Bernie Sanders was not aware of allegations of sexual harassment and pay disparity among campaign workers during his 2016 run for president, the senator told CNN’s Anderson Cooper Wednesday.
“I was a little bit busy running around the country trying to make the case,” said the Vermont Independent, adding that the campaign had rapidly exploded from just a handful of paid staff members to about 1,200 employees in only a few months. “I am not gonna sit here and tell you that we did everything right in terms of human resources, in terms of addressing the needs that I’m hearing from now, that women felt disrespected, that there was sexual harassment.”
Former supporters of Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign have spent the past few weeks talking privately and online about their concerns over sexual harassment and pay disparity on the campaign trail, the New York Times reported Wednesday.
On Sunday, Politico reported that more than two-dozen people who worked on Sanders’ 2016 campaign want to meet with Sanders and his top aides. In a letter obtained by Politico, these people asked to “discuss the issue of sexual violence and harassment on the 2016 campaign, for the purpose of planning to mitigate the issue in the upcoming presidential cycle.”
One woman, a Latino outreach strategist named Giulianna Di Lauro, told the Times that a campaign surrogate had once complimented her “beautiful curly hair.” When she consented to let him touch it, the surrogate ran his hand through Di Lauro’s hair in what she described as a “sexual way.” He then spent the rest of the day touching her and “push[ing] my boundaries.”
Di Lauro said she reported the incident to a manager on the Latino outreach team, who laughed and told her, “I bet you would have liked it if he were younger.” Another woman corroborated Di Lauro’s story of the manager’s response to the Times.
The manager told the Times that he didn’t remember making that comment, and had instead treated her complaint seriously. After assigning two women to follow the surrogate, he followed up with them. checked in with the two women he assigned to accompany the surrogate.
Samantha Davis, who organized campaign operations in Texas and New York, told the Times she’d discovered that her salary was less than half the amount paid to a younger man — who’d once been supposed to report to her. “I helped at least a dozen women request raises so that they would be paid on par with their male peers,” she said.
Sanders’ campaign committee, Friends of Bernie Sanders, told the Times that staffers on the 2016 campaign had to read a set of procedures that outlined workplace conduct. The campaign had also instituted a review to standardize pay, the campaign committee said, and that a staffer’s pay was “never determined based on any consideration of an individual’s gender or of any other personal characteristic.’’
But the accounts of sexual harassment and pay disparity have damaged Sanders’ standing as a progressive champion, according to interviews with former campaign staffers conducted by the New York Times.
“I don’t think he has to be the vehicle or the platform for the movement that emerged from his campaign,” Sarah Slamen, who served as the Louisiana state coordinator for Sanders’ 2016 campaign, told the Times. Slamen also worked for the campaign in Texas and helped out with the progressive organization Our Revolution, which bloomed out of Sanders’ campaign. “Do you know how hard that is for me to say after working so hard for him?”
In the interview with Cooper, Sanders said, “I certainly apologize to any woman who felt that she was not treated appropriately. And of course, if I run, we will do better next time.”
Cover: Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks about his new book, "Where We Go From Here: Two Years in the Resistance," at a George Washington University/Politics and Prose event, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)