Amid Harassment Claims, Pennsylvania Governor Urges Fellow Democrat to Resign
By Angela Couloumbis and David Gambacorta
Gov. Wolf on Sunday called on State Sen. Daylin Leach to resign in the wake of a report by the Inquirer and Daily News that eight women and three men have claimed that the Montgomery County legislator had inappropriately touched female campaign staffers or subjected them to highly sexualized conversations.
"This disturbing behavior is absolutely unacceptable. Sen. Leach should resign," the governor said in a stinging rebuke of a fellow Democrat. "While he has been a leader on important policy issues, this conduct cannot be excused. As I have said previously, this is not a partisan issue. The lack of adequate structure for victims to report this type of behavior and feel protected is inexcusable, and underscores that Harrisburg's culture must change."
Other former colleagues or fellow party members on Sunday echoed the governor's response to the allegations. In a statement and Facebook post, a one-time top campaign aide to Leach confirmed the accounts of two former political staffers and said he regretted not speaking out at the time about "a pattern of behavior that I believe was totally inappropriate."
And the Senate's top Democrat, Minority Leader Jay Costa (D., Allegheny), said his caucus had launched a review of the Senate's policy on harassment.
"This report raised issues about the Senate's policy for handling workplace and sexual harassment claims," Costa said in a statement. "We're seeking more information about these specific claims and will take the appropriate next steps."
Leach, in a response to questions from the Inquirer and Daily News, denied that he inappropriately touched two women who described their encounters at length to the newspapers. One woman's claim was investigated by a Senate human resources officer in 2015.
Leach, a 55-year-old married senator from Wayne and a legislator for nearly 15 years, also said his humor was "no more racy than the average person's, but to be clear, it's not pure either."
George Bochetto, Leach's lawyer, could not immediately be reached for comment Sunday. Last week, Bochetto said that Leach is not a predator, and accused the the Inquirer and Daily News of pursuing a "witch hunt" against the senator.
In his own statement, Leach blamed what he asserted has been a "whisper campaign" started by supporters of one of his opponents in the upcoming Democratic primary for the Seventh Congressional District, based in Delaware County.
Allegations of sexual misconduct and improper behavior have been roiling state capitals across the country, but the claims about Leach are the first to touch the Pennsylvania legislature.
After the allegations were published Sunday, others in addition to Wolf called for Leach to resign his Senate seat, end his congressional campaign, or do both.
In a statement, the chairman of the Delaware County Democratic Party, David Landau, called Leach an "a tireless fighter for progressive causes" but said, "None of that can excuse his inappropriate conduct and the toxic environment he created. He should immediately suspend his congressional campaign."
Nina Ahmad, the former chair of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women, who is now running for Congress in another district, said Leach should resign and end his congressional campaign.
"The revelation that female staffers were afraid to bring on additional female staff is particularly chilling, and an example of how sexual harassment and sexism undermine women economically," said Ahmad, who most recently worked as a Philadelphia deputy mayor. "I applaud these women for the courageous stand they have taken. They should be believed and heard."
Among the women who spoke to the Inquirer and Daily News were two 2008 Leach campaign staffers who said he frequently made sexual jokes and comments -- including openly discussing his list of famous women "I want to f -- " -- leaving his aides feeling uncomfortable and powerless to stop his behavior.
In a statement Sunday afternoon, Matt Goldfine, Leach's field director for the 2008 campaign, confirmed the accounts.
He said Leach "would sometimes treat female interns differently than male interns, and in ways that made me feel uncomfortable, including tickling them or hugging them excessively. This did not happen once; there was a pattern of behavior that I believe was totally inappropriate."
Goldfine said that during the campaign, the candidate would sometimes come to the campaign office and, through a window, watch a nearby event for young mothers and toddlers held at a coffee shop.
"In the presence of other staffers, Sen. Leach called the event "MILF and Cookies' instead of its actual name 'Milk and Cookies,' and laughed as he went to the coffee shop during the event," Goldfine said, adding: "More than anything, my [now-]34-year-old self wishes my 25-year-old self would have protested, instead of acquiescing in, this unprofessional conduct."
He said an atmosphere of chauvinism permeated the campaign, during which an intern was referred to as "thong girl" because her underwear had once inadvertently become visible.
"I now understand that the dynamic between elected officials and young persons trying to make it in the world of politics is very much one of power," Goldfine wrote in the statement, which he also posted to his Facebook page. "Asserting that no one has ever complained is a familiar excuse from those on top in a power dynamic."