For the first time, leading presidential contender Herman Cain faces allegations of sexual harassment by a woman who has come out publicly.
In a press conference Monday in New York City, Sharon Bialek of Chicago claimed that in July 1997, Cain made aggressive sexual moves toward her after she approached him for help in finding employment. She says she did not file a harassment complaint at the time, nor does she plan to take any legal action against him now.
Ms. Bialek is the fourth woman to make sexual harassment claims against Cain – a front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination – but she is the first to voice her allegations in public. Celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred, who said she was contacted by Bialek, stood beside her.
“I’m coming forward to give a face and a voice to those women who cannot or for whatever reason do not wish to come forward,” said Bialek, speaking at the Friars Club in New York. She said she was also speaking out “on behalf of all women who are sexually harassed in the workplace but do not come out of fear of retaliation or public humiliation.”
The Cain campaign denied Bialek’s allegations.
“All allegations of harassment against Mr. Cain are completely false,” said campaign spokesman J.D. Gordon in a statement. “Mr. Cain has never harassed anyone. Fortunately the American people will not allow Mr. Cain’s bold '9-9-9 Plan,' clear foreign policy vision, and plans for energy independence to be overshadowed by these bogus attacks.”
Cain has held on to his front-runner status despite past allegations of sexual harassment that broke on Oct. 31 on the news site Politico.com. In those cases, alleging harassment in the late 1990s, when Cain ran the National Restaurant Association, the two women involved received paid settlements. Last week the Associated Press said a third woman was also claiming Cain made sexually suggestive remarks and gestures when she worked for the restaurant group, but she did not file a claim.
None of the three women were willing to come forward publicly to discuss their claims.
Now a fourth woman has stepped forward and spoken out. The question is, How will the public – particularly Republican voters, who begin their nomination process in less than two months – perceive her credibility?
Even though Cain remains in the lead in most national and key statewide polls taken since the Politico story broke, his public favorability has declined. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Sunday showed that Cain’s favorability had dropped 9 points among Republican voters in the past week, from 66 percent to 57 percent.
The poll also found that a majority of all registered voters – 53 percent – believe the harassment allegations against Cain are true. But among Republicans, only 39 percent believe they are accurate.
In her press statement, Bialek, who calls herself a full-time single mom, described a scene in which Cain touched her aggressively and positioned her toward a sexual act.
"I said, 'What are you doing?'" Bialek alleged. "You know I have a boyfriend. This isn't what I came here for."
According to Bialek, Cain answered, "You want a job, right?"