PROVIDENCE — Bryant C. Da Cruz, Governor Daniel J. McKee’s new pick for the Rhode Island Ethics Commission, withdrew his name Friday afternoon hours after a Boston Globe investigation detailed sexual harassment complaints made against him by six women.
“After further review of the circumstances, we have accepted Mr. Da Cruz’s resignation and will be making an appropriate appointment to fill his seat,” McKee spokesperson Andrea R. Palagi said in a statement Friday. “The office acknowledges that the vetting process was not adequate and that will be corrected going forward.”
Da Cruz did not respond to messages from the Globe seeking comment Friday. He was the subject of sexual harassment complaints by six women, including two town employees, when he was vice chairman of the South Kingstown Town Council.
“This is just another powerful example of what can happen when victims of sexual harassment speak out,” said Liz Gledhill, the former chair of the Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus, who said Da Cruz had behaved inappropriately with her while they were both on the council. “I’m glad that the people who spoke out were able to hold Bryant accountable for his actions when the governor’s office could not. This is a win.”
Da Cruz’s resignation “was the right thing to do, but the absurdity of the situation still baffles me,” said Sarah Markey, a former vice chair of the South Kingstown School Committee, who had complained to the town about Da Cruz’s alleged harassment.
“Bryant Da Cruz should never have been appointed to the Ethics Commission in the first place. The truth and evidence of the sexual harassment complaints have been sitting there since 2019. So, how did this happen?” Markey said. “Frankly, the governor owes at least six women an apology for the audacity of this appointment and the way his office initially defended it.”
Da Cruz told the Globe on Thursday that the governor’s staff didn’t ask him about those complaints. He also said he thought the complaints against him were largely politically motivated, except for one involving a town employee whom he messaged while he was drinking.
A January 2019 memorandum by the town manager referenced the complaints made by the women against Da Cruz. According to the memo, Da Cruz “agreed that his behavior was unacceptable, and he affirmed that he would not engage in any future communications of the type that prompted the complaints.”
Six months later, the town expanded the sexual harassment policy to include elected officials.
Da Cruz, 48, has been a realtor since 2003 and is immediate past president of the Rhode Island Association of Realtors. He is a volunteer firefighter for the Union Fire District and on the board of advisers for Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick.
Da Cruz donated $1,000 to McKee’s campaign on April 25 of this year, according to campaign finance reports filed with the state Board of Elections.
After hearing the news of the resignation, Common Cause Rhode Island executive director John M. Marion said, “It is a relief that Mr. Da Cruz will not be serving on the Ethics Commission. We are glad Governor McKee has acknowledged that the vetting process was flawed. We urge him to do due diligence when making future appointments.”
Ethics Commission members should be carefully vetted because the panel has “extraordinary powers” provided for in the state constitution and because those appointments do not require the advice and consent of the state Senate, Marion said.
The all-volunteer Ethics Commission has nine seats, and two of them are now vacant. DaCruz had been scheduled to be sworn in at the Ethics Commission meeting Dec. 12 to replace Sister M. Therese Antone, Salve Regina University’s chancellor, who resigned two years ago.
“It has been a problem for some time that appointments to the Ethics Commission under multiple governors have been slow,” Marion said. “Sometimes that results in vacancies, which is not good for the commission. All the parties involved in these appointments, including the legislative leaders, should do their best to provide appointments that are both timely and well vetted.”
The other vacant seat is awaiting an appointment by the governor from a list of nominees provided by House Minority Leader Michael W. Chippendale, a Foster Republican.
On Thursday, Marion had told the Globe that Da Cruz’s conduct as a member of the South Kingstown Town Council “makes him unfit to serve on such an important body as the Rhode Island Ethics Commission.”
“Potential appointees should be fully vetted so that people who are asked to serve meet the highest standards,” Marion said at the time. “In this case, it appears that vetting, if it did occur, failed, or the governor overlooked some rather egregious behavior by his most recent appointee.”