out against harassment numerous times in the past.
"He was supposedly picking up momentum, and this has certainly stopped it cold," Ms. Connelly said.
Among the other seven candidates believed to have some shot at winning the Democratic nomination, virtually all of them expressed support for Ms. Kim, and Dianne Morales condemned Mr. Stringer's conduct toward her.
Two of those who have struggled to make headway in the polls, former U.S. Housing Secretary and Deputy Mayor Shaun Donovan, and ex-city Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, called for the Comptroller to withdraw from the race.
Ms. Garcia, speaking after she appeared at a Queens rally for fired United Parcel Service workers called by their union, Teamsters Local 804, said of Ms. Kim, "Obviously this was a trauma that occurred to her at a very young age." If her charges against Mr. Stringer were true, she continued, "Not only should he get out of the race, he should step down as Comptroller."
She was asked whether Local 804 had joined with Teamsters Joint Council 16 in endorsing Mr. Stringer several weeks earlier, and said she didn't know. (A subsequent check with the local's president, Vinnie Perrone, revealed that he intended to go with the Joint Council's choice.)
But, Ms. Garcia added, "I think there might be some unions that are rethinking their endorsement."
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