California politicos experience actual consequences following sex harassment allegations
Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra resigns “immediately”, while state Senator Tony Mendoza is stripped of leadership positions.
Last week, I reported that California Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra (a Democrat) announced that he will not seek re-election and immediately resigned his position as majority whip ahead of a story accusing him of multiple incidents of sexual harassment.
The original announcement came hours ahead of a Los Angles Times expose recounting harassment experiences of six women that occurred after Bocanegra was disciplined by the Assembly Rules Committee for a 2009 incident. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon threatened to expel Bocanegra if the allegations were proven.
The outcry from his constituents and women’s groups across the state following the publication of this piece was so loud that Bocanegra rethought his proposed timeline over the Thanksgiving weekend. Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra announced Monday he will resign “immediately,” one week after multiple women alleged he sexually harassed them.
In a statement Monday, he said he decided to accelerate his resignation, which he said was his “original intention.”
“By doing so I hope the community will have a new representative sooner rather than later. Furthermore, it is my hope that in taking this action we can help clear the path so that women and men who have been truly victims of sexual assault and workplace harassment can step forward and get justice for any crimes committed against them. While I am not guilty of any such crimes, I am admittedly not perfect,” Bocanegra said in the statement.
Bocanegra is from the 39th Assembly District, which is deep blue. The replacement will not likely make any significant difference in California politics. However, it makes Sacramento appear more effective in address workplace harassment issues than the nation’s capital.
But the Assemblyman isn’t the only Californian politician who was experienced an actual consequence of their behavior. The California Senate Rules Committee voted to strip state Senator Tony Mendoza of his leadership positions, including chairmanship of the banking committee, pending the outcome of an investigation into sexual harassment allegations by three women.
Holding an emergency meeting before the Senate resumes regular session in January, the bipartisan, five-member Rules Committee voted without comment to suspend Mendoza as chairman of the Senate Banking and Financial Institutions Committee and as a member of the state Commission for Economic Development and the California Workforce Development Fund.
Mendoza denies the charges.
The Bee reported last month that Mendoza fired three Capitol staff members after they complained to the rules committee about his behavior toward a fellow who worked in the office, including that he invited her to his home to review her resume. Mendoza, who has called the allegations “unsubstantiated,” and Senate officials have denied any connection.
As in the case of Bocanegra, Californians are less than thrilled Mendoza is lingering in a position of political power and influence.
Bocanegra had the decency to step down. Sexual predator Tony Mendoza is still hanging on. Why do we have to put up with this in 2017? https://t.co/ZakKL4TgwU
— Harmeet K. Dhillon (@pnjaban) November 27, 2017
At @CA_Dem #WomensCaucus, campaign circulates to demand resignation of Assemblyman Bocanegra & Sen Mendoza after sexual harrassment charges pic.twitter.com/pFK3mpBvHs
— Carla Marinucci (@cmarinucci) November 18, 2017
Highly credible story in the Sacramento Bee about Sen. Tony Mendoza is enough to convince me he should resign. Now. https://t.co/aJUiO6E1aE
— Susan Shelley (@Susan_Shelley) November 12, 2017
Perhaps the US Senate could take a lesson from Sacramento?
Finally, as a Californian, I would like to thank the Los Angeles Times for taking a break from its constant stream of #TrumpHate to do some excellent reporting.
Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.
They should be given a pass. It’s part of their culture: hot-blooded Latin lovers and all that. Diversity, you know!
Perhaps the US Senate could take a lesson from Sacramento?
What, indulge in presumptions of guilt?
Even for a good cause like neutering of scum-sucking, filthy disgusting Democratic low-life politicians, that may be a high price to pay.
First they came for the politicians, and I did not speak out …
California is a one party state so there is no danger of a Republican taking any of those positions.
In that case they find it easier to do the right thing. Well sort of.
The real right thing would have been peers and co-workers to expose them earlier because everyone around them already knew, it just wasn’t public knowledge until the news media found out.
So, let me get this straight. Mendoza fired three female staffers who tried to get him into trouble with the Senate Rules Committee, on charges of sexual harassment, because he asked a fourth woman, who apparently made no complaint of charges herself, to come to his home to discuss her resume. Charges which found to be without substance by the rules committee. So, what is the problem. The staffers obviously did not wish to work for Mendoza, so they were terminated. What is the complaint again?
Now, simply to appease political groups, the Senate strips Mendoza of his committee position. Did I miss something in the pose where new charges of sexual harassment have been substantiated?
This current movement to punish people simply because someone makes an accusation, whether substantiated or not, is very dangerous. If the accusation is not proven, this is little more than political blackmail, something which this nation claims to abhor.
I concur: accusations are easy to make and proving, or disproving, them often takes time. While suspension of certain positions of power might be appropriate, termination is not until such time as a thorough investigation establishes guilt.
We have reached a point where the mere allegation of impropriety is enough to ruin reputations and careers. It is an axiom of the newspaper business that juicy allegations are always front page fodder, while retractions and clarifications are relegated to page 7.
Space precluded a more detailed look at the accusations against Mendoza. Since you all are so interested, let me expand upon the information in the comments section:
third woman is alleging that Sen. Tony Mendoza behaved inappropriately toward her when she worked in his Capitol office seven years ago.
Haley Myers said she told the Assembly in 2010 that Mendoza engaged in behavior that she considers sexual harassment when she worked as a legislative aide for him in Sacramento.
Mendoza repeatedly sent her text messages, some late at night with comments such as “thinking of you” and ending with a smiley face, she said. He singled out Myers, then 30 and married, to attend after-hours events with him, she said, including several occasions in which she found herself alone with Mendoza over drinks or dinner. She said she worried that speaking up could result in negative consequences at work.
“In the beginning, I really thought he was trying to mentor me,” Myers said. “Who doesn’t want a mentor or someone who can help me get ahead in my career? That’s not what was happening.”
Mendoza, 46, declined this week to answer detailed questions about his interactions with Myers. But in a statement issued late Thursday, he acknowledged that the Assembly Rules Committee contacted him in 2010. He said he “made a strong commitment to correct any misunderstanding and reinforce my commitment to ensuring a friendly and professional atmosphere.”
In response to previous allegations against Mendoza, the five lawmakers on the Senate Rules Committee announced Sunday that its internal staff would no longer handle sexual harassment, abuse or assault complaints. Allegations will be investigated by an outside law firm that will publicly report its findings – names and details may be redacted – and recommendations to resolve and discipline those involved, the committee said. The Senate Rules Committee will ultimately determine the appropriate course of action.
In 2010, Myers confided in Rene Bayardo, then Mendoza’s legislative director. Bayardo said he took his professional duty to report sexual harassment to the Assembly seriously.
“The behavior Haley described to me was alarming, and as a supervisor I had a legal and ethical obligation to report it,” Bayardo said in a statement sent to The Bee.
Myers and Bayardo said they reported the behavior in September 2010. She said she was reluctant to do so because she was uncomfortable and afraid of retribution.
When reached this week, a spokesman for the Assembly would not confirm officials received Myers’ complaint in 2010, citing its practice not to comment on personnel matters.
Myers and Bayardo said an Assembly staff member agreed to tell Mendoza not to contact her in a non-professional manner and that he could not retaliate against either of them. An employee followed up with Myers afterward and described Mendoza as “perplexed and confused,” according to an email Myers wrote to a friend about the situation at the time. Myers said his inappropriate behavior stopped.
“He was the way a boss should be, professionally distant in an appropriate way,” Myers said. “He stopped asking me for these things.”
At the time, Myers said, she was upset with her co-worker for forcing her to report the experience. She said she would have preferred to address it on her own outside of the formal process, although she says she had not quite figured out how to do that.
As director of a program at Sacramento State, Myers, 37, is required to take sexual harassment training once a year and must report any incidents she becomes aware of. She said she understands in hindsight why Bayardo wanted to report it and firmly believes he did the right thing.
Her interview for a legislative aide job in early 2010 took place over a one-on-one dinner with Mendoza at Lucca, a Mediterranean restaurant on J Street in Sacramento. At the end of dinner, he said he wanted to offer her the job, according to notes Myers wrote to herself. ”
Here are the details on the second charge:
A second young woman is alleging that state Sen. Tony Mendoza behaved inappropriately toward her while she was employed by the Artesia Democrat.
The woman, Jennifer Kwart, came forward with her account hours after The Bee published a story Thursday about a Senate investigation of allegations that Mendoza on at least two occasions invited a 23-year-old fellow to his home to review her résumé for an open job in his office earlier this year.
Kwart said her encounter with Mendoza occurred when she was a 19-year-old intern in his Norwalk district office in 2008, when Mendoza was 36 and in the state Assembly, and involved a trip to the California Democratic Party’s state convention in San Jose that year.
Staff in Mendoza’s office invited her to attend the convention in March, according to Kwart and a former Mendoza staff member. Kwart said she assumed other employees were going, but instead, Mendoza picked her up from the airport and took her to a hotel suite. At his suggestion, they had drinks from the mini-bar in the suite’s living area, despite her age, Kwart said.
“Then and now, I feel like I was very trapped,” Kwart said. “I was in a place that I had never been to before. I didn’t have a car and I didn’t have a way out.”
A spokesman for Mendoza, given a summary of allegations, said Friday they were “completely false.” He did not respond to more specific follow-up questions that included Kwart’s name.
Kwart currently works for Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, as his district office director. She officially reported her experience for the first time to a supervisor Thursday, she said, after reading The Bee story about the Senate investigation into similar allegations against Mendoza involving the other young woman.
She said the supervisor reported it to the Assembly Rules Committee. When contacted by The Bee on Friday, a spokesperson for Chiu said the office follows all procedures for reporting incidents of harassment or intimidation brought to their attention.
Officials with the Senate and Assembly did not answer inquiries about whether a complaint involving Kwart’s allegations had been received, or if so, whether the Rules Committees in both houses would be working together on the allegations against Mendoza.
Kwart, now 28, did not report her encounter with Mendoza to the Assembly in 2008.
“I was very young and naive,” she said. “It was my first professional setting and I just didn’t know what to do at the time.”
The Bee confirmed pieces of Kwart’s account with her mother, Anita Loritz, and a close friend. She texted them during the convention and later recounted the story to them, they said. A former Mendoza aide confirmed other details.
Kwart said Mendoza took an interest in her from the beginning of her internship in the spring semester of 2008, inviting her to lunch with him and to help him run errands on Fridays he spent in the Norwalk office. The internship, which started in February, was her first job, and she said she didn’t think it was strange at the time because she had no other comparisons.
A former senior aide in Mendoza’s district office, who fears retaliation and asked to remain anonymous, confirmed that Mendoza took Kwart to one-on-one lunches.
Kwart said that a different Mendoza aide, now Westminster City Councilman Sergio Contreras, invited her to attend the 2008 California Democratic Party convention free of charge in San Jose in late March. She accepted the offer.
Fun Fact: Tony Mendoza is the married father of four.
Finally, a more robust set of details on the first charge:
The 23-year-old woman who had been placed in Mendoza’s office as part of a fellowship program through Sacramento State had sought a permanent staff position as the 11-month program came to an end. She declined his invitations to look over resumes at his apartment — as well as his offer for her to stay overnight in his hotel room before an early-morning event, the Bee reported Thursday.
At an after-hours mixer, the 46-year-old senator — who is married and has four children — also allegedly asked her to come with him to a second party. She declined, but he later texted her a photo of himself and other male lawmakers at the party and repeated his invitation to come back to his apartment in Natomas, the Bee said.
In a statement released Thursday evening, Mendoza, chairman of the powerful committee on Insurance, Banking and Financial Institutions, attacked the Bee story as “misleading and irresponsible” and said the employee firings happened long before he had any inkling of a complaint.
“I would never knowingly abuse my authority nor intentionally put an employee into an awkward or uncomfortable position,” he said.
In his response, however, Mendoza did not answer a question from the Bay Area News Group about whether he had invited the young woman back to his apartment.
De León, D-Los Angeles, is running for U.S. Senate, challenging the powerful Democratic incumbent, Dianne Feinstein. Last month he announced the state Senate had appointed an outside investigator to handle harassment complaints — and another to review Senate rules and procedures.
A spokesman for the Senate leader said Thursday that De León had not been aware of any misconduct involving his roommate, including the alleged invitations to their apartment.
The Bee did not quote the young woman, who did not come forward publicly, or the fired staffers, who declined to comment. The newspaper based its report on information from multiple anonymous sources and written communications, including a message showing that the fellow had reported Mendoza’s behavior to her fellowship program director.
The Bee reported that all three aides — Chief of Staff Eusevio Padilla, legislative director Adriana Ruelas and scheduler Stacey Brown — knew about the allegations, and that at least two of them had discussed the senator’s behavior toward the intern with Senate Rules Committee staff members.
Through a spokesman for De León, Senate Secretary Daniel Alvarez disputed the timeline of the firings presented in the news story, saying “the employees in question were already terminated before any complaint referenced in the Bee story was made. There was no connection between their termination and the subsequent complaint.”
It was unclear, however, whether Alvarez was referring to the moment when the Senate received a formal, written complaint or when the Senate committee first became aware of the allegations.
“What we can say is that Senate Rules takes any allegation of inappropriate workplace behavior extremely seriously — and this is no different,” Alvarez’s statement said. “These allegations are being rigorously reviewed and investigated consistent with our legal process, employment standards and privacy protections — and has been for months.”
Mendoza said he was not called in for questioning and that he learned of the matter only when the Bee inquired about it this week.
On Nov. 28, the Assembly will hold its first public hearing to discuss its policies on sexual harassment investigations.
Organizers of the “We Said Enough” campaign, which brought national attention to a “boy’s club” culture in Sacramento and other statehouses in the wake of the allegations against disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein, responded to inquiries about this latest case with renewed calls for reform.
“Independent investigations, public disclosure of settlements, victim resources and whistleblower protections are critical components to ensure the safety and dignity of the Capitol community — and to remove the cloak of secrecy over the existing complaint process,” they wrote. “It is clear that self-policing does not work.”
Wait, so what was ‘inappropriate’ about Mendoza’s actions with Kwart??
Someone else invited her to a convention, he picked her up and they had a couple of drinks.
How is that unusual? How is that harassment?
Tey ran errands together…?? Oh the Horror!
And he dared to have one-on-one meetings….? That cad!
Did I miss something?? Did he actually *do* anything besides treat her like a colleague?
Personally, I think it is descriptions like this that lead me to believe Mendoza was acting inappropriately.
“Mendoza repeatedly sent her text messages, some late at night with comments such as “thinking of you”…”
Your mileage may vary, however.
So, when was he found crouching in her closet naked? What sexual favors were demanded? What threats were made against any of these women?
See the problem here? Even if the politician’s behavior was not appropriate, that does not make it heinous. A little creepy and definitely of concern to his wife. Maybe even of interest to his constituents at election time. However, nothing reported here is uncommon in any workplace. Our society has been establishing and codifying standards for workplace harassment for the last 25 years. They are well known. And, statutory protections have been emplaced to protect those who report actual cases of such standards. But, that is all irrelevant in this age of the sexual harassment witch hunt. A cad finds a woman attractive and “chats her up”, asks her out for a drink or even sends her gifts. The woman is protected. She tells the man no thank you, leave me alone. If it continues, she complains to her supervisor or boss. That should stop the activity right there [as it did in these cases]. If not, then action can be taken against the accused. Today, however, simply making the accusation of behavior which makes a woman feel uncomfortable is sufficient to trigger serious repercussions. This is a danger. Find that guy ni accounting hot? Ask him out for a drink and you could be on the street, if it made him feel uncomfortable. Put your hand on a man’s shoulder at a social event, better have your resume typed up. Feel secure now? Well, I have had women putting their hands on me for decades, even since I have been married, as well as being directly propositioned. Know what? It didn’t bother me. People have to grow a pair and lighten up.
Another Senate conundrum Leslie is how Senate President Kevin de Leon is trying to distance himself from Sen. Tony Mendoza – except they were BFF roommates until the allegations hit the newspapers; only then did he move out. De Leon is running against Diane Feinstein for US Senate and more concerned for his rac. Politics is the order of the day, especially because de Leon hired an outside law firm to manage the sexual harassment case(s), which only serves to establish attorney/client privilege and maintain confidentiality to work to shield key facts from the public and independent law enforcement evaluation.
The Senate has typically handled its harassment complaints internally by human resources employees that report to the Senate Rules Committee, made up of five State Senators (run by the Senate President), in a fox-guarding-the-henhouse arrangement. We’ve seen just how sleazy this Senate Rules Committee can be when one of their own is in trouble with the law, if past history is any indicator..