Finally, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, and US Representative Ayanna Pressley have withdrawn their endorsements of Ricardo Arroyo, the Boston city councilor and candidate for Suffolk County district attorney who faces allegations of sexual assault that date back to high school.
But that happened only after one of his accusers came forward and told the Globe’s Andrea Estes and Evan Allen that Arroyo’s denial of all the allegations and his insistence that he was never informed of any investigations “makes me feel sick, sick to my stomach.” The Globe’s initial reporting about two separate allegations of sexual assault, based on police reports, was not enough to dislodge the loyalty of Warren, Wu, and Pressley to Arroyo.
The #MeToo fever has broken. Between the Globe’s initial story and the follow-up, it felt like Bill Clinton all over again, when powerful feminists like Gloria Steinem, along with Democratic women in Congress, were inclined to first give the benefit of the doubt to a man accused of sexual misconduct — if that man shares their politics. With Clinton, liberal women blamed the right wing for a political attack and demonized the victim, rather than confront the truth about the allegations.
Before the Globe published an interview with one of Arroyo’s accusers, Warren gave some insight into why she had not withdrawn her endorsement as of Tuesday. “I think these are serious allegations,” she said during a meeting with the Globe editorial board. “I believe women. But we’re all waiting for more information.”
She challenged the idea that a police report that has not been made public should be the basis for any endorsement decision. “Where are the women to believe?” she asked, ignoring how hard it is for women to come forward in situations like this. Meanwhile, she acknowledged that she found Arroyo’s responses “confusing” and said she would encourage him “to tell what happened.” But as of Tuesday afternoon, she had not personally asked him. On the question of whether Arroyo’s policies, which are considered progressive, were contributing to her patience, she said, “No.”
And yet, Warren’s patience was shorter and her tolerance for confusing denials much lower during the 2018 Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who also faced allegations of sexual misconduct that dated back to high school. In a speech delivered on the Senate floor in which she opposed Kavanaugh’s nomination, Warren cited his evasions and “obviously false answers” as reasons to vote against him. She also cited his previous judicial rulings. A year later, she called for Kavanaugh’s impeachment following new allegations of sexual misconduct during his time in college.
Asked to explain the difference between Kavanaugh and Arroyo, Warren said, “We had more than one woman who came forward in the Kavanaugh case. One was questioned very aggressively under oath for hours and told what I believe is a very credible story for hours. And I believed her.” (I also believed Ford.) Yet unlike with the Arroyo case, there was no police report or other documentation to back up the account of Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who testified during Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing that he sexually assaulted her when they were in high school.
Warren said her actions in Kavanaugh’s case had nothing to do with politics. It’s also true that in 2017, at the height of the #MeToo movement, Warren called for the resignation of then-US Senator Al Franken — a Democrat from Minnesota — over allegations of sexual misconduct and a photo that showed him pretending to grope a sleeping woman.
The #MeToo movement was supposed to be a way for survivors of sexual harassment and assault to tell their stories and by doing so change the underlying culture that protects sexual predators in the workplace and in life, generally. There’s a case to be made that it went too far when it comes to allegations that reach back to high school. What happened during a person’s teenage years shouldn’t define them for the rest of their life. However, the decision to press a case against someone or see an opportunity for redemption should be bipartisan. Otherwise, the pursuit of these cases becomes nothing more than a political weapon. It doesn’t change the culture for everyone. Women who are the victims of sexual assault and harassment should know that better than anyone.
With Arroyo, some of his male supporters got it right from the start and withdrew their endorsements. In a statement issued through a spokesman, former US Representative Joe Kennedy III called the allegations “incredibly serious and undermine the foundation of an effective DA’s office — trust and accountability.” City Council President Ed Flynn also withdrew his support and stripped Arroyo of his council vice presidency and a pair of committee chairmanships. Senator Ed Markey, another Arroyo backer, didn’t pull his endorsement until after Arroyo’s accuser spoke to the Globe.
Meanwhile, the first instinct of powerful women like Warren, Wu and Pressley was to stand with the accused, no matter how ridiculous and far-fetched his denials, because they liked his politics. A quarter-century later, it was Clinton all over again.
Joan Vennochi is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @joan_vennochi.