New Mexico politician withdraws after sex harassment claims

FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2015, file photo, Democratic New Mexico state Sen. Michael Padilla stands at the New Mexico state capitol in Santa Fe, N.M. Padilla withdrew his name as a candidate for lieutenant governor on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, while continuing to deny decade-old allegations of sexual harassment at a prior job. (AP Photo/Eric Draper, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. — A rising figure in the Democratic Party has dropped out of the race for lieutenant governor in New Mexico, amid renewed concerns about decade-old complaints of sexual harassment at a previous job.

Democratic New Mexico state Sen. Michael Padilla withdrew his name Monday as a candidate for the state's second-highest office after once-strong support eroded. He described past accusations against him as issues of a hostile workplace environment and not sexual misconduct, while casting himself as a proponent of ending workplace harassment "of any kind."

Two federal lawsuits say Padilla harassed women while managing Albuquerque's emergency call center in 2006. Padilla was accused of making inappropriate comments and of asking women on dates despite repeated rejections — claims he denies. The city ended up settling "sexually hostile work environment" claims stemming from Padilla's six-week tenure overhauling a problem-plagued 911 center.

The allegations surfaced in 2012 and in 2016 during Padilla's campaign for Senate. He won both times.

This year, however, Padilla had come under increasing pressure from Democrats to exit the lieutenant governor race.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democratic candidate for governor, last month urged Padilla to withdraw and said there was no room for excuses for his past actions.

Padilla announced his decision as a group of female Democrats prepared to hold a news conference against his candidacy.

"I do not want to be a distraction as we come together as New Mexicans to solve this unacceptable work place issue," Padilla said in a statement Monday.

Heather Brewer, a Democratic political consultant based in Albuquerque, said Padilla's decision was positive.

"We cannot tolerate leaders who have a history of irresponsible behavior around sexual harassment," she said.

Regarding Padilla's political future as a state senator, she said that "ultimately the Senate and the voters are going to have to make that decision."

Statehouses nationwide are dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct in a wave of claims against powerful people in politics, entertainment, business and elsewhere.

On Monday, a Republican state lawmaker called on staff at the Legislature to publicly disclose more about the handling of recent reports of sexual harassment in the Statehouse.

Rep. Kelly Fajardo asked for more information about the outcome of two complaints of alleged sexual harassment involving Capitol maintenance staff and not lawmakers, as well an email containing allegations against a state senator that never resulted in a formal complaint.

Legal representatives for the Legislature say they are reviewing what additional information can be released.

Fajardo is part of a working group of lawmakers preparing revisions to the Legislature's workplace harassment policies.

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