From an editorial Thursday in the (Greensboro) News & Record:
Allegations that Mel Watt, the former North Carolina representative who now heads the Federal Housing Finance Agency, sexually harassed an employee are disappointing, to say the least. They reflect poorly on our state and lend credence to the stereotype of politicians whose power goes to their heads and leads them to take privileges they don’t deserve.
Simone Grimes, an FHFA supervisory program management analyst, told members of the House Financial Services Committee on Sept. 27 that Watt made dozens of sexual advances toward her, withheld a promised pay raise over her refusal of his advances and was protected by senior agency officials, The Associated Press reported.
Watt, a popular Democrat who represented the N.C. 12th Congressional District between 1993 and 2014, denied the accusations, the AP reported.
According to Grimes, Watt had been harassing her for several years, starting in 2015, when he approached her during a party and “asserted that there was an attraction between them that needed to be explored.” Over the next two years, Watt repeatedly asked Grimes to meet him outside of the office. Grimes told the House panel that she agreed to several of the meetings so she could talk to him about her pay and her responsibilities.
But the conversation would inevitably turn to Watt’s attraction to her, Grimes said. Eventually she filed an anonymous FHFA complaint, after which Watt warned her that the “#MeToo movement” has been harmful to some of the women involved, she said.
“I found this to be a threat. It was a warning,” she said.
“I did not take actions, or engage in any conduct involving Ms. Grimes that was contrary to law,” Watt told the committee.
Grimes recorded several exchanges between the two that lend credence to her claims.
“I’m guilty of having an attraction to you, that is true,” Watt said on one recording that was played on NPR’s “Morning Edition” in August. In another, Watt allegedly asked Grimes about a tattoo on her ankle, saying, “If I kissed that one, would it lead to more?”
Watt told the committee he was disappointed to learn that Grimes had been taping their conversations and questioned whether some of the recordings had been tampered with.
“I am a big supporter of the #MeToo movement. I think it is a wonderful thing ... but it cannot be a substitute for going through the legal process,” he said.
Several legislators noted that they had served with Watt during his 21 years in Congress and considered him a friend.
“No matter our friendship ... I have a responsibility to ensure that Simone Grimes, who has raised deeply troubling allegations, is heard before this committee,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), ranking member of the committee, said.
“There’s one lesson in all of this, maybe for you, it’s a new day, it’s new time and the old processes don’t work quite well anymore.”
And maybe that’s the best takeaway. The abuses of the past won’t be overlooked anymore.