BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Updated May 7, 1:45 p.m.: Following accusations at the end of last month by a woman who claimed she was sexually harassed by Scott Stringer 20 years ago, some Manhattan Democratic clubs that endorsed him for mayor are now reconsidering.
Among them is the Grand Street Democrats, which plans to hold a do-over of its endorsement vote on Mon., May 10, in a virtual Zoom meeting.
Similarly, the Village Independent Democrats will hold a discussion on May 13, possibly followed by a new endorsement vote.
Speaking the day after Stringer was accused of harassment, Jeremy Sherber, the Grand Street Democrats president, said their executive committee had met and decided the club’s full membership should vote, and that they should be given 10 days before doing so, “to see if there’s more news and [to] let everything settle.”
“Basically, we decided we didn’t have to make this an emergency decision,” he said, as to why the vote was not held immediately. “We don’t have to make a decision in 24 hours, so why should we? Let’s do this in a considered way.”
The Lower East Side club covers the area including the Grand St. co-ops, plus a few nearby blocks. It became the area’s dominant club in 2017 when its candidates beat two district leaders from former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s Truman Democratic Club.
The Truman Club has since disbanded, while Silver, 77, this week was let out of prison and returned to Grand St., in a wheelchair, after serving just eight months of a six-and-a-half-year sentence for accepting roughly $4 million in kickbacks. Yet his stint out of stir, which caused an uproar, was short-lived, as he was reportedly being sent back to Otisville Prison after just two days.
Meanwhile, two leading female members of the Grand Street Democrats, speaking last Friday, the day after Jean Kim’s accusations against Stringer, said they believe she told the truth.
District Leader Caroline Laskow, like Sherber, said it is important that club members have a robust discussion, as they did the first time around, before voting on the mayor’s race again. And it makes sense, she said, to hold a vote rather than just pick the candidate who came in second last time in ranked-choice voting.
“I think it’s in the best interest of the club to go back to the drawing board and have a new vote,” she said. “There’s still a lot of time left in this race; we don’t want to waste the chance to work with one of the great progressives that are in this race. It didn’t feel quite kosher to go with the candidate who ranked second [last time]. It was very, very close originally.”
Personally, Laskow said she would not be voting for Stringer on May 10.
“I have a lot of feelings about it,” she said. “There were several really strong candidates out there. I feel we need to expect a lot more of our mayoral candidates than ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ That is not my criteria.”
There were reportedly some male members of the club’s executive committee who were not keen on holding another endorsement vote for mayor, feeling Stringer was not being afforded the benefit of the doubt.
The account of Kim, 49, has also since been scrutinized, with Stringer, 60, saying she had been a 30-year-old campaign volunteer for him, not a younger intern, and that they had a brief consensual relationship. Kim has also collected ballot petition signatures for another candidate in the current mayor’s race, Andrew Yang. And while she denied seeking a job with Stringer’s campaign for comptroller in 2013 and being turned down, his team produced records that she did.
However, Laskow said that “living life as a woman” has given her insight that men, in general, and men on the Grand Street Democrats’ executive committee, in particular, simply lack.
“I spoke very frankly that I was harassed at work and didn’t report it when I left,” she said. “And I think it’s extremely common. I think it’s way more common than it’s reported. And I’m looking forward to not having to have this discussion.
“It’s partly true ignorance and partly blinders,” she said of men’s lack of understanding of the extent of workplace sexual harassment. “It’s just never O.K. to harass people in the workplace.”
That the problem persists, she said, is “exhausting and discouraging.”
In terms of sexism in the U.S., for example, she noted incredulously that up until 1974, women could not even open a credit card account in their own name separate from their husbands.
As for who she will be voting for on May 10, Laskow said, “I certainly think that the women in the race right now are the strongest candidates. Period. They’re not maybe the ones with the most name recognition or the most money — Morales, Wiley, Garcia.”
Another club member, Marion Riedel, the Grand Street Dems’ vice president, said that accounts like Kim’s can be “triggering” for women who have experienced sexual harassment. She said there generally were “gender differences” on the club’s executive committee on the Stringer issue.
“As women, we’ve lived through enough things…where men did inappropriate things,” she said. “I do think there were a couple of men on the executive committee who were able to change their position after our experiences resonated with them.
“I feel like we have two men on our Supreme Court [who abused women] and a governor who’s abused eight women, and I think it’s got to stop,” Riedel stressed.
While Stringer always came across as very nice — “we call him a mensch,” she noted — Riedel said it was telling that Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou has withdrawn her support for the comptroller’s mayoral bid.
“Scott Stringer was Yuh-Line’s mentor,” she noted, “so it’s significant to me.
“In our society, which is a patriarchal society,” Riedel said, “for the most part, white men are innocent until proven guilty, and others not. ‘Innocent until proven guilty?’ I’ve seen too much.”
But she said one male executive committee member’s attitude about Kim’s accusations was basically “where’s the proof?”
“I don’t think women lie about that,” she said.
The club V.P. also bristled at Stringer’s answer when he was asked if Kim was the only campaign volunteer with whom he had a relationship.
“To the best of my knowledge,” Stringer responded.
Riedel scoffed of his answer, “It’s not accountable.”
Meanwhile, the Village Independent Democrats, which also endorsed Stringer for mayor, will hold a discussion of its own, after which its members might hold a new vote.
In a statement, the club’s co-presidents Mar Fitzgerald and Cameron Krause, said, “Village Independent Democrats prides itself on being the premier Democratic progressive voice in the Village and our city. We are deeply concerned by the sexual harassment allegations that were made about the mayoral candidate we endorsed. We support and stand with survivors of harassment and assault.
“V.I.D. has scheduled a discussion and review of our endorsement at our general membership meeting on May 13, which is open to the public. Once general membership has had a chance to weigh in, we will release a formal statement on our endorsement for mayor. V.I.D. has suspended our Stringer campaign activities until the members’ meeting.”