Connecticut Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty will not seek re-election after facing calls for her resignation from both sides of the aisle and from the editorial board of her state’s largest newspaper over her handling of abuse and sexual harassment accusations made against her former chief of staff by another staffer.
Tony Baker, 36, was accused in 2016 of punching his ex-girlfriend, Anna Kain, in Esty’s Washington office. Kain also said Baker, who was her boss, screamed at her and threatened that if she reported him, he would prevent her from getting another job, according to reports by The Washington Post and the Connecticut Post. Kain, 29, filed a police report and a restraining order in 2016 after she said Baker called her and threatened to kill her in a voicemail, the newspapers reported.
Baker left Esty’s office with a severance package in 2016 and the accusations against him were kept quiet. He went on to take a job with Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit founded by family members of the victims of the 2012 Newtown school shooting, which, “trains students and adults to know the signs of gun violence so that no other parent experiences the senseless, horrific loss of their child.” Sandy Hook is in Esty’s district. Baker, who was the Ohio director for Sandy Hook Promise, is no longer working for the organization, which has not commented since news of the allegations were brought forward.
Esty, a Democrat, has apologized for “failing to protect” Kain. She has said that she does not plan to resign, but has asked the House Ethics Committee to look into her actions “related to improper behavior by her former chief of staff,” according to a press release. She later announced she will not be running for re-election.
“Too many women have been harmed by harassment in the workplace. In the terrible situation in my office, I could have and should have done better. To the survivor, I want to express my strongest apology for letting you down,” Esty said in a statement. “In Congress, and workplaces across the country, we need stronger workplace protections and to provide employees with a platform to raise concerns, address problems, and work to reduce and eliminate such occurrences, in the first place. In my final months in Congress, I will use my power to fight for action and meaningful change.”
Here’s what you need to know about Tony Baker and the accusations against him and Esty:
1. Baker Left a Voicemail for Kain Saying ‘You Better F*cking Reply to Me or I Will F*cking Kill You,’ & Called Her About 50 Times, Telling Her He Would ‘Find Her’ & ‘Kill Her,’ She Says
Tony Baker and Anna Kain met in Rep. Elizabeth Esty’s D.C. office in 2013 after Esty was elected to Congress, The Washington Post reports. Kain, who had worked for Esty’s campaign, was hired as Esty’s scheduler and Baker was brought on as legislative director. They dated casually in 2013. In 2014, both were promoted, Kain to senior adviser, and Baker to chief of staff, making Baker her boss. Their dating relationship had ended by that point.
Kain said Baker was physically and verbally abusive during her time working for him in the congresswoman’s office, but she feared coming forward because her own career. She said she had been threatened by Baker and she did not want to hurt Esty’s re-election chances by publicly exposing her chief of staff’s behavior. She told The Post that she removed her cell phone from the House’s WiFi network so she could privately look up how to report misconduct to the Ethics Committee.
“I was 24 and doing a job that I believed in for an institution I was proud to be a part of,” Kain told The Post. “But I was being severely abused and had nowhere to turn. Nobody talked about things like this. I was suffering and thought it was weakness.”
Kain left Esty’s office in 2015. In 2016, she filed for a protective order against Baker after he made a series of threatening calls to her following an “alcohol-infused reunion of former and current staffers,” at a bar on Cinco de Mayo, the Connecticut Post reports. In the filing for the protective order, Kain said Baker had called her cell phone about 50 times and left messages saying he would “find her” and “kill her.”
In one message, provided to The Washington Post, Baker told Kain, “You better f*cking reply to me or I will f*cking kill you.”
Kain also filed a police report with the U.S. Capitol Police alleging felony threats, but it is not clear whether an investigation was conducted. Police said the report was not immediately available. Kain obtained a 12-month restraining order against Baker.
In her application for the order, Kain provided details about her relationship with Baker, saying that he punched her in the back in Esty’s office and “repeatedly screamed” at her while threatening to retaliate professionally if she reported his behavior.
“Throughout the Winter of 2014, respondent (Baker) repeatedly screamed at petitioner (the former staffer) in the workplace, making the woman feel intimidated and caused petitioner to feel she could not report respondent’s actions without putting her safety at risk,” the affidavit stated, according to the Connecticut Post.
2. Esty Kept Baker on Staff for 3 Months After Learning About the Threat, Gave Him a $5,000 Severance & a Positive Recommendation to Sandy Hook Promise
Esty found out about the threats made against Kain by Baker about a week after the May 5, 2016, incident, The Washington Post reports. Esty did not immediately suspend or fire Baker, but instead consulted her personal attorneys and advisers, and spoke to Kain on May 11, according to emails obtained by the post. She then had her former chief of staff, Julie Sweet, look into Baker’s past behavior.
Baker did not leave Esty’s office for three months. According to The Post, Esty barred Baker from working out of her Capitol Hill office on July 24, 2016. But he still accompanied her to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia from July 25 to July 28, the newspaper reports. He then sent a letter to his colleagues announcing his departure from Esty’s staff on August 12, according to The Post.
When Baker left, he and Esty signed a nondisclosure agreement and he was given $5,000 in severance, which Esty has plans to pay back to the government. Esty told The Washington Post she was pressured by the Office of House Employment Counsel to sign the NDA, and said that process delayed Baker’s departure.
The separation agreement also required Esty to provide a letter of recommendation for Baker to help in his search for a job outside of Washington, according to The Post. A draft of the letter obtained by the newspaper showed that Esty praised his “considerable skills.” Baker returned to Ohio, a move which was suggested by Esty, and then found a job with Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit based in Esty’s district. Esty was contacted by the organization in the fall of 2016 and gave him a positive, but “limited” recommendation, according to the Connecticut Post. She said told the newspaper she was mistaken in some of the actions she took, including the recommendation.
“This was a mistake, I think,” Esty told the Hartford Courant. “I’m somebody who believes in second chances. I was principally trying to get him away from my staff and the one he had hurt and make a safe space in Washington.”
Esty told the Courant an investigation found a pattern of female staffers, “feeling threatened, feeling verbally abused,” by Baker. She added that Kain felt like her own career would be at risk if she spoke out about Baker.
“She then reported as part of the investigation that he had threatened that if she reported to him to me or the employment counsel that he would make sure that she would never get another job,” Esty told the Courant. “She felt afraid. Other people felt afraid. I have been baffled and tortured by how could this have happened.”
Esty told the Connecticut Post that she did not know that Kain had been in a relationship with Baker. She also said that she did not hear the voicemails in which the threats were made.
While she has said she will not resign, despite calls from leaders of Connecticut’s Democratic party and from Republicans, along with the Hartford Courant’s editorial board, Esty has asked for an investigation into her actions.
“Although we worked with the House Employment Counsel to investigate and ultimately dismiss this employee for his outrageous behavior with a former staffer, I believe it is important for the House Ethics Committee to conduct its own inquiry into this matter,” Esty said Monday in a statement. “It certainly was far from a perfect process – and I would appreciate their advice, counsel, and review. I have apologized for my mistakes in the handling of this matter. I feel terribly for the victim of abuse. In seeking this inquiry, I want to clarify whether there was any wrongdoing on my part.”
Esty asked the Ethics Committee to, “conduct an inquiry into whether I have violated any law, rule, regulation or other standard of conduct applicable to a Member of the House,” and said she has urged the House to “explore whether the rules and procedures for dealing with such matters need to be further revised and strengthened.”
Esty, who has represented Connecticut’s 5th District since 2013 and who would have been up for re-election this November, told the Courant, “I was not the perpetrator of this. I think there’s a whole record of what I’ve accomplished.”
Esty announced Monday she will not seek re-election.
She said in a statement, “I know firsthand that we need stronger workplace protections, and to provide employees with a platform to raise concerns. But that’s not enough. Those concerns must be listened to. And people in power must take action. Now that I know, I must do better. We all must do better.”
Esty called for Rep. John Conyers to resign last November after he was accused of sexual harassment.
“For too long, the culture in Washington has accepted entirely unacceptable behavior,” Esty said in a statement at the time. “That needs to change — period.”
State Rep. Diana Urban, one of the Democratic lawmakers who has criticized Esty and called for her resignation, said that Esty’s daughter, Sarah Esty, a lawyer, asked her on Sunday to back down from her criticism of the congresswoman.
“I told her I’m sorry but I’m not backing down on this,” Urban told The Day of New London. “Stop with the damage control. What she did was wrong. You did not defend a woman who sorely needed your help. This is a watershed moment in our history. We are finally paying attention to things that are happening to women in the workplace. We are not talking (political) party here. It’s about what’s right and wrong.”
Urban said that Sarah Esty told her that there are things about the case that Urban does not understand and which are not being covered by the media. Sarah Esty said that her mother signed the NDA on advice of labor attorneys.
“If one of my people was being harassed, threatened and hit, I don’t care what any lawyer told me, he’d be gone,” Urban told The Day. “But I’m sorry, Elizabeth Esty, you did not defend this woman.”
3. Baker, Who Denies Punching Kain, Is Now Living ‘a Sober Life’ in His Native Ohio & Went Through Anger Management, His Friend Says
Baker has said in a statement to the media that he was dealing with alcoholism at the time of his alleged behavior.
“In 2016, Elizabeth was the only person who stopped to ask me how I was doing and urged me to get help beyond just becoming sober,” Baker said in the statement. “I immediately sought comprehensive help, which has been invaluable in my life of recovery. I have a lot of respect for Anna and I agree that stories like hers need to be told.”
Baker issued a second statement Monday, saying, “While there are still many who I owe apologies to, I do not expect forgiveness from anyone, whether they are survivors like Anna or victims like Elizabeth and others. I can only hope that my actions moving forward and over a lifetime of recovery can prove that I am a better man than I was during the time that I worked on Capitol Hill.”
Baker, a native of Brunswick, Ohio, is now living in Columbus, his friend, Andrew Ricci, told the Connecticut Post. Ricci said that Baker admits to being verbally abusive toward Kain, but denies punching her, according to the newspaper.
Ricci said Baker had a drinking problem in 2016.
“I’ve talked to him a lot over the last couple days, and he’ll be OK,” Ricci told the Connecticut Post. “He’s spent a lot of time over the past two years becoming a stronger person. I know he’s been living a sober life, and I can tell you anger management was really helpful.”
Baker directed requests for comment to Ricci, his longtime friend, according to the newspaper. Ricci told The Washington Post that Baker was “too intoxicated” at the time to remember leaving the abusive voice message, but did not deny Kain’s accusations, other than the punch. Baker has claimed he offered to resign after learning about what happened, but Esty told The Post that he never offered his resignation.
4. He Graduated From John Carroll University & Worked as a Lobbyist for the International Association of Fire Chiefs Before Joining Esty’s Staff
Baker graduated from John Carroll University in Ohio in 2004, according to a university publication. He studied political science, according to the school’s website, which lists him as a “success story” for his career in public service.
Baker began working for Esty’s Congressional staff in 2013. He held previous positions as a Congressional staffer, records show, and was also a lobbyist for the International Association of Fire Chiefs, according to the CT Mirror.
His yearly salary before leaving Esty’s office was about $136,000, according to the Hartford Courant’s Neil Vigdor.
5. Kain, Who Now Works for a Political Consulting Firm, Says She Came Forward to Fight Against a System ‘Designed to Protect Powerful People’
Anna Kain is now working for The Strathdee Group, a political consulting firm, in D.C., according to her Linkedin profile. She has been at the firm, which “is a boutique political consulting firm that focuses on building a fundraising network for Democratic Members of Congress, candidates, and Political Action Committees,” since 2015.
Kain is a Binghamton, New York, native and graduated from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia in 2011. She got her start in politics in 2008 by working as a deputy field organizer for Obama for America, and then worked on local campaigns in her New York hometown. She interned for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Senator Bob Casey’s campaign. In 2012, she worked as deputy finance director for Esty’s campaign and then joined her Congressional staff as a scheduler. In 2014, she was promoted to senior adviser and remained in that position until she left the congresswoman’s office in 2015.
Kain wrote on Facebook, “I shared my story, but this isn’t about me. This is about a flawed system designed to protect powerful people and that isolates and ignores those who need protection most. Abuse and harassment occur in congressional offices far too often, and this problem extends beyond Members of Congress themselves. I implore the Senate to act now to pass meaningful reform.”
She added, “If you work on the Hill and are going through this, I want you to know that it’s real, it’s a problem, and nothing about it is okay. I hear you and I believe you. It is not your fault and you are not alone. And you are stronger than you think you are.”
Kain has received support from others who have worked on Esty’s staff.
Kelley Anne Carney, who worked as Esty’s scheduler from 2015 to 2016, wrote on Facebook, “I want everyone to read this article and support Anna’s story. Too often, and in this case, we focus on the member or the abuser. Rep. Esty speaking out today is not brave, she did not address the situation and instead has tried to keep this locked up.”
Carney said that when the incident occurred, “she told the staff she had signed an NDA on behalf of the office (and we were not to speak about it) … “and she created an unfriendly environment to push out preexisting staff that had worked under the former chief (all while employing him at a non-profit). The public needs to know that this is not alright and this is not normal. … Anna sharing her story takes courage. Do not ever be afraid to speak up.”
Two former Esty interns took to Twitter to respond.
“As a former proud intern of Rep. Esty from summer 2015 (while Tony was the Chief of Staff), I can only get out single words…betrayed; disappointed; disgusted. But for Anna: brave; courageous; admiration,” one intern, Sarah, wrote.
Another former intern, Raghib Allie-Brennan, tweeted, “I previously served as an intern and campaign staffer for Congresswoman Esty and have long admired her legislative and political work — which is why I find these recent revelations profoundly disappointing. Her staff deserved better. Situations such as these cut across party lines and we must speak out and denounce them regardless of our party affiliations. We need to hold our elected officials and ourselves accountable to a higher standard. Congresswoman Esty failed in that regard.”