Quart on Sexual Harassment: ‘It is Critical that Our Leaders in Power be Held Accountable’

The DA candidate’s first TV ad airs in the wake of charges against Stringer and Cuomo

| 06 May 2021 | 01:27

In his first television ad, Assembly Member Dan Quart is showcasing the work he’s done to reform sexual harassment laws in Albany, and argues he will be committed to the same kind of fairness and accountability if he’s elected to become Manhattan’s next district attorney.

“So many told us to stay silent, and then we went to Dan Quart,” said Leah Herbert, a sexual assault survivor, who narrated the ad. Herbert talked of her work in founding the Sexual Harassment Working Group – a worker collective launched by seven former New York State legislative employees who experienced, witnessed, or reported sexual harassment by former New York legislators and their staff – and Quart’s leadership in helping to secure public hearings that led to reforms, including lowering the burden of proof for sexual harassment claims from a “severe pervasive” standard to a “less well” standard.

“Having little to gain and a lot to lose, Dan stood his ground for what was right,” Herbert said in a statement. “We advocated for 265 days for those hearings, held many press conferences, and were as loud as possible to get these to happen. Dan joined nearly every one of those press conferences, and was right next to us as we built a coalition of support.”

The timing of the ad – airing in the wake of a sexual harassment claim made against a mayoral frontrunner and several lobbied against the governor – is not a coincidence. Quart said he wanted to highlight his willingness to hold those in power to account should he become the next DA.

In an interview with Our Town, Quart discussed his new advertisement, the reforms in Albany, and how he’ll pursue a harassment-free culture as district attorney:

Could you talk a little bit more about working with Leah Herbert and the sexual harassment working group, and why that was important for you to pursue?

It’s a critical issue for the state, and certainly for state government, and I had the pleasure of working with the three of the original founders of the sexual harassment working group. And it’s really their story that’s a critically important one – of both sexual harassment and, in some cases, physical contact and assault – and why we in the legislature have been able to do a better job on addressing these issues is in large part because of the work of Leah and many others. I was just happy to be able to play a leadership role in working with [them] on ensuring public hearings, accountability, and as well as changes in the law. We are by no means where we need to be as a state, or in state government, but we are a long way better off because of our work jointly together.

Of those reforms, what stands out as particularly key in potentially achieving a sexual harassment-free workplace?

The change away from the “severe pervasive” standard to a “less well” standard that the city of New York has applied for many years is critical. And that change in law came in part, large part because of the work of the sexual harassment Working Group and I was proud to champion their efforts push for public hearings because those public hearings by people directly impacted by the failures of our system are critical to our ability to reform and make those laws better.

On top of enforcing these laws as DA, what kind of workplace culture would create so that employees feel comfortable to report harassment incidents and hold people accountable?

I would replicate a model that I myself sought to ensure at the state level. In taking over the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, an office and 1500 employees, I’d implement the highest levels of standards where certain conduct is clearly not acceptable, but really to go beyond that and create a workplace not just where women feel safe, but feel equal and that their work product is valued and that they’re equal partners in the critical work of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. That’s what I would do, much more than just simple compliance with city or state law.

Recently, we’ve seen an accusation of sexual harassment and assault against Comptroller Scott Stringer as well as several allegations of harassment against Gov. Cuomo. It’s probably left people with a certain perception of New York leadership, and possibly the reality of it. How do you change the culture of political leadership in New York?

I would ask, specifically in my case, for voters to focus on what I’ve done. Rhetoric is the easy part of political life, accomplishment and fighting in a public way for what you want is the hard part. That’s what I’ve done. And that’s why this video was made: to demonstrate my leadership and my ability to take on powerful institutions and people in power when the right things were not being done. So that’s part of why we did the advertisement. It is critical that our leaders in power be held accountable, to make it easier for women to come forward, support them when they do and demand accountability, as I said in my statements before. This isn’t complicated, it’s just about the willingness to do so.

Your colleague, Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, has a bill that would make sexual harassment perpetrated by public servants a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. Is this a bill that you would support?

I have not seen the bill, so I would have to review that first. But Assembly Member Seawright does have a very important bill on defining consent in our statutory law, and that is a critical one. You saw from the [Harvey] Weinstein trial, the inability of the judge to provide a specific standard to the jury on what is and what is not consent. What the judge said was, “Use your best judgment or use your own experiences,” and to use your judgment is not sufficient. And I’ve been a proponent of Assembly Member Seawright’s bill and will work with her towards its passage hopefully this year. But I think it’s something critical to my efforts to reform the Sex Crimes Unit within the district attorney’s office as well.

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