Embattled East Orange New Jersey Mayor Robert Bowser has an interesting theory. In a press conference on Friday Mayor Bowser told reporters that his admission of a sexual affair with a subordinate in a sexual harassment deposition is a private issue and belongs between him and his wife. The mayor read a prepared statement and refused to answer any questions as a spokesman referred reporters to a written form of the statement the mayor gave and the contact information for the mayor’s lawyer.
But is this a reasonable assertion?
According to The Star-Ledger, which obtained a copy of the sealed sexual harassment deposition, the affair was between the mayor and a subordinate city employee and sex acts occurred inside the mayor’s office on government time.
According to the deposition obtained by The Star-Ledger, Corletta Hicks, Bowser’s former research assistant, gave him oral sex on multiple occasions, including in his city hall office, while she was working for him…
The mayor previously denied having a relationship with Hicks while she worked for him in city hall, maintaining they had “no personal relationship throughout her tenure in my office.”
The mayor also disclosed payments were made after each sexual encounter and that Ms. Hicks at one point resisted his sexual advances.
In the Jan. 3 deposition, Bowser, 77, admitted the affair started roughly four months into Hicks’ tenure and lasted until late 2010. He said he would give her money after the encounters, estimating he paid her roughly $3,000…
Bowser initially denied that he sexually harassed Hicks but admitted in the deposition that Hicks resisted his sexual advances on one occasion, according to the document.
Furthermore the mayor used money from his campaign fund to buy gifts for Hicks’ child according to the deposition.
According to the documents, Bowser wrote a $400 check to Erika Prince, the daughter of his former research assistant Corletta Hicks, who in 2011 filed a discrimination suit against the mayor which included claims of sexual harassment.
Bowser said the money was for a “book scholarship” for Prince “at the time she was taking some courses,” he said in the document, a copy of which was obtained by The Star-Ledger.
Bowser acknowledged in the deposition that the gift had nothing to do with his campaign. According to the Election Law Enforcement Commission, personal use of campaign funds could result in fines of up to $7,600 per violation and, in some cases, could become a criminal matter.
Is it really a private issue between spouses when one of the spouses violates campaign finance law to give gifts to his mistress’ child and engages in sexual activity inside his government office when he is supposed to be working for the taxpayers? Tough sell.
There are, of course, other issues in the campaign such as corruption in the town’s water commission, tax screw-ups, and a possible quota system for traffic and parking fines. Not that Mayor Bowser has much to say on those issues either. The entire Webster-Alexander-Bowser slate had gone quiet since the deposition story broke before Friday’s limited press conference.
Also, the taxpayers are on the hook for whatever settlement is reached in the sexual harassment case which, according to Bowser himself, could reach $1 million. The East Orange City Council spent $150,00 investigating Mayor Bowser but the investigation was thwarted by Bowser’s refusal to admit that any personal relationship existed between him and Ms. Hicks. And if the campaign finance violation – which Mayor Bowser admitted to in the deposition – leads to a criminal prosecution Bowser might not even be able to be mayor another term anyway. Far from a private issue.