It’s not easy to sum up a cascading politics-meets-sexual-misconduct scandal in just three words printable in a family newspaper. But Joe Foster, chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Party, did just that when I reached him on vacation in Paris this week.
“Oh my God,” he said.
Foster’s words weren’t about progressive poster boy and state Sen. Daylin Leach. He already knew, when he hopped a plane for France over the weekend, that the high-profile Dem from his own back yard was in trouble for alleged sexually charged improprieties documented in an Inquirer story Sunday.
Eight women and three men said Leach had crossed the line with instances of sexual talk and inappropriate touching of women. Leach, under pressure from Gov. Wolf to resign and from other Democrats to end his Congressional bid against U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, has since said he was heartbroken to have “put someone in a position that made them feel uncomfortable or disrespected” and would cooperate with any Senate investigation of the allegations.
Leach’s response came after he criticized alleged victims online. In a nutshell, his position has shifted to: I’m-sorry-but-I’m-not-going-anywhere just yet. Regardless of what magic he believes is possible, any thought that Leach can remain a viable candidate in Meehan’s race is fairytale thinking.
Because it looks as though Pennsylvania now has its very own #metoo Ground Zero.
What did Foster think, I asked Leach’s party overlord, of a second shoe that had just dropped earlier that day:Pennsylvania taxpayers, according to a story by Angela Couloumbis and Liz Navratil, were tapped to the tune of a quarter million dollars to silence a 2015 sexual harassment complaint against veteran Democratic state House Rep, Thomas Caltagirone of Berks County.
“Taxpayers should not be paying any kind of settlement in these kind of deals,” Foster said.
He’d left for vacation, he said, and “didn’t realize all hell would break loose.”
The demons of disclosure that have exposed accused hounds in Hollywood and Washington have arrived in Pennsylvania’s halls of power a week before Christmas. And it’s about time; men so outnumber women in elected office there, one can only imagine how many other stories are out there waiting to be told.
Lots of people are now wondering: Who’s next — and what should happen to the men being outed as boors or more?
Caltagirone and Democratic House leadership had no comment about the sexual harassment story or payout. But Gov. Wolf called on him to resign.
In Leach’s case, the degree of outrage seemed dependent on who was being asked and – brace yourselves – politics.
In Montco, the few women I called in the party’s ward structure either didn’t call me back or said “no comment” when asked about the pro-women warrior’s alleged indiscretions.
Foster called it all “very astonishing,” “very sad,” and “intolerable,” but stopped short of calling on Leach to step down or end his Congressional bid. (Leach has said only that he would “step back” from the campaign.)
In Delaware County, it was like an alternate Democratic universe.
Top Dems there haven’t been high on the guy who helped make medical marijuana law in Pennsylvania. They don’t like Leach’s chances in the Congressional midterm race because Meehan’s seat is so gerrymandered to favor Republicans they can’t see someone like Leach pulling off a Hail Mary win there.
Delco’s emerging power hitters in the party don’t seem inclined to kowtow to the bigwigs in Montco who also run the state Democratic organization. It was grassroots newbies and outsider types who walloped Delco’s entrenched Republican establishment for the first time a few weeks ago in local elections.
And their de facto leader — a relative newcomer who herself doesn’t fit Harrisburg’s establishment politician mold — minced no words in calling for Leach’s head.
Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky said Tuesday that Leach, despite his progressive bona fides, is no longer fit to represent women.
“He did not take responsibility,” Krueger-Braneky told me. “And beyond not taking responsibility, he attacked the women who had come forward with some really strong language on social media.”
On Wednesday, she joined Wolf in calling for Caltagirone’s departure, too.
“The conspiracy of silence that protects harassers and abusers in the state Capitol while leaving victims economically and professionally vulnerable or isolated must end, now,” she said.
Harrisburg is a tough place for women, where fewer than one in five lawmakers is not a man. As cases come to light, she said, there should be swift and equal outrage for offenders of all political stripes.
Until then, buckle up.