Content warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual assault.
Jean Kim held a press conference on April 30. In this conference, Kim alleged that her former boss, Scott Stringer, had repeatedly groped her and pressured her to have sex with him in exchange for political favors. In graphic detail, she described how her former employer wielded his political power to take advantage of her when she was an unpaid intern on his 2001 campaign for New York City public advocate. Stringer joins a long list of New York politicians who engaged in sexual assault while seeking office, from Gov. Cuomo to Anthony Weiner. In a country that has too often seen leaders that avoid consequences for sexual assault allegations, New York City has a unique opportunity to demonstrate what accountability looks like. Scott Stringer should drop out of the mayoral race immediately and resign his office as comptroller.
To make matters worse, the Stringer campaign has sought to diminish Kim’s claims. A spokesperson for Stringer claimed that Kim’s allegations are politically motivated, citing her recent petitioning for the Yang campaign. Stringer also cited her closeness with his former rival, Eliot Spitzer, as well the fact that Kim was 30 when the alleged assault took place. For the record, Kim has not decided who she will support in the upcoming election, but it should not matter. Exercising one’s constitutional rights should never diminish the validity of a sexual assault allegation. Her age is immaterial to these allegations as well. With every floundering response to these allegations, Stringer demonstates he is unfit for office.
It is clear that Kim’s allegations are in no way politically motivated. If these claims were made to bring Stringer down to benefit another candidate, why would she not allege sexual assault during his previous campaigns? It is clear that Kim believes that Stringer in office would be dangerous for his employees and constituents because of his predatory behaviour. We applaud her courage in sharing her story. In explaining her reasons for staying silent until now, Kim declared that she was “fearful of his vindictive nature and that he would retaliate against me,” destroying her political career. Stringer’s reckless behaviour frightened and silenced a woman for decades. Now, it is up to the people of New York to hold Stringer accountable for his lies and past behavior by demanding that he exit political life.
Stringer admitted to having an “on-and-off” consensual relationship with Kim. Even if Stringer had not assaulted Kim, it is an indictment upon his character that he pursued one of his interns, 11 years his junior. With his work as city comptroller, Stringer has a staff of interns who work for his office. As mayor, this would also be the case. Each second that Stringer’s subordinates continue to work for him, they are in danger. Having him continue to work as one of New York’s elected officials is a danger to city staff. It is also a danger to the many thousands of young people that he would likely encounter in his capacity as mayor. Under no circumstances should he hold a position of power.
In a city where reported incidences of sexual assault are on the rise, it would not make much sense to elevate someone with a history of predatory behaviour to the highest office in municipal government. His attempts to bury this story and attack the credibility of the accuser illustrate his inability to represent survivors of sexual assault.
For the most part, supporters of Stringer’s campaign were proactive in showing that they stand with survivors. The Working Families Party and Sunrise NYC, in addition to a cadre of leftist lawmakers, rescinded their endorsements of his campaign in light of these allegations. His remaining backers, from the United Federation of Teachers to U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler, should follow suit. Progressive officials and organizations who proudly support the #MeToo movement should take care to ensure that their conduct matches their words.
Scott Stringer refused to drop out of the race. Perhaps he thinks that he can follow the example of other Democratic politicians who managed to outrun their scandals by staying silent, from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to New York’s own Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The slow death of his campaign suggests otherwise. Stringer has a choice to make. He can either suffer an embarrassing defeat in the mayoral democratic primary or resign from his office and leave the race on his own terms. Either way, Scott Stringer will be kept out of power indefinitely — thereby making the city safer.
After multiple women made allegations against Gov. Cuomo, Stringer stated,“We must have zero tolerance for sexual harassment, and we must end the pervasive culture of abuse in positions of power.” Washington Square News shares Stringer’s stated zero-tolerance policy with regard to sexual assault and harassment. It is for this reason that we call for Stringer’s immediate resignation as city comptroller, as well as his withdrawal from the mayoral race. New York City deserves better than a predator who covers up his behavior for political gain.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, May 3, 2021 e-print edition. Email the Editorial Board at [email protected]