Herman Cain’s bid for the White House suffered a potentially fatal blow on Monday when an attractive blonde made a damning claim that he tried to grope her after she approached him asking for help finding a job.
Sharon Bialek, a former worker at the National Restaurant Association's educational foundation, is the first woman to go public and give explicit details of the abuse she claims to have endured at the former pizza mogul’s hands.
|Sharon Bialek: “I want you, Mr. Cain, to come clean. Just admit what you did and then move forward." (AP Photo)
Bialek claimed at a news conference today that Cain put his hand under her skirt and reached for her genitals, while at the same time pushing her head toward his crotch.
She said she immediately asked him to stop. He replied, “You want a job don’t you?” before driving her back to her hotel in Washington.
“She went to Mr. Cain for help finding a new job. Instead, he gave her his idea of a stimulus package, Bialek’s lawyer, Gloria Allred, said to laughter among the journalists packed into the room.
Cain immediately put out a denial, again insisting he has never sexually harassed anyone, and attacking Allred.
Bialek, a registered Republican, said she met Cain again last month during a tea party-organized event in Chicago and asked him if he remembered her. “He acknowledged he remembered me, but looked uncomfortable and said nothing,” she said.
The details, which Bialek and Allred laid out during a news conference at the Friars Club in New York this afternoon, have the potential to destroy Cain’s campaign for the White House. Three other accusers have refused to go public with their names or with explicit details of what they contend he has done.
Bialek is a single mother of a 13-year-old son. As well as working for the association’s foundation, she has hosted a television cooking show, worked as an account manager for the cosmetics company Revlon, was a manager at the Easter Seals charity, and has worked for two radio stations.
Speaking in a halting voice, she said she met Cain at a series of National Restaurant Association dinners and lunches in 1996 and had gotten on well with him. “I found him incredibly inspirational,” she said. “I asked him when he was going to run for president.”
She said she and her then-boyfriend, a pediatrician, were invited to Cain’s hotel suite during the association’s convention in Chicago for an informal party.
But soon afterward, Bialek said she was laid off after the association claimed she had not raised enough money, so her boyfriend suggested that she contact Cain to help her find another job.
In mid-July 2007, she took the train from Chicago to Washington, D.C., where her boyfriend had booked her a room at the Capitol Hilton hotel.
“When I checked into the room, I was surprised to find I had a palatial suite,” she said. When she met Cain, he asked how she liked the room and she gushed about it. “He smirked and said ‘I upgraded you,’” Bialek said.
Bialek said she met Cain at the hotel’s lobby bar, and he drove her to an Italian restaurant, where he shocked her by asking “Why are you here?” She told him it was because her boyfriend had suggested he might be able to help her find employment.
After the meal, Cain, who she said was wearing a suit with an open-necked shirt, offered to show her the association’s offices but parked around the block and then made his clumsy advance.
“Instead of going into the offices, he suddenly reached over and he put his hand on my leg, under my skirt, and reached for my genitals. He also grabbed my head and brought it towards his crotch. I was very very surprised and very shocked,” she said.
Bialek asked him what he was doing, as he knew she had a boyfriend, and Cain responded, “You want a job don’t you?”
“I asked him to stop, and he did. I asked him to take me to back to my hotel, which he did right away.”
She said she did not file a workplace complaint against him because she was not employed at the time of the incident.
Allred produced affidavits from the pediatrician boyfriend and a Chicago businessman, whom Bialek described as a mentor, saying they were under penalty of perjury. Both said that Bialek had told them what had happened at the time.
Bialek said she had hoped “for the sake of his candidacy” that her case was an isolated incident, but then she heard about the other allegations.
“I didn’t want to be here and would not be if it wasn’t for the other three women who have alleged sexual harassment against Mr. Cain. I’m coming forward to give a face and voice for those women who cannot or who choose not to and for all those women who do not come forward out of fear,” she said.
“I want you, Mr. Cain, to come clean. Just admit what you did and then move forward. I implore you – make this right so that you and the country can move forward and focus on the issues at hand.”
Within minutes of the news conference, Cain's campaign issued a statement attacking the new allegations.
"Activist celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred is bringing forth more false accusations against the character of Republican front-runner Herman Cain," the campaign's statement said. "All allegations of harassment against Mr. Cain are completely false. Mr. Cain has never harassed anyone."
Accusations about inappropriate sexual conduct have hounded Cain since the website Politico reported on Oct. 30 that two female employees at the association had been paid off after they made formal complaints against him. A third woman told The Associated Press that he also had pestered her.
But none of those three has come forward publicly or given details of exactly what their complaints were.
Last week, syndicated conservative radio host Steve Deace claimed that Cain had made awkward, inappropriate comments to two of his female staff during a visit to his studios this year in Des Moines, Iowa.
There are indications that the accusations against Cain finally are beginning to affect his standing as the front-runner in the Republican race. An Ipsos poll for Thomson/Reuters showed his favorability rating among Republicans has fallen from 66 percent to 57 percent in a week.
And a Wall Street Journal/NNC survey set to be released tonight will show that 35 percent of Americans now have a negative view of the candidate, compared with 18 percent a month ago
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