Cuomo sexual harassment scandal reflects PNW’s political history
Lowry was a former Democratic congressman and a progressive icon. Raised on a farm in eastern Washington and instilled in New Deal values, he promoted health care and gay rights, was an environmental leader and was unafraid to raise the issue of tax increases. The progressives loved him and the Conservatives reluctantly respected his adherence to liberal principles. But they laughed at him for his appearance: in a race for the US Senate, they noted how Lowry looked like Yasser Arafat. Lowry lost this race.
His election as governor in 1992 looked like a sort of justification for the left wing of the Democratic Party, an antidote to both Gov. Dixy Lee Ray, who was elected Democrat but led like a thorny Tory, and Booth Gardner, a pro-business centrist whose agenda often seemed mired between Liberals and Conservatives in the Legislature.
During his tenure, Lowry floundered a bit. He got off to a rough start in seeking to raise taxes immediately after his election when he had promised during his campaign to do so only “as a last resort”. Often impulsive, he also seemed ill-suited to the management of Olympia. Dave Ammons, a longtime Associated Press reporter, now retired and former dean of the Capitol Building press corps, said Lowry “was just embarrassing,” a “horrible blow” to Olympia.
But Lowry’s demeanor also had a dark side. In 1994, a member of the State Patrol complained that when she came to Capitol Hill to take Lowry’s fingerprints, he inappropriately brushed against her. Then a member of her communications team, a young woman named Susanne Albright, alleged that the governor sexually harassed her – groping, grabbing and hugging in unwanted ways. Albright had admired Lowry, but his behavior had impacted her more and more.
I was a writer for Seattle Weekly at the time and was responsible for our coverage of the Lowry scandal. The allegations against him fit into the timeline of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Regionally, this is following accusations that popular U.S. Democratic Senator from Washington, Brock Adams – a former member of Jimmy Carter’s cabinet – drugged, assaulted and raped a number of women. He abandoned his candidacy for re-election in 1992.
There was also the case of Bob Packwood, the moderate pro-choice Republican United States senator from Oregon, who was accused of sexually assaulting women, including members of staff. He was accused of attempting to erase incriminated details about his actions from his diary and, under threat of expulsion from the US Senate, ultimately resigned.
Adams, Packwood, Lowry: I remember one of our reporters got a call from an East Coast reporter asking, “What’s in the the water the low?”
The Weekly report revealed other issues with Lowry: allegations that he drank too much, which seemed to exacerbate his temper and unpredictable behavior. It was later discovered that he had been repeatedly stopped by Washington State Patrol for speeding or suspected of being under the influence. He had never been fined. Lowry had also been seen late at night in the parking lot of an Olympia tavern with a woman who was not his wife; a police officer’s statement about the meeting seemed to contradict the governor’s explanation for it. The policeman’s account has been kept secret until we get it.
Lowry’s actions prompted some reporters to ask uncomfortable questions in an Olympia where old-fashioned silliness and border crossing were old habits for many of the men who dominated the Capitol and were traditionally unchallenged by the press. Ammons of the PA remembers how uncomfortable he felt opening a press conference with, âGovernor, do you have a drinking problem? Lowry denied doing it. He also remembers many members of the Olympia press corps who believed in Albright. The âI think Susannaâ buttons appeared.
Lowry began to lose the support of some members of his team. His chief lawyer, Jenny Durkan, whose father, Martin, was a mentor to Lowry, resigned in early 1995. Durkan had previously represented Brock Adams’ chief accuser, Kari Tupper. The resignation of the future mayor of Seattle was seen by many observers as a signal that there was a âthere, thereâ to the allegations against the governor.
A report commissioned by Lowry revealed that he had engaged in inappropriate behavior with Albright, but concluded that it was essentially a situation that he was saying, saying and not saying. did not reach the level of something a jury would deem criminal, despite the claims of other women. that Lowry had wandering hands and touched and kissed them in a non-consensual way, and otherwise harassed them. A Seattle Times headline about the report read, “Friendly Touch or Groping?” It’s hard to know.
It was not difficult for the victim to find out, but the governor was another matter. Mindy Cameron of the Seattle Times wrote of Lowry’s defense that in her mind he was “just a gregarious, sensitive guy who didn’t need to change anything.” This is not an unknown excuse. It is clear that Lowry was in deep denial of his behavior.
Lowry claimed the report justified it. Its author, handpicked by Lowry, was lawyer Mary Alice Theiler, now a federal judge, and she disagreed. She said despite complaints from the women who worked for Lowry, no action had been taken to get him to correct his behavior. Theiler said: âThis report does not erase Mike Lowry. This report puts responsibility on its shoulders for conduct that grieved and offended a valued employee. “
Lowry paid a settlement of $ 97,500 out of his own pocket to avoid an Albright lawsuit. Lowry learned he needed to take anti-harassment and anger management training. Yet while Lowry insisted he hadn’t done anything wrong, the payment practically blocked the idea that he had to leave. Lowry did not resign but decided not to run again and completed his term. Downticket Democrats breathed a sigh of relief. Gary Locke, a detail-oriented moderate fairly familiar with Olympia politics, was elected to replace him. In political terms, he was decidedly not a Mike Lowry Democrat.
Shortly after colonization, Albright wrote a column in the Washington Post about “the shame, betrayal and depression that had engulfed his life.” Referring to Lowry and Packwood, she explained in moving terms the impact of their behavior. “When a high ranking elected official mistreats a member of his staff, it is a lot like the betrayal of a priest who mistreats a member of his parish, or of a psychiatrist who mistreats a patient,” she wrote. âSexual misconduct by a powerful politician is not just the violation of the usual employer / employee relationship. In my case, it was a violation of the trust and loyalty I had for a governor whom I truly believed in. policies and principles. â
Lowry’s political career was over. He worked for a time in the private sector advocating for migrant workers and housing the homeless. He ran for state commissioner of public lands in 2000, but lost. He appeared to be a marginalized political figure before he died in 2017. I remember seeing him at a Legislative District Convention in 2008 as he stood alone against a wall watching the high energy of Obama supporters . Almost no one spoke to him. Even though the state’s Democratic mainstream embraced Lowry’s progressive liberalism, if the young delegates knew who he was, they didn’t see him as a good luck charm.
Summarizing her column, Albright explained what she hoped for from the terrible saga. She wished the Lowry and Packwood scandals would have an impact on raising awareness of their devastating impact on victims. “I will never forget the anguish that I went through and that I still feel sometimes,” she said. “I desperately hope that all of the publicity surrounding my case and others like this will shed light on an issue that can no longer be ignored.”
Albright helped shed light. Unfortunately, the scandals of the 90s did not stop the problem.