WASHINGTON — A woman who said she sought help finding a job from Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain went before television cameras Monday to add her voice to anonymous sexual harassment allegations by three others, accusing the novice politician of reaching under her skirt for her genitals and pulling her head toward his crotch.
Sharon Bialek said she had come forward about the incident in 1997 to provide “a face and a voice” to support other accusers who have so far remained anonymous in their charges against Cain, one of the Republican presidential frontrunners.
“Come clean,” Bialek challenged Cain, demanding he confess to any inappropriate behaviour with her or other women.
Cain’s campaign instantly issued a denial. “All allegations of harassment against Mr. Cain are false,” it said.
The new allegations deepen the sexual harassment scandal that has dogged Cain for more than a week and overshadowed everything else in the race to find a Republican challenger to President Barack Obama, less than two months before the first votes for a nominee are cast.
So far, there has been little indication that the accusations have cost Cain support, especially as he has accused liberals and the media — two of Republicans’ favourite targets — of making unsubstantiated allegations. But until now, none of the details behind the accusations had been disclosed. If Cain’s supporters begin retreating from him, that would leave Mitt Romney alone at the top of the pack of candidates.
Bialek, who was introduced at the New York news conference by lawyer Gloria Allred, said she had worked for the educational foundation of the National Restaurant Association in 1996-1997. Cain was head of the trade group at the time.
Bialek was terminated by the foundation but had become acquainted with Cain at official functions in the presence, she said, of her physician boyfriend. After she was let go by the foundation she said the boyfriend suggested she ask Cain’s help in finding another job. She said she travelled to Washington in July 1997 to meet personally with Cain.
Her boyfriend booked her a room at the Washington Hilton Hotel but when she arrived she was shown to a suite of rooms. Later, as they met at the hotel bar and later spoke over dinner at an Italian restaurant, she said, Cain told her he was responsible for her room upgrade. After dinner she said Cain drove her back toward the hotel by way, she said, of the building that housed the restaurant association.
He parked the car some distance from the building, she said, and while parked on the street Cain asked why she was in Washington. Bialek said she told Cain that her boyfriend had recommended she ask him for help with a job since he had appeared on past occasions to like her.
Cain then, Bialek said, reached under her skirt for her genitals and pulled her head toward his crotch.
She said she asked what he was doing and he responded, “You want a job don’t you?”
After she objected to his advance, Bialek said, Cain drove her back to her hotel.
Bialek said she did not file a workplace complaint against Cain at the time because she was no longer employed at the foundation of the restaurant association.
Allred showed but did not release what she said were copies of sworn statements from Bialek’s then physician boyfriend and another friend, a businessman, who attested under oath that the accuser had told them about the incident shortly afterward. Neither man was named.
Allred, a high-profile lawyer who specializes in discrimination, said Bialek is a stay-at-home mother of a 13 year-old son. They live in Chicago. Allred did not explain how Bialek supports herself and her son.
As if to blunt any attacks on her client’s motives, the attorney described Bialek as a registered Republican, and a woman with a long and successful work history.
So far, Cain’s fellow Republican hopefuls must have been silently enjoying the bubbling and highly public accusations surrounding the former businessman, they likely aren’t happy that the focus on his candidacy has drawn attention from them.
Romney, the favourite of the Republican establishment, has had trouble generating much attention in recent days. His major Washington speech on Friday was overshadowed, even though it was about cutting government spending and overhauling Medicare, the government health insurance program for Americans of retirement age — both key issues for the party’s candidates.
While Cain initially blamed Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign for leaking the initial sexual harassment allegations and significant payouts to the women who lodged them, he has since backed off that charge, choosing instead to attack the news media for paying too much attention to charges he has denied.
The three original accusers, who worked with Cain when he was head of the restaurant association, fear damage to their reputations and careers. Cain apparently had believed that his silence going forward would cause the allegations to fade from relevance.
Until Monday, polls indicated the scandal had not cut into Cain’s support, which has him neck-and-neck with Romney at the top of the Republican heap, and the candidate has been hauling in donations that far outstrip his fundraising before the allegations became public.
Some Republicans, including presidential rival Jon Huntsman and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, have urged Cain to respond more fully to the charges, and Bialek’s appearance in New York was likely to add to the clamour.
Perry, once seen as the best hope of the conservative tea party wing of the Republicans, has disappeared from news reports with the exception of a video of a bizarre appearance in the state of New Hampshire, raising questions about his sobriety at the event.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and the candidate with the biggest campaign bankroll, continues to cruise along, staying away from reporters and apparently comfortable with his level of support — banking on challengers like Cain and Perry to self-destruct along the way.