Connecticut’s Fifth District representative, Elizabeth Esty has announced she will not stand for re-election in November. The decision follows days of intense pressure on Esty, over her handling of a harassment case in 2016 involving her then-chief of staff.
In a statement issued Monday afternoon, Esty said, “I went into public service to fight for equality, justice, and fairness. It is one of the greatest honors of my life that the people of Connecticut’s Fifth District elected me to represent them in Congress. However, 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 re-election.”
She goes on to address the scandal that’s overtaken her since the story broke late last Thursday.
"Too many women have been harmed by harassment in the workplace," she said. "In the terrible situation in my office, I could have and should have done better. To the survivor, I want to express my strongest apology for letting you down. In Congress, and workplaces across the country, we need stronger workplace protections and to provide employees with a platform to raise concerns, address problems, and work to reduce and eliminate such occurrences, in the first place."
In May 2016, Esty learned of serious allegations that her then-chief of staff, Tony Baker, had abused and threatened a female former staffer. She kept Baker on staff during a three-month investigation of his behavior. Then when the charges were substantiated, she signed a confidential severance and release agreement, paid him $5,000, and gave him a positive job recommendation.
State Sen. Mae Flexer, a Democrat, welcomed the move. She was the first of her colleagues to call on Esty to resign. Because, instead of suspending Baker when she first learned of the allegations, Esty let him stay in his post.
“What message did that send, not only send to the victims in this situation, but to the rest of the staff who thought they were going to get relief once the congresswoman finally knew of the alleged behavior of the chief of staff and instead she allowed him to continue to lead her office?” Flexer asked.
Chris Murphy held Esty's seat until he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012.
"No one should ever be harassed, assaulted or intimidated at work," Murphy said in a statement. "Elizabeth knows she handled the dismissal of her former Chief of Staff badly. The decision she made today is the right one for her, and I look forward to working with her during the remainder of her term."
Her decision to stand aside in November leaves Democrats in the state scrambling for options in Connecticut’s most vulnerable district, and the National Republican Congressional Committee sees an opportunity.
"The NRCC is ready to win this competitive seat this fall," said Matt Gorman, communications director for the organization. "Democrats won’t be able to distance themselves from the stain Esty left on their brand."
Mark Pazniokas, capitol bureau chief for the Connecticut Mirror, said Democrats didn’t want to spend the summer campaign defending Esty, “who had previously said that Democrats, Republicans, all members of Congress should have zero tolerance for workplace harassment.”
Pazniokas also says that while Republicans called on Esty to resign, they also saw an opportunity to run against a wounded Democrat in a district they could conceivably win.
“There’s not many places in New England where they are competitive in a congressional race, but the Fifth Congressional District in Connecticut happened to be one of them.”
Fellow Democrat, Governor Dannel Malloy spoke out about the scandal for the first time, after Esty’s announcement, calling her decision the right one.
“She has done important work on behalf of her constituents on gun safety, economic development, and much more,” said the governor. “I spoke with the Congresswoman multiple times over the weekend and as recently as today, encouraging full transparency with the press and public, and also urging her to do what is in best interest of her constituents and her family.”
Jeff Cohen contributed to this report.