Political Rashomon: The Latest NYC Sex Scandal

New York is in the midst of a major round of local elections.  Come November, after eight long years, the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, will be replaced as well as the City Controller, Public Advocate, Borough Presidents and City Council members. More than a half-dozen candidates – Democrats, Republicans and others – are running for mayor in the first round of primaries that are to be held on June 22nd, followed by the general election on November 2nd.

Compounding the election shuffle, the City is introducing what is known as “ranked-choice voting” by which voters can vote for multiple candidates in order of preference.  A voter indicates their first to fifth pick in order of preference and the one that receives a majority (50% plus 1) is the winner.

While the mayoral race has drawn eight very different Democrats into the primary, the most controversy has erupted over an alleged incident of sexual misconduct by Scott Stringer, the City Controller.  His accuser, Jean Kim, a 41-year-old lobbyist, declared in a statement released by her attorney on April 28th: “One evening, shortly before the [2001] primary, I was talking to Stringer about the primary when without warning, and without my consent, he kissed me using his tongue, put his hand down my pants and groped me inside my underpants.” She added, “I pulled away and tried to avoid him.” The Gothamist, a city website owned by WNYC, a local public radio station, reported that she said he asked her on more than one occasion, “Why won’t you fuck me?”

At the time of the alleged incident Kim originally claimed to have been an unpaid intern to Stringer’s first Controller campaign.  Her statement carefully details her reasons for holding off publicly discussing the event for two decades:

I have tried my best to put this chapter of my life behind me, but I am coming forward now because being forced to see him in my living room TV everyday pretending to be a champion for women’s rights sickens me when I know the truth.

I never disclosed this before because I was fearful of his vindictive nature and that he would retaliate against me and destroy my career in politics. I could not be here without the support of my loving fiancé, my good friends and family who support me. I thank the women sexual abuse victims who have courageously spoken out before so that I no longer have to suffer silently in the shadows.”

Kim further clarified her charges in a follow-up interview with the Gothamist on May 7th in which her fiancé, Tony Caifano, reports that Kim shared her story with him in 2014.  She said, “the Me Too movement hadn’t happened. [Black Lives Matter] didn’t happen.” She added, “He was this white man of privilege in a very powerful position with a lot of political connections.”

Stringer strongly objects to Kim’s accusations, insisting: “She was a peer. She was not, absolutely not, an intern on the campaign. Our internship program was made up of college students. She was not part of that.”  He went on, adding:

Jean was, as I recall, employed at the time as a publicist. She was an active supporter of the campaign. She has never worked for me in any capacity. … For a several-month period around the time of the campaign, we had an on-and-off relationship over a few months. She was 30, I was 41. This relationship started and ended before I met my wife Elyse. I believe it was a mutual, consensual relationship. I never used any force, made any threats, or did any of the things that are alleged.

He claimed that he and Kim had an “amicable” relationship “until 2013 when we could not find her a role on my campaign for comptroller.”

To date, most of the reporting has involved a “she said/he said” back and forth. On May 4th, Kim’s attorney, Patricia Pastor filed an official complaint against Stringer with state Attorney General Attorney General Letitia James.

However, a recent investigation by The Intercept appears to be the only serious journalist attempt to move beyond the “she said/he said” accusations and counterclaims that now regularly appear in the New York media.  It reports that “while Kim claimed to have been an unpaid intern on the Stringer’s 2001 campaign for public advocate, others involved in the campaign said that by that point she was already an established member of the group’s social set helping out a friend running for office.”

Going further, The Intercept notes that some “longtime mutual friends” of Stringer and Kim “supported Stringer’s version of the story, each saying that the pair were in a casual relationship and that Stringer’s description of it as a ‘light relationship,’ matches with their own impression.”  They “recalled the pair getting cozy at bars, or walking with arms around each other, among other signs of intimacy that buttressed a widespread understanding of the nature of their relationship.”  The Intercept also reports that “her claim to have quit the group [the Upper West Side’s Community Free Democratic Club] after an alleged assault is demonstrably false, as she remained involved in the group for at least another decade.”

Assuming all that both Kim and Stringer have so far said publicly is accurate, and nothing substantively is added to The Intercept’s revelations, the accusations and rebuttals will likely continue until the election primary and long after.  The state’s Attorney General will likely conduct an inquiry, its results – if any – will be announced sometime in the future.

For Kim, one can only hope that the public disclosure — and resulting political scandal — helps her work through the “trauma” she says she suffered.  As is well established, it often takes a woman – and young children – years, if not a lifetime, to come to terms with the suffering they endured as the result of what they experienced as an aggressive sexual encounter or relationship.

For Stringer, the charges raised again him will likely only undermine his election prospects.  Up until the Kim accusation, Stringer was not a top candidate on any of the early election polls but was looked upon favorable as a competent administrator and supporter of “progressive” policies. However, the political irony of New York’s introduction of ranked-choice voting might have made him a safe “No. 2” choice and, thus, if none of the other candidates reached the magical 50%+1, he might have been elected as the default candidate.  That option seems to have vanished.

In the wake of Kim’s revelation, many “progressive” groups, politicians and others have joined a mounting chorus assailing Stringer and pulling their political support for him. Three mayoral candidates have publicly assailed him.

Kathryn Garcia noted, “It takes tremendous courage for anyone to come forward. I support Jean Kim, I believe Jean Kim, and I commend her bravery for speaking truth to power.” She added, “Scott Stringer should stand by his own policy of zero tolerance for sexual harassment and drop out of the mayoral race.”

Dianne Morales issued a statement that said, in part: “I’m not focused on Scott Stringer. I’m focused on the woman of color who has to endure public scrutiny as she speaks her truth about the harm she’s experienced. I have been consistent that we need to believe survivors, and that doesn’t change today.”

Maya Wiley called for Stringer to drop out of the election, insisting, “Scott Stringer must immediately account for this abuse of a campaign intern, including the unwanted advances and the dangling of jobs.” “The behavior, as Kim describes it, is a sexual assault, as well as sexual harassment. … The people of New York just deserve better than this.”

Among elected officials, state Sens. Alessandra Biaggi and Julia Salazar, state Assembly Members Catalina Cruz and Yuh-Line Niou, Rep. Jamaal Bowman and Rep. Adriano Espaillatwithdrew their support of Stringer.

Sophie Nnaemeka, head of New York State Working Parties, accused Stringer of “toxic male leadership” and dropped support for his candidacy.  “It cannot be that the candidate is the sole vehicle and the only option to make people’s lives better,” she said.  The Sunrise Movement also rejected Stringer.

Stringer still retains support from the United Federation of Teachers and

Teamsters Local 237.

The Intercept opened its investigation of Kim’s accusation against Stringer with a telling quote from an article co-authored by mayoral candidate Maya Wiley:

Accepting the allegation and investigating it is what we mean when we say believe all women. Corroboration is key here,” Wiley wrote of [Tara] Reade’s allegation [against Joe Biden], adding that “believing women doesn’t mean we don’t also ask for further information, context and clarification.”

It adds, noting that Wiley at the time recommended “assessing the accused’s credibility and response to the allegation in comparison to the credibility of the accuser and supporting evidence.”

Sadly, so far little in the way of “further information, context and clarification” has come forward. At best, the two accounts recall the 1950 classic Japanese film, Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon. Yet, ostensible well-meaning “progressive” politicians and organizations have denounced Stringer and called for him to withdraw from the election.

Two decades ago — when the incidents between Kim and Stringer allegedly took place — was an era shadowed by Pres. Bill Ciinton’s notorious affair with a young White House staffer.  Since they, there have been innumerable abusive sexual incidents involving Donald Trump (elected president) and Harvey Weinstein (jailed) as well as Al Franken (resigned his U.S. Senate seat).  They join such New York “sex-sploiters” like Eric Schneiderman (former attorney general), Eliot Spitzer (former governor) and Governor Andrew Cuomo who is currently being investigated for a half-dozen accusations of sexual harassment.


The #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements helped galvanize popular political consciousness and given voice to many who felt voiceless.  But the emboldened consciousness that these and other movements have fostered should not replace Wiley’s call “for further information, context and clarification.”

David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.