After spending days fielding questions about allegations of sexual harassment, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain insisted this weekend that he would be getting his campaign “back on message.”
That may not be possible now. Under the glare of television lights and flanked by her attorney, Gloria Allred, Sharon L. Bialek, a former employee of a foundation connected to the National Restaurant Association, came forward early Monday afternoon to charge Herman Cain, one of the current GOP frontrunners in the 2012 presidential campaign, with sexually inappropriate behavior that she says took place 14 years ago, in mid 1997.
Bialek is the fourth woman to allege inappropriate sexual behavior by Cain. But unlike the claims made by the previous three women, these charges have a specific name and some lurid details attached. And following the press conference held Monday afternoon, the charges now come with fresh video footage that can be aired on television news shows, ensuring the story won’t go away anytime soon.
Bialek told reporters gathered in the Milton Berle room of the Friars Club in midtown Manhattan that she had arranged for a meeting with Cain in 1997 after she had been fired from her post at the Educational Foundation of the National Restaurant Association (NRA) in Chicago. Bialek says she had hoped Cain, who was then president of the NRA, could help her find another job. What was supposed to have been a brief meeting in the bar lobby at the Capitol Hilton in Washington, D.C., says Bialek, turned into dinner and a car ride afterward, during which the alleged inappropriate behavior took place. “He suddenly reached over and put his hand on my leg, under my skirt, and reached for my genitals,” Bialek said, her voice slightly breaking. “He also grabbed my head and brought it towards his crotch. I was surprised and shocked and I said, ‘What are you doing? You know I have a boyfriend. This is not what I came here for.’” Ms. Bialek says that Cain replied, “You want a job, right?” Bialek says that she asked Cain to stop, which he did.
Cain has repeatedly denied harassing anyone. In a statement released Monday, Cain’s campaign called the latest allegations false. “Just as the country finally begins to refocus on our crippling $15 trillion national debt and the unacceptably high unemployment rate, now activist celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred is bringing forth more false accusations against the character of Republican front-runner Herman Cain,” campaign spokesman J.D. Gordon said in a statement released to the media. “All allegations of harassment against Mr. Cain are completely false. Mr. Cain has never harassed anyone. Fortunately the American people will not allow Mr. Cain’s bold ‘9-9-9 Plan’, clear foreign policy vision and plans for energy independence to be overshadowed by these bogus attacks.”
Bialek says she worked at the Educational Foundation of the NRA in Chicago in 1996 and 1997 as a manager of industry relations. Allred described her as a registered Republican, the mother of a 13-year-old son, and a native of Chicago, where she’s lived and worked for most of her life.
Allred says Bialek is not on public assistance, that she’s not filing a lawsuit or a claim, and that she has chosen not to sell her story to the media. Bialek says she did not file a complaint against Cain at the time because she was not employed by the restaurant association when the alleged incident occurred. “But I am coming forward now to give a face and a voice to those women who cannot or do not wish to come forward,” she said.
She then turned her remarks to the GOP candidate: “I want you, Mr. Cain, to come clean – admit what you did and then move forward. America is in turmoil. We need a leader who can set an example which exemplifies the standard of a person of good moral character. Mr. Cain, I implore you – make this right – so that you and the country can move forward and focus on the real issues at hand.”