A top adviser on Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign is accused of forcibly kissing a female subordinate after the 2016 Democratic National Convention, according to a Politico report published Wednesday.
The adviser, Robert Becker, served as a deputy national field director and oversaw Sanders’ campaign efforts in Iowa, Michigan, California and New York.
At a Philadelphia restaurant where campaign staffers had gathered to mark the end of Sanders’ bid for the presidency, the 50-year-old Becker allegedly grabbed a woman in her 20s by her wrists. He then forcibly kissed her while physically holding her in place, the outlet reported citing the unnamed woman and people who were there at the time. The adviser had previously told the young woman in front of other people that he had always wanted to have sex with her and made a crude comment, according to Politico.
Becker has categorically denied any wrongdoing. Yet Sanders’ main campaign committee denounced his alleged actions and said he would not be part of any future work.
The woman, who feared retaliation from Sanders supporters, said she did not report the assault at the time because the campaign was over, but she was inspired to speak out after Becker contacted her about a potential 2020 campaign for Sanders.
“It just really sucks because no one ever held him accountable and he kept pushing and pushing and seeing how much he could get away with,” she told the outlet. “This can’t happen in 2020.”
As Sanders builds momentum for another bid, several reports circulated last week detailing damaging stories from several women who supported Sanders in 2016. The women described a hyper-masculine atmosphere on the campaign trail where female staffers were belittled and sexualized, with attempts to correct the situation ignored.
Dozens of female and male former Sanders staffers wrote a letter to the senator last month urging him to address the sexual harassment and abuse they say took place in his last campaign. They also requested a meeting to address the harassment issues.
While Sanders told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he was not aware of the allegations because he was “a little bit busy running around the country trying to make the case,” he pledged to do better if he does choose to run in 2020.
The senator issued a more strongly worded statement Thursday after the revelation about his former adviser, addressing the women who were mistreated.
“I thank them, from the bottom of my heart, for speaking out,” Sanders said of the accusers. “What they experienced was absolutely unacceptable and certainly not what a progressive campaign, or any campaign, should be about.”
“Clearly we need a cultural revolution in this country to change workplace attitudes and behavior. I intend in every way to be actively involved in this process,” he concluded.
This story has been updated to include a statement from Bernie Sanders.