A former employee of the National Restaurant Association on Monday said Herman Cain groped her 14 years ago during an unwanted sexual advance, becoming the fourth woman to accuse the presidential candidate of sexual misconduct and the first to publicly identify herself.
Cain angrily denied the charges, but called a news conference for Tuesday afternoon in Phoenix to address them -- a sign that he believes he needs to speak in more detail about the allegations to try to prevent further damage to his campaign.
Speaking at a press conference in New York City and flanked by celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, Sharon Bialek, a Chicago resident who worked for the NRA from 1996 to 1997, said Cain suddenly reached out and grabbed her after drinks and dinner in Washington D.C. in the summer of 1997. She had left her association job in Chicago, Bialek said, and had traveled to Washington to meet with Cain to ask him for help finding a new job. It was then, she alleged, Cain attempted to force her into a sexual favor in exchange for a job while the two were in a parked car.
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“I was very, very surprised and very shocked,” Bialek said, recounting in detail the aggressive sexual overture. She said she decided to come forward after three other women who worked for the trade group alleged that Cain sexually harassed them on the job. “Mr. Cain, I implore you. Make this right,” Bialek said.
Bialek is the fourth woman to accuse Cain of sexual misconduct, after reports surfaced last week that three subordinates claimed he sexually harassed them when he was the top executive of the NRA from 1996 to 1999. Those women have chosen to remain anonymous, and Bialek’s description is by far the most explicit accusation to date.
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As he has with the prior accusations, Cain on Monday denied any wrongdoing. In a statement, his campaign highlighted the involvement of Allred, an attorney who has represented many celebrities and supported feminist causes, and called the accusations a distraction.
“All allegations of harassment against Mr. Cain are completely false. Mr. Cain has never harassed anyone,” the statement said. “Fortunately the American people will not allow Mr. Cain’s bold 9-9-9 plan, clear foreign policy vision and plans for energy independence to be overshadowed by these bogus attacks.”
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After being introduced by Allred at a packed press conference, Bialek described her job as a manager with the NRA’s educational foundation, which provided help for high school students interested in restaurant careers. She met Cain at the trade group’s annual convention in Chicago, and chatted with him over the course of dinners and a luncheon, where he was seated next to her.
Bialek, a college graduate and today a single mother of a 13 year-old son, said that when she later lost her job at the foundation, she called Cain to see if he could help her find another position with the NRA or with another employer. She set up a meeting with him in Washington, where the trade group is headquartered.
On the evening she arrived, she had drinks and dinner with Cain, who also told her in the course of the evening that he had taken the liberty of upgrading her room at a Hilton hotel to a suite. After dinner, Cain offered to show Bialek the NRA’s headquarters, but on the way there, he pulled the car over and parked, she said.