Stringer’s Challenge of Accuser Risks Damage to Mayoral Run

Scott Stringer, New York City’s chief financial officer, built a political career insisting that harassment allegations be taken seriously and alleged victims should be able to safely come forward. Now, as he faces such a claim, he’s trying to chip away at his accuser’s credibility in an attempt to salvage his progressive run for mayor.

Days after Jean Kim, the one-time Stringer volunteer worker, accused him of groping and sexually harassing her in 2001, his campaign circulated a number of documents and issued statements accusing her of lying and questioning her motives. Kim has stood by her allegations while Stringer denies them and says theirs was a consensual relationship.

The Stringer campaign also produced documents, which have been reviewed by Bloomberg News, indicating that Kim collected nominating signatures on petitions required by the city’s Board of Elections on behalf of rival mayoral candidate Andrew Yang, as well as other candidates for lower offices. Stringer’s campaign challenged public statements by Kim’s attorney and delved into Kim’s graduate-school dissertation to undermine her allegations against Stringer.

Kim has said she was an unpaid intern in a political campaign 20 years ago when Stringer, then a state Assemblyman running for public advocate, made unwanted advances and groped her in a taxicab. Her lawyer, Patricia Pastor, says the Stringer campaign’s efforts to impeach Kim’s credibility further damages his own, in particular his holding a news conference with his spouse.

Stringer’s Challenge of Accuser Risks Damage to Mayoral Run

“You can call yourself a progressive so you can get progressive support and win a race, but if you are really progressive you don’t put your wife up in front of the camera to attest to your character. Ask one of your employees to attest to your character. She’s your wife, what else is she going to say?” Pastor said.

On Friday, Stringer issued a statement, noting that some of his supporters “will feel compelled” to withdraw their endorsements. “This campaign was always going to be about the people,” he said. “I’ve received a lot of support on campaign stops over the last two days, and I’m going to be campaigning in every neighborhood, in every borough for the next two months.”

Endorsements Pulled

An hour later, the New York Working Families Party announced it was withdrawing its endorsement of Stringer.

“For years, New York’s politics have been dominated by a culture of sexual harassment. We are deeply committed to building a city and state where all New Yorkers are safe from sexual misconduct, and survivors are supported in speaking out,” said Sochie Nnaemeka, the party’s state director. “Jean Kim shared her experience of sexual assault and Scott Stringer failed to acknowledge and consider his responsibility for that harm.”

Shortly after that, a group of state and federal lawmakers -- U.S. Representative Jamaal Bowman, state Senators Alessandra Biaggi, Julia Salazar and Gustavo Rivera, and Assembly members Yuh-Line Niou and Catalina Cruz -- rescinded their endorsements. Those reversals were followed by two progressive organizations, The Jewish Vote and Sunrise NYC, an affiliate of the national climate-change advocacy group Sunrise Movement; and Queens Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer.

UFCW Local 1500, which represents about 20,000 New York grocery workers, on Thursday withdrew its endorsement of Stringer. State Senator Jessica Ramos, an early supporter, rescinded hers as well, calling the accusations a distraction at a pivotal time in the race.

The United Federation of Teachers has so far maintained its support of him. “The UFT has a long history of working with Scott Stringer and has always found him both supportive of educators and an advocate for women,” the teachers’ union said in a statement. “At the same time, any accusations of this nature need to be listened to and carefully weighed.”

Risky Strategy

Political consultant William Cunningham said Stringer’s attacks on his accuser’s credibility carries particularly high risks, given he was one of the state’s first prominent Democrats to call for Andrew Cuomo’s resignation after the New York governor was accused of sexual misconduct by several women, claims Cuomo has denied. Earlier this year, Stringer said Cuomo should step down and that there must be “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment.

“He was so quick to jump at Cuomo, and the language used by progressives, which Stringer has so ardently adopted, that you have to believe the women in these cases,” said Cunningham, an adviser to the late Senator Daniel Moynihan as well as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.

“Now Scott is in the position of impeaching her credibility, so to women who either support or are considering a vote for him, if he goes about this in a ham-handed way, he’s bound to lose support, especially among unions, who have a lot of women members,” Cunningham said.

Stringer has consistently come in third in several polls measuring political support among more than a half dozen Democrats vying for the mayoral nomination in a June 22 primary -- the first in which the city will use ranked-choice voting, with ballots offering voters’ top five preferences.

Stringer has “a huge amount of union and establishment support, and so the question is where might his No. 2 votes go,” said political consultant George Fontas, who has commissioned several polls on the mayor’s race.

‘A Little More’

Stringer has said he and Kim had “a relationship that started as a friendship and it became a little more.” He said the two drifted apart when she didn’t get a job in his 2013 campaign for city comptroller, and that she later worked for Stringer’s rival in the race, Eliot Spitzer, who had resigned as New York governor five years earlier amid a prostitution scandal.

Stringer’s campaign spokesman Tyrone Stevens also pointed to a 2019 dissertation about female comedians Kim wrote while obtaining a graduate degree at City University of New York. “Fortunately I have no stories about comics who flashed themselves in front of me, or of sexual groping episodes, but nonetheless I became submerged in a deeply white male environment,” she wrote.

While Stevens says the passage contradicts her accusations against Stringer, the passage appears to be referring to her relationships with male comedians, not with politicians. Pastor said Kim was “talking about her experience as a comedian, and it’s not relevant to her political life, or her entire life.”

In pointing to the ballot petitions Kim collected on behalf of Yang and other politicians, Stevens said they showed her political allegiance to a rival candidate. But Pastor, her attorney, said Kim was actually volunteering on behalf of a friend and neighbor -- Esther Yang, no relation to the mayoral candidate -- who is running for district leader. She and Andrew Yang were listed on the same petition with two other candidates seeking enough signatures to get on the ballot, Pastor said.

“It did not occur to Jean that the fact that she carried these petitions was relevant to what she has disclosed about Mr. Stringer right now,” Pastor said. “She was disclosing something that happened to her and was very traumatic. She was thinking, ‘What is going to happen to me now? Will I be raked over the coals for coming out and saying this?’ ”

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