Washington Governor Faces Second Sex Harassment Claim
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) _ He’s accused of sexual harassment. After the November elections, he endured hostility and setbacks from the legislature. His poll numbers are dismal, his standing weak even among fellow Democrats.
President Clinton? No, it’s a politician in the ``Other Washington.″
Gov. Mike Lowry already faces an uphill re-election battle in 1996 as a liberal Democrat swimming against a conservative current. Now he has a new obstacle: the second accusation of sexual harassment in less than a year.
The latest claim comes from his former deputy press secretary, Susanne Albright. And on Monday, Lowry was hit with the resignation of his chief legal counsel, Jenny Durkan, a feminist and longtime supporter.
Albright, a former journalist and legislative publicist, was one of Lowry’s most vigorous advocates after she was hired in May 1993.
She has not filed a formal complaint or given details of her claim that the governor committed repeated, persistent acts of sexual harassment. Her attorney says it involved physical contact.
Lowry, 54, flatly denies any wrongdoing. He is supported by his wife of 26 years, Mary.
``I was stunned,″ said the first-term governor. ``I never did anything inappropriate. I’ve made that clear. I was never given any indication.″
Albright’s lawyer, Larry Finegold, said his client didn’t intend to make the matter public, but couldn’t agree with Lowry on a settlement. Albright didn’t want money, only an assurance that the governor wouldn’t harass any more women, Finegold said. He said Lowry refused.
Albright left on medical leave in November and quit her $48,000-a-year job last month. She now works for a Seattle public relations firm.
Her allegations were made public Friday after reporters used the state’s Public Records Act to get information on why Albright left her job. Several reporters had received anonymous tips that they should investigate an exchange of letters between Finegold and Lowry’s office.
Durkan didn’t directly comment on the allegations in her letter of resignation.
``Unfortunately, the events of the last few months have created a role for me that neither of us anticipated,″ Durkan wrote. ``This has rendered it virtually impossible to do the job you brought me on to do.″
Another staff attorney, Kent Caputo, said the sex harassment charges had taken Durkan away from the policy role she had been hired to undertake.
Durkan has rejoined the Seattle law firm she left less than six months ago. She didn’t return messages at her office and has an unlisted home number.
Last spring, a 33-year-old Washington State Patrol fingerprint technician said Lowry ground ``his chest, torso and groin″ into her as she was taking his fingerprints for a security clearance.
An investigation found no proof for the woman’s claim. Lowry and his staff underwent sensitivity training in September at the recommendation of an assistant attorney general who investigated the claim.
Since no lawsuit has been filed in Albright’s case, Attorney General Christine Gregoire has refused to investigate or advise Lowry. In the event of a lawsuit, Gregoire would investigate.
However, an investigation is under way by attorney Mary Alice Theiler, a specialist in sexual harassment cases. She was approached by the governor’s staff and agreed to take on the case without charge.
Albright may not cooperate with Theiler since the lawyer was picked by the governor’s staff and has made three small donations to Lowry’s campaign fund, Finegold said.
Albright’s accusations come at a difficult time for Lowry, who served in Congress from 1979 to 1988.
The veteran Seattle liberal has always been a politician with high negative ratings. He lost more ground when, like Clinton, he pushed for a universal health-care bill, tax increases and other measures that critics said marked him as a tax-and-spend liberal.
In the fall of 1993, using Lowry as a poster child for all that ails government, resurgent conservatives pressed through citizen initiatives limiting state spending and imposing term limits.
Last fall voters went even further, dumping House Speaker Tom Foley and other Democratic congressmen, burying the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, and turning the state House from heavily Democratic to heavily Republican.
Now there’s even talk of a rare primary challenge, possibly by Gregoire. Other speculate the prospect of a bruising campaign will keep Lowry from running.
It all reminds voters of other Northwest politicians, including Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., who is accused of harassing 29 women, and former Sen. Brock Adams, a fellow Democrat from Washington who withdrew from a re-election campaign three years ago after eight women claimed he harassed or assaulted them.
The state’s new Democratic chairman, Paul Berendt, refuses to take sides in Lowry’s case.
``There is just so much we don’t know,″ he says, choosing his words carefully. ``We take these charges very seriously. We do not take them lightly. And the governor deserves to have a little bit of due process here. It is a little premature to judge one way or the other.″