I give them credit. Each of them.
Annalise Freling. Kimberly Snickles. Jamie Campbell. Caitrin Kennedy. Trina Tardone. Emily Trimper. Kristy Mazurek.
The seven women have at least one thing in common: All worked for – and say they were sexually harassed by – Dennis Gabryszak, the state assemblyman from Cheektowaga.
They have one more thing in common: The strength to stand up, come forward and say, Enough is Enough. Each in the past month filed a legal complaint, which often precedes a lawsuit.
A round of applause, please.
I am not jumping to a definitive conclusion on Gabryszak, who has not admitted anything and deserves some benefit of the doubt. A legislative ethics committee is looking into the accusations. But his silence in the three-plus weeks since charges surfaced speaks volumes. As does the similar stories of the women – some of whom don’t know each other – and the embarrassment, attention and attacks they knew they’d endure by coming forward.
I am glad they did.
The only way society’s eyes open wider to such power-and-control nonsense is if victims speak out. The only way we build workplaces where women don’t have to deflect the clutches and comments of dirty old men is if the lechers get outed.
Unless I miss my guess, Gabryszak – 62, married, with kids – is feeling awfully uncomfortable. If the claims are true, it’s poetic justice. By misusing his power and position, he made a lot of women uncomfortable for a long time. If any of this is true, he needs to pack his bags and leave.
It is one thing if Gabryszak fools around with women who don’t work for him. That’s between him, them, his conscience and his wife.
It is something entirely different – pay attention, Neanderthal types – if the objects of his “attention” don’t want any part of it. There is nothing comfortable or consensual when a boss puts a female staffer between the rock of a needed paycheck, and the anatomical hard place that Gabryszak supposedly liked to refer to.
That place is a no-man’s land, where no woman wants to be.
Caitrin Kennedy didn’t want to be there. Just 24, the DePaul University graduate thought she landed her dream job last September as Gabryszak’s community relations director. Instead, she said the three-month nightmare included requests to join him at strip clubs, suggestions that she make out with another female staffer and an invitation to soak with him in a hot tub.
If she endured that sort of flak, Kennedy – in addition to her salary – should have received combat pay.
Sadly, what Kennedy – who is not speaking publicly until the case is resolved – and the others say they endured is no joke.
“Caitrin didn’t know where to turn, or who to trust,” Kennedy’s friend, Diana Cihak, told me. “She doesn’t know how this will affect her career, or her reputation in the community.”
A former county legislative staffer, Cihak understands the small world of local politics – and Albany’s notorious frat-boy culture.
“It’s not about sex, it’s about power,” said Cihak, 46. “The culture is to keep quiet about it, which is part of the problem. Lives are ruined and people are humiliated.”
Like the other women, Kennedy turned to Gabryszak’s male chief of staff. Like the others, she was told to suck it up.
Cihak said Kennedy came forward to back up three Gabryszak staffers who made the initial claims – and to stop Gabryszak from harassing other women. Anticipating blowback, Kennedy closed her social media accounts – but still saw attacks at Gabryszak’s accusers dished out by knuckle-draggers on various websites.
“I got a ton of calls from people, well-meaning people, who said Cait should keep quiet, because this would ruin her reputation and she wouldn’t get another job in politics,” Cihak said. “But we need to talk about this as a society, so women feel they can speak out and not be condemned.”
If what Kennedy and a half-dozen others say is true, and I have little doubt it is, any woman surviving a tenure in Gabryszak’s office rates not a stain on her resume, but a gold star.
Having to decide how much discomfort to endure, and how often, is too high a price for a paycheck. The only way to fight back, to transform from silent-suffering victim to self-defender, is by speaking out. It’s another step toward changing a corrosive culture, toward opening society’s eyes, toward workplaces where everyone feels comfortable.
And that’s what we all want, isn’t it?