As speculation swirls around a possible second presidential run from Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, concerns from his 2016 effort are resurfacing—including claims of sexual harassment inside the campaign, though not by Sanders himself.
“I certainly apologize to any woman who felt she was not treated appropriately,” Sanders said in a CNN interview Wednesday night.
Sanders was responding to a New York Times article, with content that some political observers say could haunt Sanders if he seeks the White House in 2020.
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The Times reported some female campaign workers on Sanders’ 2016 run complained they were paid less than male counterparts.
Others said they had to share rooms on the trail with men they didn’t know.
A woman in a Nevada office told the paper she experienced sexual harassment by a campaign surrogate and claimed a supervisor didn’t take it seriously.
In the interview with CNN, Sanders said he’s proud of the successes from his 2016 grassroots campaign, and insisted he knew nothing of any side-effects that might’ve come from explosive campaign growth.
“I was a little bit busy trying to run around the country trying to make the case,” Sanders told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
Sanders said on CNN for proof of how committed he is to improving campaign culture, look to his 2018 U.S. Senate run to represent Vermont. Sanders said it had the highest standards of accountability and anti-harassment training.
“This could be a real problem,” warned Ellen Andersen, a University of Vermont political scientist who studies gender and sexuality in politics.
Andersen noted that many high-level political campaigns are still male-dominated.
She said candidates should set clear expectations for the values of an inclusive workplace early on, and treat their campaign management with the same seriousness they would governing their district, state, or country.
“For somebody to say, ‘My campaign grew too quickly, and so these things got away from us,’ that’s really disheartening to hear in any day and age, but particularly in a post-#MeToo era,” Andersen told necn and NBC10 Boston.
We reached a half-dozen Vermonters who supported Bernie Sanders for president in 2016. None wanted to be interviewed for this story.
However, each of those supporters indicated that they truly believe the senator takes these issues very seriously and will do his best to get them right if he runs again for president.
If he does decide to seek the presidency, Sanders will face stiffer competition for attention from the Progressive wing of the left than he did in 2016.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, has already formed a presidential exploratory committee.
“He has to move quickly to tamp this down–to show tangible movement,” Matt Dickinson, a political scientist at Middlebury College, told NBC 5 News—necn and NBC10 Boston’s Vermont affiliate—in response to a question about the claims described in the New York Times article. “What’s the best way to do this? If you run, you put women in your leadership positions in your campaign.”
News inquiries emailed to two spokespeople from the 2016 Sanders presidential campaign were not returned before necn and NBC10 Boston’s evening deadline Thursday.