TALLAHASSEE — Allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior have struck again in the Florida political scene.
Stephen Bittel, chariman of the Florida Democratic Party, has been accused by six former staff members and consultants of improper comments, attention and invitations to his home and to fly on his private jet.
Among the other “creepy” (as one accuser described Bittel) charges: He had breast-shaped stress balls at his workplace desk.
The general thrust of a Politico report compiling the accusations is that Bittel’s behavior created a hostile workplace for the women. One accuser said “there was always a lot of boob stuff in his office,” and another called Bittel “very demeaning,” stating that the main reason she left the position was her boss’s penchant for commenting constantly on women’s breasts.
“The biggest thing I will say is that it became a policy that women, especially junior staff, were never to be left alone with him in his office, plane or house,” one of the accusers said to Politico.
Bittel, a wealthy real estate developer who has been the party’s chairman only since January, announced Friday in the wake of the accusations that he would resign.
“When my personal situation becomes distracting to our core mission of electing Democrats and making Florida better, it is time for me to step aside,” Bittel posted from the Florida Democratic Party’s Twitter account. “I am proud of what we have built as a Party and the wins we have had for Florida families, but I apologize for all who have felt uncomfortable during my tenure at the Democratic Party.”
The resignation is apparently open-ended, with no specific date set; Bittel presumably will occupy his office—at least nominally—until the party is able to elect his successor.
With newsfeeds overflowing with stories about groping and other sexual assault, Bittel—with his mere hostile work environment—might have flown under the radar but for the additional attention sexual misconduct claims have received of late. All four current Democratic candidates for the Florida governorship called for Bittel’s resignation.
“Although these allegations are not criminal, they clearly paint a picture of a hostile working environment for women,” said Tallahassee mayor and gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum. “We must actively work to shift the power dynamics in which men have deluded themselves into thinking they have control of women.’
The chairman also issued a personal apology, and promised to “do better.”
“Every person, regardless of their gender, race, age or sexuality should be treated with respect and valued for their hard work and contributions to our community,” he said, “and if any of my comments or actions did not reflect that belief, I am deeply sorry.”
Fortunately, if the strain of becoming a political pariah gets to be too much, Bittel presumably still has his breast-shaped stress balls to help take the edge off.