Another day, another apology from a political figure for allegedly treating female staff members inappropriately.
The subject of these latest sexual harassment allegations is Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittell.
In a report published by Politico Friday morning, six former party staffers and consultants accuse Bittell of creating an “unprofessional workplace environment.”
The women, who were reached independently by POLITICO and insisted on anonymity out of fear for their jobs, said Bittel never inappropriately touched or threatened them. But he made them feel so uneasy that they didn’t want to be alone with him due to his body language, suggestive remarks and even the breast-shaped stress squeeze-ball he has been known to keep on his desk.
Bittel issued a statement apologizing for any behavior that was considered to be inappropriate.
“Every person, regardless of their gender, race, age or sexuality should be treated with respect and valued for their hard work and contributions to our community and if any of my comments or actions did not reflect that belief I am deeply sorry,” Bittel said. “I have much to learn, but my goal is and has always been to make sure every member of our party has a safe environment in which to succeed. It seems I’ve not been successful in that goal, and I will do better.”
One of the women who made the allegations of sexual harassment to Politico had this description of Bittel.
“He’s just so f—-ng creepy. He just leers at you, and stares. I don’t know if you know what that feels like, but he just leers at you. I don’t know how to describe the feeling.”
One woman suggested that Bittel’s reputation is why Florida Democrats weren’t more critical of state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, after six woman came forward two weeks ago to claim that Latvala made inappropriate comments to them or touched them inappropriately.
An independent law firm began this week investigating the charges against Latvala. In a letter to Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, Gail Golman Holtzman, a Tampa-based attorney with the law firm Jackson Lewis, who is conducting the investigation, said she began looking into the charges on Monday and estimated her work could take up to a month to complete.
The allegations of sexual harassment against Bittel are just the latest in a series of cases that have surfaced in recent weeks, both here in Florida and across the nation.
The News Service of Florida reports incidents or claims of sexual harassment have been reported in statehouses in a dozen states, including Florida.
California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Washington — along with Florida — are among the states where women say a toxic environment permeates workaday life in state capitols.
On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, became the latest influential politician to be accused of sexuall harassment. A radio show host accused Franken of kissing and groping her without her consent during a USO tour in 2006.
Franken released a statement apologizing for his actions, and called for an ethics investigation of himself.