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Rep. ‘Chuy’ Garcia’s chief of staff resigns over ‘distraction’ of sexism claims

Just before swearing-in, freshman Rep. Jesus 'Chuy' Garcia, D-Ill., cuts the ribbon to his new office, holding 17-month old grandson, Benicio Garcia with wife Evelyn at his right. Photo by Lynn Sweet Jan. 3, 2019

WASHINGTON – Bill Velazquez, the chief of staff to freshman Rep. Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia, D-Ill., resigned on Friday in the wake of a New York Times story detailing the account of a female staffer who worked with Velazquez on Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and said he “laughed” after she brought a complaint to him about being sexually harassed.

Velazquez was a manager on the Latino outreach team of the Sanders campaign.

Garcia’s communications director Fabiola Rodriguez-Ciampoli said Friday in a statement that Garcia had accepted Velazquez’s resignation.

ANALYSIS

“They both agreed that the recent media stories that involved Bill had become a distraction from the work the Congressman needs to do for the people of Illinois’ 4th Congressional District, and from the work Bill was brought in to do,” Rodriguez-Ciampoli said.

The story appeared on the front page of the New York Times on Thursday, when Garcia and other members were sworn-in at the start of the 116th Congress. Garcia’s team, including Velazquez, had planned the day as one of celebration.

Instead, the article presented Garcia with his first tough decision as a member of the House of Representatives, a position where he hopes to carve out a national profile as a leader in progressive politics and as a crusader for immigration reform.

Jesus "Chuy" Garcia | Rich Hein / Sun Times

Jesus “Chuy” Garcia | Rich Hein / Sun Times

In accepting the resignation, Garcia apparently decided to cut his losses at a time when the “MeToo” movement has demonstrated the need to take complaints very seriously in a timely fashion. And while Garcia declined to comment on the matter on Thursday, he and his team realized that letting the Velazquez matter linger could create problems for Garcia.

Velazquez started working with Garcia a few weeks after the November election, and fit the profile of what Garcia needed: someone who could straddle the worlds of Washington and Chicago politics, and who knew how Congress worked.

On Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times observed Velazquez holed up in Garcia’s Cannon Building office suite. Meanwhile, a crowd of Garcia supporters filled the Cannon hallway as a mariachi band played while Garcia cut the ribbon for his new office, all shortly before he was sworn in to represent the district anchored in Chicago’s North and South side Hispanic communities.

Garcia and Sanders, the independent Vermont senator who ran for president as a Democrat, have a relationship going back a few years.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders headlines a campaign rally for Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a candidate for Illinois’ 4th Congressional District, at Apollos 2000, 2875 W. Cermak Rd., on Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 22, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Sanders endorsed Garcia when he ran for Chicago mayor in 2015. Garcia and his backers helped Sanders come close to winning the Illinois primary over Hillary Clinton in March 2016. Garcia went on to become a national surrogate for Sanders during the rest of his presidential campaign. Sanders headlined a rally in Chicago for Garcia’s congressional bid last February.

The New York Times story said that when a female Sanders staffer complained that she was harassed by a surrogate who was a Mexican game show host, “she felt she was not taken seriously by the campaign.”

The woman, Giulianna Di Lauro, told the paper Velazquez told her, “I bet you would have liked it if he were younger.”

Velazquez told the New York Times he did not recall making flippant remarks; that he took the complaint seriously; told his boss about it and, two weeks later, followed up with a memo.

Velazquez did not respond to text messages sent to him on Thursday asking him for comment.

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