Campaigning politicians love to brag about their work experience, but news broke last night that Herman Cain’s behavior in the office could get him in serious trouble. Politico reported exclusively that during Cain’s service as president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, “at least” two female employees complained of sexual harassment. Eventually both women left their jobs with big payouts from the organization in exchange for keeping quiet. Will these new charges derail the candidate who is currently polling ahead of all his Republican rivals?
Cain has been married since 1968 to his homemaker wife, Gloria. He led the restaurant group from 1996 to 1999, right after his tenure leading Godfather’s Pizza. The women complained at the time of innuendo-laden conversations, sexually suggestive questions, and creepy “physical gestures,” among other textbook harassment moves. One of the women said Cain made a pass at her in a hotel where a professional event was taking place. Both women took five-figure settlement packages in exchange for their silence.
Politico’s account of confronting Cain with the charges are dramatic.
In a tense sidewalk encounter Sunday morning outside the Washington bureau of CBS News — where the Republican contender had just completed an interview on “Face the Nation” — Cain evaded a series of questions about sexual harassment allegations.
Cain said he has “had thousands of people working for me” at different businesses over the years and could not comment “until I see some facts or some concrete evidence.” His campaign staff was given the name of one woman who complained last week, and it was repeated to Cain on Sunday. He responded, “I am not going to comment on that.”
He was then asked, “Have you ever been accused, sir, in your life of harassment by a woman?”
Not exactly “I’m innocent.”
Since then, his campaign has responded more forcefully. Cain’s campaign manager, Mark Block, told MSNBC “Herman Cain has never sexually harassed anybody. Period. End of story.” But he wouldn’t answer a question about whether any women who worked for Cain had received payouts.
“Yes, I do have a sense of humor. Some people have a problem with that,” Cain himself cheerfully said this morning. “Herman is going to stay Herman.” There are at least two questions that response leaves unanswered: Are credible reports of sexual harassment enough to derail a presidential campaign? And if not, what does that means for the women who would be employed in a Cain White House?