HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty announced on Monday she will not seek re-election this year amid calls for her resignation over her handling of the firing of a former chief of staff accused of harassment, threats and violence against female staffers in her congressional office.
Esty, a Democrat from Connecticut and an outspoken #MeToo advocate, made the announcement not to seek a fourth term in the November election days after apologizing for not protecting her employees from the male ex-chief of staff.
Since her Friday apology, which came after two news organizations published articles about her handling of the matter, a growing number of fellow Democrats, including the top two in the Connecticut Senate, had urged her to resign.
The congresswoman, who insisted last week she would not resign, said Monday she determined “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 re-election.” She added how “too many women” have been harmed by workplace harassment.
“In the terrible situation in my office, I could have and should have done better,” she said in a statement.
Esty’s announcement came hours after she asked the House Ethics Committee to review her actions to determine if there was any wrongdoing on her part.
Esty has said she regrets not moving along an internal investigation into the 2016 allegations against Tony Baker, which revealed more widespread allegations of abuse, and regrets providing “even the slightest assistance to this individual as he sought a new job.”
A spokesman for Baker told Hearst Connecticut Media and the Washington Post that he denies some of the allegations. A phone number listed for a Tony Baker in Columbus, Ohio, where the spokesman said the former chief of staff was living, was disconnected.
The 58-year-old Esty was a former member of her local town council in Cheshire and a one-term state representative in the state’s General Assembly before winning her first term in Congress representing the 5th District in 2012. A graduate of Harvard University in 1981, she earned her law degree from Yale Law School in 1985. She is a mother of three and has often spoken about her time at PTA meetings and her children’s soccer matches and hockey games.
Esty won re-election in 2014 and 2016. While Connecticut’s congressional delegation is all Democrats, Esty’s district is considered more evenly divided politically compared with most of the others. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee expressed confidence it will remain in Democratic control.
The district includes Newtown, where the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting massacre occurred. Esty has been a vocal advocate for stronger gun laws but has been mostly unable to pass any new federal legislation since the 2012 shooting. She recently attended President Donald Trump’s White House meeting on guns and other issues following the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.
Connecticut Democrats praised Esty’s decision not to seek re-election.
“The truth is, too many facts about how this incident was handled fall short of appropriate standards for responsible and responsive leadership,” said Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who had not publicly called for her to resign.
The Democratic state Senate’s majority leader, Bob Duff, was among those to urge Esty to step down. He said several points led him to call for Esty’s resignation, including her reluctance to speak out publicly about the situation and using taxpayer money to pay her former chief of staff about $5,000 in severance.
Staffers said Esty repaid the federal government last week with her personal funds.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi commended Esty’s former employee Anna Kain for coming forward and telling her story. Pelosi stopped short of calling on the congresswoman to resign, saying Esty had acknowledged “her actions did not protect Ms. Kain and should have.”
Esty has said she learned through a third party in 2016 about possible misconduct by Baker involving a former staffer, who worked in her office from 2013 to 2015. Esty said she fired Baker about three months later after receiving an internal investigation report that revealed improper behavior by Baker that affected multiple female staffers.
Before news of the controversy broke, Esty had issued press releases calling for tougher harassment protections for congressional staffers and was among those demanding that then-U.S. Rep. John Conyers, of Michigan, resign amid allegations of misconduct.
Associated Press writer Matt Daly contributed to this report from Washington.