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Jennifer Nelson

“Come on..he’s French…”

That’s Jerry Brown’s explanation for Jacques Barzaghi’s sexual harassment of an Oakland City Hall female employee during Brown’s tenure as mayor.  Barzaghi was Brown’s longtime political aide, confidante and roommate who ended up leaving Brown’s employ and the country in 2004 after spousal abuse charges surfaced (sexual harassment charges just earned him a cut in pay).

Former Oakland City Hall employee Nereyda Lopez-Bowden, who says she was harassed by Barzaghi, held a press conference today in Sacramento with Sen. Chuck Poochigian.  Lopez-Bowden contacted the campaign because she wanted to speak out after she was outraged by the Brown campaign’s claim that the Mayor handled the scandal "professionally."  This was the first time she has spoken publicly about the harassment.

One cannot help to note the hypocrisy in Brown’s campaign promise to be an advocate of workers rights – claiming he’ll step up protection for "hundreds of thousands" of "exploited" workers in California – while he  tried to sweep the harassment charges of his top lieutenant under the rug. 

Lopez-Bowden’s statement is pretty compelling:

"I recently learned that my name has been raised during the campaign for California attorney general.  I am saddened that Jerry Brown is still questioning the validity of my sexual harassment claim against his closest aide of 32 years, Jacques Barzaghi.  It seems that Mayor Brown still doesn’t understand the inherent rights that women have to protect themselves in the workplace against such reprehensible conduct.  And, unfortunately, he also ignores the many, many other women who came forward stating that they, too, had been harassed by Mr. Barzaghi.

"In November and December of 2000, I was the victim of repeated sexual harassment by Mr. Barzaghi.  At the time, the city of Oakland had issued a strong policy against sexual harassment, and I asked merely to have that policy enforced.  When it was not, I filed a formal complaint with the city manager.  After an extremely trying period when the city tried every means to discredit me personally, Mr. Barzaghi received a "slap on the wrist" and was able to keep his job.   What kind of message is that to women who protest against harassment?

"The reason I have come forward now is to inform California voters, and especially women, of Mayor Jerry Brown’s tolerance of Mr. Barzaghi’s boorish behavior and his refusal to act when informed of it.  On one occasion, Mayor Brown asked me to discontinue my protests of Barzaghi’s behavior saying:  "Why are you doing this to me?"  He made it clear that he believed my protests were a threat to his political image – as if he, not I, were the victim.

"On another occasion, the Mayor told me I should just accept Mr. Barzaghi’s behavior saying:  "Come on, Nereyda, he’s French, and he does that with all the women."  I want to make it very clear that I informed Mayor Brown of Barzaghi’s constant harassment, and he was clearly aware – and therefore accepting – of this behavior."

You can read Lopez-Bowden’s full statement here.

Brown has never really had to answer for his mishandling of this issue.  Certainly, the press should be asking him questions about this situation–and how he gave Barzaghi a slap on the hand–given the number of employees he would oversee in Sacramento if elected attorney general and given the focus he has put on "exploited workers" in California during his campaign for the office.  Really, do we want to elect a top cop who looked the other way when one of his top staffers was sexually harassing a subordinate?   

(For more on Barzaghi and Brown’s longtime relationship (and Barzaghi’s problem with harassing women), check out this East Bay Express article from March 2003.)