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Alleged homophobic comments haunt Republican candidate

Alleged homophobic comments haunt Republican candidate

A potential Republican candidate for the open Senate seat from Illinois--where the party's former nominee, Jack Ryan, withdrew over allegations of sex club improprieties--engaged in "lewd and abusive behavior" while she served as a top official in the White House drug policy office under President Bush, an internal inquiry found last year. In front of her staff Andrea Grubb Barthwell made repeated comments suggesting a staff member was gay and used a kaleidoscope to make sexually offensive gestures, according to the findings of a March 19, 2003, "hostile workplace memorandum" prepared by drug policy office staff and obtained by the Associated Press. In an interview Wednesday, Barthwell said the memorandum overstates what happened, but she said she was wrong for participating in "inappropriate banter" at a staff birthday party. "As the senior person there it was my job to stop it before it got started and I didn't. I, in fact, joined in," she said. Barthwell said she has not decided whether to pursue the Senate seat, but she said the complaint should not be a factor in her candidacy. "I think it's something that was in the past, something we dealt with, and it was resolved to everyone's satisfaction," she said. Barthwell, a Chicago-area physician and a political unknown, resigned last week as deputy director for demand reduction in the Office of National Drug Control Policy to explore pursuing the nomination. Republicans have been scrambling for a candidate since Ryan dropped out of the race last month over allegations in his divorce papers that he took his wife, Boston Public actress Jeri Ryan, to sex clubs before they split up. Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, who considered running for the seat as a Republican, decided not to enter the race, GOP officials said Wednesday night. Ditka suggested that what he called his "ultraconservative" views might clash with many Illinois voters, saying, "I don't want to talk about gay marriage." A moment later, he said: "I don't care whether some judge of the Massachusetts supreme court says it's right. It's not right. It's wrong." The lewd and abusive behavior finding against Barthwell stemmed from a December 19, 2002, staff gathering. Barthwell made comments about a staff member's sexual orientation after the staff member misspoke in an earlier conversation, the memorandum said. "Dr. Barthwell made reference to this staff member sitting on men's laps. A kaleidoscope pointed upward was placed on a chair by Dr. Barthwell as the staff member was about to sit down," it said. "Dr. Barthwell suggested that the staff member would want to cut the cake available for the gathering because the knife was 'long and hard' and he might 'enjoy handling it.' When the cake was cut, Dr. Barthwell referred to the pieces as 'most' or 'beefy' and she said to the staff member, 'I know you like it big and meaty."' The staff member was not identified. In the interview, Barthwell said the staff member was engaged in the banter and didn't seem uncomfortable. "Had he been the least bit uncomfortable at the time, I would have brought it to a stop," she said. "Because he was an active participant, I didn't." The memorandum, though, said the staff member and at least one other person objected to her comments. It said the staff member felt the comments were "lewd, derogatory, and called into question his heterosexuality." The staff member didn't file the complaint; another colleague did. John Fluharty, a gay Republican serving as an adviser to Barthwell, rejected any suggestion that she is insensitive. "She is a decent, honorable woman who would be an asset in the United States Senate," he said.

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