Hartford City Council members on Thursday called for their president, Thomas “TJ” Clarke II, to resign, two days after revelations that a former council aide accused him of sexual harassment.
The former employee filed a complaint with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities last week charging that Clarke sent her inappropriate text messages remarking on her appearance and inquiring about her relationship status. The complaint was forwarded to the city and made public on Tuesday.
“Based on the evidence presented to date, the conduct is unbecoming of an elected official, therefore we call for the Council President to resign from his leadership role,” Clarke’s eight colleagues wrote in a statement. “We further believe that it is in the best interest of the city and public trust if he steps down from council.”
Clarke’s behavior requires “a full examination of the city’s sexual harassment policies to ensure we are not condoning or permitting conduct which is unacceptable,” they wrote.
“Trust has been broken, judgment called into question and our ability to work together has been compromised,” the council members said.
The group released the statement after a Democratic caucus meeting Thursday morning. Clarke was invited but did not show up for the meeting.
Mayor Luke Bronin said Tuesday that Clarke’s actions were “inexcusable,” and that he shouldn’t be able to continue in his position. On Thursday, Bronin added: “I share the city council’s view that it would be in our city’s best interest for Council President Clarke to step down.”
Clarke said Thursday afternoon that he would issue a written comment later in the day. He did not release a statement, and could not be reached Thursday night.
Earlier in the week, he apologized but said he was also concerned about “political agendas at work.”
“Myself, Olga Colon and John Bazzano are subject to a CHRO complaint by a former city employee involving labor and personnel matters. I find the timing of this complaint suspicious, and am concerned that there may be political agendas at work,” he said.
“That said, it was never my intention to upset, offend, or make anyone uncomfortable and to that extent that I might have done so, I apologize profusely. I look forward to a full and transparent exploration of this issue and I pledge my full cooperation.”
In the CHRO complaint, filed Dec. 13, the former aide also accused Clarke, City Clerk Bazzano and council assistant Colon of discrimination. She charged that the three discriminated against her because she is white. Clarke is black, Bazzano is white and Colon is Hispanic.
At one point, the aide said, she asked Clarke about transferring to another department. “He told me that I probably wouldn’t get the job because there are a lot of white people in that office already,” she wrote in the complaint.
The former employee said Clarke sent her numerous inappropriate text messages, but she felt uncomfortable reporting the situation to Hartford’s human resources office because Clarke was her supervisor.
In one message, sent as the woman was about to leave for vacation, Clarke wrote to her: “OK Smart Ass! Have fun on your trip. Don’t slip up and send me any see thru bikini pics.”
In another, the aide asked how to pay for framing services for a city hall citation. Clarke responded in a text: “With your good looks.”
The Courant reported Wednesday that Clarke also had a prior citation for inappropriate touching in 2013. While working for then-Mayor Pedro Segarra, Clarke, the city’s director of constituent services, was reprimanded for touching a woman at a budget meeting.
Clarke’s actions have drawn criticism from women’s groups in Connecticut and raised questions about Hartford’s policies for handling sexual harassment complaints.
“In these circumstances, there’s a real power and control dynamic, and certainly the individual in a position of authority can abuse their role and use their capacity to be abusive in many forms,” said Karen Jarmoc, president and chief executive of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “That dynamic does allow individuals to engage in behavior that is inappropriate and risky.
“This is a really serious behavior that … needs to be addressed on multiple levels, whether in policy, practice, or more public awareness, education and prevention.”
Kate Farrar, executive director of Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund, said the incident sends “a clear message” to the city to assess its training procedures and policy.
“This is a critical issue, and we’re happy to see actions are being taken seriously,” she said Thursday. “It’s a time for the city to make sure there’s accountability at the highest level and that the reporting structures are set up in a way so that people feel that their complaints will be handled appropriately.”