Scott Stringer, the New York City comptroller and mayoral candidate, on Wednesday categorically denied accusations that he sexually abused and harassed a woman two decades ago during his campaign for NYC public advocate, saying that the two had a strictly consensual “on and off” relationship.
Stringer, a Democrat who is considered one of the leading candidates in the race for mayor, finds himself facing a crisis after Jean Kim, a longtime lobbyist, accused Stringer of repeatedly groping and kissing her when she said she worked as an unpaid intern in 2001.
“This isn’t me. I didn’t do this,” Stringer told reporters during a press conference in Lower Manhattan.
“The behavior described is inaccurate and completely antithetical to the way I have conducted my life,” he added, as his wife, Elyse Buxbaum stood beside him.
Stringer, 60, denied that Kim was an intern at the time, calling her instead a “peer” who volunteered on his campaign.
“We had an on and off relationship over a few months,” he said. “She was 30 and I was 41.”
Asked if Kim was the only campaign volunteer with whom he had a relationship, Stringer said, “To the best of my knowledge.”
During the press conference, Buxbaum, an executive at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, steadfastly defended her husband, revealing that she herself was a victim of sexual abuse. “I chose Scott because I felt safe with him,” she said, adding, “If even a fraction of what Scott has been accused of is true, I would not stand by him. I am not that kind of doting wife and I would be the first person to walk away.”
Stringer said he would not exit the mayoral race.
“We will continue to make the case to the voters,” he said. “I respect what she feels, but I also have my own truth, and I’m getting that out as well.”
Hours earlier, Kim held her own press conference near Centre Street, where she read from a prepared statement.
“Scott Stringer repeatedly groped me, put his hands on my thighs and between my legs, and demanded to know why I wouldn’t have sex with him,” she said.
She said the advances and abuse occurred when they were traveling to and from campaign events. According to Kim, Stringer also told her he could make her the first Asian district leader of the Upper West Side but that she would first have to prove her loyalty to him, an allegation which Stringer has also denied.
Kim, who is now in her 40s, decided to come forward, she said, after seeing Stringer promote himself as a progressive champion of women’s rights. The city comptroller has been among those asking Governor Andrew Cuomo to step down in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations from several women.
Kim did not take questions from reporters, but her attorney Patricia Pastor denied that her client had a consensual relationship with Stringer. Asked if Kim had told someone about the abuse at the time, Pastor replied yes but said they were not immediately prepared to provide further details.
Pastor said her client was planning to refer the case to Letitia James, the New York Attorney General, and the city’s Department of Investigations.
Kim has demanded that Stringer resign as city comptroller and withdraw from the mayoral race.
The accusations come at a critical point in the mayoral race, with the primary only eight weeks away.
Several elected officials have come out in support of Kim.
By late Wednesday afternoon, Jessica Ramos, a state Senator from Queens, had announced that she was rescinding her endorsement of Stringer for mayor. Ramos had been one of several progressive state lawmakers viewed as helping Stringer shore up support on the left.
In a statement, Ramos said, “After the year New Yorkers have had, we need a leader who can rise to meet the moment and will not be distracted by scandals as our city continues to make its way to recovery.”
Earlier in the day, City Council Member Stephen Levin was among the first elected officials to tweet his support for Kim.
I’ve known Jean Kim for over 10 years. I commend her for her courage to come forward. I have every reason to believe she is telling the truth and I believe her.
— (((Stephen Levin))) (@StephenLevin33) April 28, 2021
In an interview, he called her a workaday lobbyist that he has known for more than a decade.
“Everyone who works at City Hall knows Jean,” Levin said. “I can’t imagine that she would do anything like this lightly. She’s been working in this field for 20 years. That means she’s putting that all on the line.”
Kim has worked on a handful of political campaigns, including that of Diane Savino and City Council Member Barry Grodenchik, during the early 2000s, state campaign finance records show. City campaign finance records show Stringer’s campaign paid $35 to Kim in 2001.
More recently, Kim worked for the lobbying firm TLM Associates, where her clients included American Petroleum Institute, Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation, the Doe Fund. Her most recent client, from 2020, was listed as Action Environmental Services, a commercial trash hauler.
At the press conference Wednesday, Kim said she was in the midst of transitioning from her career in lobbying. Social media posts show that she has recently taken up stand-up comedy.
Two of Stringer’s mayoral opponents, Kathryn Garcia, former head of the city’s Sanitation Department, and Shaun Donovan, who served as housing secretary under President Barack Obama, have called on Stringer to bow out of the race.
Today, in light of the recent allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct brought against Comptroller Stringer, I am joining Jean Kim in her call for Mr. Stringer to resign his office and withdraw his candidacy for Mayor. pic.twitter.com/2dI4TgxmVM
— Shaun Donovan (@ShaunDonovanNYC) April 28, 2021
Others, however, said the accuser should be taken seriously but did not ask Stringer to withdraw.
Andrew Yang, the former tech entrepreneur, issued a joint statement with his wife, Evelyn.
“Jean Kim took an incredibly brave step forward this morning in telling her story of coercion and assault,” they said, adding, “We hope New Yorkers will listen, uplift Jean’s story, and remember that her experience is unfortunately far from unique.”
Eric Adams, who right behind Yang in polls, called the allegations “deeply troubling.”
Maya Wiley, a civil rights attorney and former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, issued slightly tougher language, saying that Stringer “must immediately account” for the alleged abuse.
Stinger was coming off a recent high, after having clinched key endorsements from the Working Families Party and teachers’ union this month. On Tuesday, he released his first television ad, which included mention of his work to combat domestic violence. Several polls have shown him to be trailing Yang and Adams.
His campaign received an early jolt last fall from a slew of endorsements from young progressive women in the state legislature. In addition to Ramos, the group included State Senators Alessandra Biaggi, Julia Salazar, and Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou.
In a joint statement, Biaggi, Salazar and Niou voiced their support for Kim, but stopped short of calling for Stringer’s resignation as comptroller or for him to drop out of the race for mayor.
“We believe survivors,” they wrote. “Our commitment to a harassment free government, workplace, and society is steadfast, and our zero tolerance standard regarding sexual assault applies to abusers like Andrew Cuomo, if not more so, to our friends. This standard also applies to everyone who participates in the normalization or erasure of abuse. We always hold space for anyone to safely come forward to share their experiences, and will demand accountability accordingly.”
Biaggi declined to comment further and Niou and Salazar did not immediately return a request for comment.