Sharon Bialek said Cain made the unwanted advance after dinner in Washington when she asked for help finding a job after she was laid off by the National Restaurant Association, which he then headed.
The allegations come on top of previous statements from three separate women who claim inappropriate sexual behaviour by Cain in the 1990s. Bialek is the first to come out in public, lending the allegations human form and thus hugely increasing their potency.
Bialek, looking composed and confident before a phalanx of television cameras, said she had not filed a complaint against Cain but was now coming forward to “give a face and a voice to those women” who did not wish to go public.
“Just admit what you did. Admit you were inappropriate to people. And then move forward. America is in a horrible turmoil as we all know. We need a leader who can set an example which exemplifies the standards of a good person and moral character. Mr. Cain, I implore you, make this right. So that you and the country can move forward and focus on the real issues at hand,” Bialek said.
Bialek recounted how she had met Cain in 1997 over five days of the National Restaurant Association’s annual convention in Chicago. She was then working for the NRA’s educational foundation while he was head of the entire organisation.
Seated together at lunch, she said she was inspired by him and said to him, paradoxical as it now sounds: “When are you running for president?”
A month after they met, Bialek was dismissed from the NRA and got back in touch with him to ask for advice on finding a new job. She travelled to Washington in July 1997 to have coffee with him.
At dinner, Bialek asked him to help her find work and he said he would try. Then he drove her to the offices of the NRA, parking the car down the block.
“Instead of going into the offices, he suddenly reached over and he put his hand on my leg, under my skirt and reached for my genitals. He also grabbed my head and brought it toward his crotch. I was very, very surprised and very, very shocked,” Bialek said.
“I said: ‘What are you doing? You know I have a boyfriend. This isn’t what I came here for.’ Mr. Cain said: ‘You want a job, right?’ I asked him to stop and he did. I asked him to take me back to my hotel, which he did right away.”
The Cain campaign quickly came out with a statement on the accusations, calling the charges of sexual harassment “false.”
“Just as the country finally begins to refocus on our crippling $15 trillion national debt and the unacceptably high unemployment rate, now activist celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred is bringing forth more false accusations against the character of Republican front-runner Herman Cain,” said the presidential hopeful’s campaign.
“All allegations of harassment against Mr. Cain are completely false. Mr. Cain has never harassed anyone. Fortunately the American people will not allow Mr. Cain’s bold “999 Plan,” clear foreign policy vision and plans for energy independence to be overshadowed by these bogus attacks.”
A poll released Sunday showed that Cain’s poll numbers dropped for the first time since the accusations were made public a week ago, though it should be noted that the poll was conducted online. Online polls are typically much less reliable than traditional telephone polls.
Cain will face renewed questions from reporters wherever he goes, including an appearance on Wednesday at the next televised presidential debate, to be held in Michigan, that could prove awkward. [via Reuters, Huff Post, Guardian and CBS]