Former Bernie Sanders aide who joked about harassment now chief of staff
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Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, speaks to members of the media following a briefing on the murder of U.S-based columnist Jamal Khashoggi with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018.
A former campaign aide to Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid who allegedly made light of a sexual harassment complaint from a female staffer is set to begin a new job Thursday as chief of staff to incoming Democratic Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill.
Bill Velazquez was a manager on Sanders’ Latino outreach team in 2016. According to a story published Wednesday by The New York Times, when campaign strategist Giulianna Di Lauro told Velazquez she had been sexually harassed by a Mexican game show host who was serving as a Sanders campaign surrogate, Velazquez responded by laughing and telling her, “I bet you would have liked it if he were younger.”
Velazquez told the Times he didn’t remember making the remark, and said he took Di Lauro’s complaint seriously and passed it up the chain of command all the way to Sanders’ national field director, Rich Pelletier.
Pelletier did not respond to the Times’ inquiries about what he did with that information.
The game show host, Marco Antonio Regil, apologized through a spokesman to the Times for “any behavior on my part that could’ve made anyone feel uncomfortable.”
The same Times story also included allegations by another former Sanders staffer, Masha Mendieta, who said that she complained to Velazquez and Pelletier in 2016 about a campaign official who, she claimed, treated female staffers “like his personal assistants fetching things for him and doing his errands.”
Mendieta told the Times her complaints were largely ignored by her higher-ups, but that at one point Velazquez told her she should just forgive the official’s behavior, because he was “macho.” Velazquez told the Times that he did not remember making this comment, either.
Now, nearly two years after Di Lauro was allegedly harassed while on the Sanders campaign, Velazquez is poised to take on a new role Thursday as the top staffer on Garcia’s team, according to Velazquez’s LinkedIn profile.
Imagala.com emailed Velazquez’s personal email account Wednesday afternoon and asked him if he had discussed the allegations in the Times story with Garcia, and if so, what Garcia’s response was.
Imagala.com also called and emailed Garcia’s campaign. Neither Velazquez nor the Garcia campaign responded immediately.
A former Cook County commissioner, Garcia is a liberal Democrat who praised Sanders on the campaign trail in 2018. But new revelations and reporting from various news outlets in recent weeks have raised questions about whether incidents of sexual harassment and a broader culture of misogyny were present in Sanders’ campaign.
Garcia will take office Thursday representing Illinois’ 4th District at a time when sexual harassment rules in Congress are undergoing their first significant changes in decades.
New legislation governing how sexual harassment complaints are handled in Congress was passed in December, in response to several high-profile sexual misconduct scandals involving members of Congress in both parties.
Under the new rules, members of the House and Senate will have to reimburse the federal government for all future settlement payments they agree to make in order to settle claims of sexual harassment. The new legislation will also require the publication of an annual report of all settlement payments and awards, and will prohibit the imposition of mandatory nondisclosure agreements for accusers as part of settlements.