Following Sexual Harassment Complaint, Hartford Council To Elect New President Next Week

Members of Hartford’s city council, who two weeks ago called for their president’s resignation amid sexual harassment allegations, said they plan to vote in a new leader next week.

Council President Thomas “TJ” Clarke II, who was accused of making lewd comments and sending inappropriate text messages to a former city council aide, said he won’t resign from the panel. But his two-year term as president expires Monday, and council members say it is unlikely that he’ll be re-elected to the leadership role.

“Regardless of whether he has stepped down or not, we need to vote for someone new,” James Sanchez, a Democrat, said.

For the first time since his eight colleagues asked him to resign, Clarke said Tuesday that after pausing to reflect, he has decided not to leave his council seat. He has two years left in his term.

“My immediate plan is to seize the opportunity for redemption that has been offered by my family and community, and to do and be better,” he said in a written statement. “Our city — and our state — are at a crossroads, and now is not the time for upheaval.

“Despite my missteps, my love for and dedication to this city is unwavering, and I intend to stand with my colleagues in confronting whatever challenges may come.”

In December, The Courant reported that Clarke and two others were the targets of a complaint by a former council employee. The aide, who worked for the city from January 2016 to June 2017, filed the complaint with the state’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities in November. It was forwarded to the city on Dec. 13, and a copy was provided to The Courant.

Clarke, along with council employee Olga Vazquez and City Clerk John Bazzano, were accused of sexual harassment and discrimination.

The aide said Clarke sent her several unseemly text messages, but she felt uncomfortable reporting the situation to Hartford’s human resources office because Clarke was a 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 also reported that Clarke had previously been cited by the city for inappropriate touching.

Mayor Luke Bronin called Clarke’s behavior “inexcusable” and said he shouldn’t be able to continue in his position. Bronin did not return calls seeking additional comment on Tuesday.

The city has hired an attorney to represent Clarke, Colon and Bazzano.

Council members said that if Clarke’s term as president weren’t about to end, they would still look to remove him from the position. The panel can oust a president if six of the nine members vote in favor of a dismissal.

Clarke’s colleagues had also called for him to resign his seat. On Tuesday, they said they had not heard from Clarke about his plans.

Hartford’s charter says the council can remove elected officials by a supermajority vote of seven members. But when members attempted to dismiss the city’s registrars in 2015 — following an Election Day fiasco — a Superior Court judge ruled that state law supersedes the city charter, and that council members can’t oust elected officials.

“There is due process and there are two sides to the story. It’s very serious ... and I think, ultimately, people felt that it was inappropriate and unbecoming of a leader,” Democratic Councilwoman Glendowlyn Thames said. “But the onus is on [Clarke], and we have to figure out a way to move on.”

Thames and Councilman Julio Concepcion are being considered for the council presidency, members said. Thames is the chairwoman of the panel’s management and budget committee, and Concepcion is the majority leader.

A vote on the next president will take place at the council’s meeting Monday night.

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