The news that former Bullock adviser Kevin O’Brien was forced out of his political job in New York City following credible accusations of sexual harassment was incredibly disappointing. As the story developed, though, it only got worse: not only did Governor Bullock not inform New York mayor Bill de Blasio after O’Brien was accused of sexual harassment and fired at the Democratic Governors Association, but said through a spokesperson that he essentially believed O’Brien had learned his lesson in 2015 and that would stop his behavior:
Bullock spokeswoman Ronja Abel said Tuesday that Bullock did not tell de Blasio about the dismissal because he believed O’Brien would not harass women again after his firing from the Democratic Governors Association, something Bullock now believes was not a strong enough action to prohibit further women being harmed.
That was a terrible response, one that suggests somewhat implausibly that Bullock doesn’t understand the nature of sexual harassment or that he let a personal relationship cloud his judgment badly enough that he really believed O’Brien would not repeat his behavior.
And that’s not good enough. Though reporting indicates that de Blasio didn’t ask Bullock specifically about O’Brien and Bullock approved of his firing at the DGA, Bullock should have worked harder to prevent O’Brien from finding himself in another position so quickly.
All of us, but particularly men in positions of power, need to do more to combat harassment in the workplace. We need to stand up for our co-workers who are victims of harassment, we need to listen to and believe their stories, and we need to hold perpetrators accountable, not make it easy for them to slide into $250,000/year jobs immediately after being forced out of job for wildly inappropriate behavior.
The flip side of the #MeToo movement has to be a call for me to realize that we, too, have a responsibility to let the men in our lives know that inappropriate behavior demands a genuine commitment to improvement, one that probably has to come with real sacrifice and loss, not just a hope that someone who abuses the privilege of his power will somehow learn a lesson by being given more privilege.
Though it isn’t for me to say–and barring any other revelations–I don’t think Governor Bullock’s failure here disqualifies him from seeking another office. As voters, we need to carefully reflect on his record as a governor and balance this error in judgment with his record on workplace discrimination, women’s rights, and a whole host of issues. I’ll trust voters, including the women who have overwhelmingly supported Bullock in his two campaigns for governor, to make that evaluation.
No matter what, I do hope he’ll reflect on this experience and live up to the works of the statement his office released, and understand that “We all have a responsibility to do better and put an end to sexual harassment.”
It’s a lesson that, in ways large and small, many of us need to hear.