March 13, 2018

State Dem chair resigns after questioning sexual harassment claim

The chairman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico resigned Tuesday amid criticism of his handling of recent claims of sexual harassment against a Doña Ana County Commissioner and a former New Mexico Federation of Labor president Jon Hendry.

The labor organization is a key ally of Democrats in the state.

Ellenberg announced his resignation with a letter to the party’s state central committee.

“I regret the way in which I have managed complaints of survivors who have come forward about sexual harassment, and take full responsibility to continue to learn and grow so that I can be an advocate and ally in the future,” Ellenberg wrote.

Last month, the state party’s vice chairwoman wrote a pointed letter to Ellenberg about how he dealt with her accusations of sexual harassment against former Doña Ana County Commissioner John Vasquez.

This week, after Hendry resigned, Ellenberg questioned his alleged victim’s credibility. Since then, party officials and candidates have called for Ellenberg’s resignation and encouraged victims of sexual harassment to come forward.

Ellenberg told the Santa Fe New Mexican that it did not sound like something Hendry would do. This came in reaction to Hendry stepping down from leadership of the new Mexico Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.

“Our country and our state are in an incredible moment in which survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault feel empowered to come forward, and the Democratic Party of New Mexico has taken upon itself to be a leader on this issue,” said a statement from the state party. “Chair Ellenberg has taken responsibility for the fact that he has more to learn and has stepped down.”

The statement also says they “encourage everyone to strive to end a culture of sexual harassment in our state.”

The campaigns of U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, U.S Rep. Ben Ray Lujan and U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is running for  governor issued a statement both supporting victims and chastising Ellenberg.

“As Democrats, we stand with the silence-breakers who have come forward to share their stories of sexual harassment and abuse,” the statement read. “Questioning the credibility of sexual misconduct allegations is contrary to our values, and it is time for new leadership that better reflects them.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall issued a separate statement also encouraging victims of sexual abuse to come forward.

“For too long, victims have been afraid or prevented from speaking out about harassment or violence. We need to recognize the amount of courage it takes to come forward. Victims should be heard and their allegations taken seriously. Regardless of party affiliation, our leaders should represent these values,” Udall’s statement read.

Democratic campaign consultant Heather Brewer said her concerns with Ellenberg began with his silence over sexual harassment claims against state Sen. Michael Padilla that recently resurfaced but worsened more recently.

“There is no room in the Democratic Party and certainly not in party leadership for anyone who would question the credibility of a victim of sexual harassment,” Brewer said.

Brava New Mexico, a group comprised of Democratic women, tweeted early Tuesday afternoon that Ellenberg would step down.

Update: Added a statements by the Democratic Party of New Mexico and U.S. Sen. Tom Udall.