U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut has decided not to seek reelection after it was revealed that she kept her chief of staff on the payroll even though another staffer accused him of abusive behavior that included a death threat and physical assault.
“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 reelection,” Esty wrote. “Too many women have been harmed by harassment in the workplace. In the terrible situation in my office, I could have and should have done better.”
Last week several news outlets reported that chief of staff Tony Baker had been accused of verbally harassing and at one point punching another Esty employee, Anna Kain, with whom he had once been in a relationship. “Kain sought and received a one-year restraining order against Baker after he threatened to ‘f---ing kill’ her in a May 2016 voice-mail message,” The Washington Post reports. Court papers Kain filed in seeking the restraining order said Baker called her 50 times in one day that month and that he repeatedly screamed at her in Esty’s office and once punched her in the back.
Baker stayed in his position until August of that year, however. “He and Esty negotiated a formal separation agreement that included a nondisclosure agreement and a promise that she would recommend him for jobs outside Washington,” according to the Post. He ended up working for the gun control organization Sandy Hook Promise, which formed after the mass shooting in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which is in Esty’s district. He was terminated from the group last week.
Anthony Ricci, a friend of Baker’s, told CNN that the former chief of staff does not “dispute” that he engaged in abusive behavior, although he denies punching Kain. But Ricci said Baker was drunk when he made the call with the death threat and doesn’t remember leaving the message. Baker has undergone counseling and has been sober since May 2016, Ricci said.
Esty told the network that when she learned of the death threat, she immediately demanded that Baker go through counseling, but only later did she learn it “was not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern of behavior that victimized many of the women on my staff. At which point, I hired a new chief of staff, made changes to senior staff, changed employment policy, and instituted mandatory harassment trainings.”
Kain gave a statement to CNN saying Congress operates under a “flawed system designed to protect powerful people and that isolates and ignores those who need protection most.” Congress needs to pass laws to better protect those who work for it, she said.
Esty was first elected to Congress in 2012. Her district is majority Democratic, but Hillary Clinton carried it by less than five percentage points in the 2016 presidential election. One Republican, Craig Diangelo, has announced he will run for the seat. Candidates have until early June to file to run in the August 14 primary.
Esty is the ninth member of Congress to leave over harassment allegations. Her case is the only one involving accusations against a staff member; the others, all men, were accused of engaging in harassing behavior themselves,