Yet another male political official has been accused of sexually inappropriate behavior, and in this instance, he's quitting rather than sticking it out. On Friday, Stephen Bittel resigned as chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, following the publication of a Politico report citing six former female staffers who allege he made inappropriate conversation about sexual topics, and leered at women in his office. Two male staffers who reportedly worked in proximity to Bittel also anonymously supported the claims.
Bittel, according to Politico, is a well-known figure within Democratic Party politics in the Sunshine State, a friend and ally of prominent national Florida politicians like Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Sen. Bill Nelson. The women who spoke to Politico reportedly do not wish to reveal their identities for fear of losing their jobs.
The accounts of the six anonymous staffers claim that Bittel behaved in a "creepy" fashion towards women — "f***ing creepy," in one woman's words. Specifically, Bittel allegedly leered at women's bodies, commented on their breasts, and asked if they wanted to visit him at his home or take a ride on his private plane while his wife was out of town.
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.
In fact, according to the report, it was a widespread belief that women should not be left alone with him.
"The biggest thing I will say is that it became a policy that women, especially junior staff, were never to be left alone with him in his office, plane or house," one former staffer reportedly told Politico.
Bittel resigned on Friday, one day after the report broke. In a statement posted to Twitter, he said that it was time "to step aside," and apologized "for all who have felt uncomfortable" about his behavior.
When my personal situation becomes distracting to our core mission of electing Democrats and making Florida better, it is time for me to step aside. I am proud of what we have built as a Party and the wins we have had for Florida families, but I apologize for all who have felt uncomfortable during my tenure at the Democratic Party. I am working with our leadership to set the date for our party to elect my successor.
Another of the unnamed sources for the story said she had been warned not to go into Bittel's bathroom, and noted that he had "a lot of boob stuff in his office." The report noted that Bittel kept a stress ball in the shape of a woman's breast in his office; a spokesperson for Bittel reportedly acknowledged that he owned the ball, saying it was a joke gift from a female former colleague.
Bittel's resignation comes amid an avalanche of revelations and allegations of sexually predatory behavior by high-profile and powerful men, a landslide that begun when Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual assault and rape by multiple women in the film industry (Weinstein has forcefully and categorically denied all allegations of rape against him).
Since then, myriad celebrities and politicians have faced similar such public allegations, most recently Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore. The 70-year-old Moore has been accused of sexually predatory behavior by multiple women, including accusations he molested a 14-year-old and sexually assaulted a 16-year old in the 1970s. Moore has flatly and vehemently denied the allegations against him, accusing the media of fabricating them in a politically motivated attack on his campaign.
On Thursday, Democratic senator Al Franken was also publicly accused of sexual misconduct. Specifically, radio host Leeann Tweeden publicly accused him of kissing her without consent during a USO tour in 2006, and released a photo of him grinning while appearing to grope her as she slept on the way back from the trip. Franken apologized to Tweeden in a letter after the story broke — an apology Tweeden says she's accepted — and called for a Senate ethics investigation of his own behavior.