ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico Democratic gubernatorial candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham said Friday that Democratic Sen. Michael Padilla should end his bid for lieutenant governor over claims he harassed women as a city of Albuquerque supervisor.
Padilla has long denied the claims dating back to 2006 that he links to issues of a hostile workplace environment, not sexual harassment. But Lujan Grisham said in a statement to The Associated Press that Padilla should end his campaign as the decade-old allegations began to resurface on social media and amid harassment cases involving other political leaders and celebrities.
“My position on sexual harassment is clear: it is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated by me or in my administration. Michael Padilla’s actions were wrong,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement to The Associated Press. “There is no room for excuses and he should withdraw his candidacy for lieutenant governor.”
Two federal lawsuits say Padilla harassed women while managing Albuquerque’s emergency call center. Padilla was accused of making inappropriate comments and of asking women on dates despite repeated rejections — claims he adamantly denies.
The city ended up settling “sexually hostile work environment” claims stemming from Padilla’s six-week tenure overhauling a problem-plagued 911 center.
Padilla said Friday the lawsuits were hostile workplace cases and strongly denied sexual harassment of any woman.
“I think that Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham is an excellent candidate for governor and I will meet with her and talk with her at her earliest convenience,” he said.
Padilla, a specialist in call center management and technologies, was assigned by the Albuquerque mayor to review personnel, processes and technologies that could improve emergency responses at the 911 center.
In the lawsuits, female managers from the call center accused Padilla of saying that in his house “women stay home, make tortillas and have babies.”
“That is 100 percent false,” Padilla said. “I would never dream of saying something like that. It’s not in my vocabulary.”
A jury in 2010 found the city liable, ordering a damage payment of $1,200 to one manager. Padilla said a second lawsuit alleging discrimination and retaliation by the city was related to employee reassignments made after his departure.
According to the Albuquerque Journal, Padilla resigned from his city position in 2007, saying he was “railroaded” after female supervisors complained about a hostile work environment and an investigation found he made insulting remarks. He denied the allegations.
Padilla said he takes the complaints “very seriously” and believes the accusations against him were lodged by employees who feared for their jobs and livelihoods, while his recommendations ultimately included improving work conditions and raising pay with some job reassignments.
“Thirty years of decay in this operation, I was asked to turn it around in six months. I know that I ruffled feathers, I know that it was very uncomfortable for the people who had worked there for many years. I still had a job to do,” he said.
University of New Mexico political science professor Gabriel Sanchez said the harassment claims could pose problems for Democrats in 2018 if Padilla remains defiant and activists continue to press him on it.
“If any man continues to deny sexual harassment when women are coming forward, the backlash is even greater now,” Sanchez said. “There’s been a big cultural shift.”
Following Lujan Grisham’s announcement, state Rep. Angelica Rubio, a Las Cruces Democrat and an early supporter of Padilla said she would no longer endorse him after learning of the allegations via social media and researching the cases.
Sen. Joe Cervantes, a Las Cruces Democrat and a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said he believed the “courageous women” who have come forward.
“This is why we have campaigns,” he said. “You can’t lead New Mexico out of the place it is today without having the respect of others.”
Las Cruces activist Sarah Silva said she could not support a Democratic ticket that includes Padilla.
Although the harassment claims are old, Silva said the climate has shifted on sexual harassment and assault.
“I cannot fathom why New Mexico Democrats are allowing (Padilla) to run while at the same time touting their feminism with Michelle Lujan Grisham,” Silva said. “That’s how you lose women like me with that kind of inconsistency.”
Associated Press writer Morgan Lee contributed to this report from Santa Fe, New Mexico.