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After Staffer Scandal, Rep. Esty Won't Seek Re-Election

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A few days ago, Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty acknowledged that she mishandled a sexual harassment case involving her former chief of staff. She then got a lot of pressure from members of her own party to step down. And now the Connecticut Democrat has announced that she will not seek re-election. Here's Jeff Cohen from Connecticut Public Radio.

JEFF COHEN, BYLINE: After she first learned of the allegations that Chief of Staff Tony Baker had punched and made death threats to a female member of her staff, Esty kept Baker in his job for three months. When she eventually fired him, Esty gave Baker both a severance payment and a letter of recommendation. In an interview Friday, Esty apologized, said she felt guilty and wished she had better protected her staff.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ELIZABETH ESTY: I think it was wrong to give him a recommendation. I wanted to get this over as fast as possible. And I'm also someone who believes in second chances.

COHEN: At first, Esty resisted calls to step down. But by Monday afternoon, she announced she'd leave office at the end of her term this year. State Senator Mae Flexer welcomed the move. A Democrat, she was the first of her colleagues to call on Esty to resign because instead of suspending Baker when she first learned of the allegations, Esty let him stay in his post.

MAE FLEXER: What message did that not only send to the victim in this situation but to the rest of her staff who thought they were going to get relief once the congresswoman finally knew of the alleged behavior of her chief of staff? And instead, she allowed him to continue to lead her office.

COHEN: Mark Pazniokas is a reporter who covers state politics for The Connecticut Mirror, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news site. He says Democrats didn't want to spend a summer campaign defending Esty.

MARK PAZNIOKAS: Who had previously said that Democrats, Republicans, all members of Congress, should have zero tolerance for workplace harassment.

COHEN: Pazniokas also says that while Republicans called on Esty to resign, they also saw an opportunity to run against a wounded Democrat in a district they could conceivably win.

PAZNIOKAS: There's not many places in New England where they are competitive in a congressional race, but the 5th Congressional District of Connecticut happened to be one of them.

COHEN: Esty is serving her third term in Congress. She says she'll work to improve workplace protections during her final months in office. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Cohen in Hartford.

(SOUNDBITE OF BERRY WEIGHT'S "HORLOGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.