I haven’t followed the NYC mayoralty primary race closely, but from early on I have assumed that my choice would be Scott Stringer. He’s a strong and principled progressive with clear ideas about how he would make the city a better place. And he’s a highly experienced pol who knows New York City and State government inside out. While there are other good progressives in the race, none of them approaches him on experience.
Then the scandal broke. A woman, Jean Kim, reported having been the victim of unwanted, aggressive sexual advances by Stringer while she worked on his 2001 campaign for City Advocate. Reaction in the New York progressive community came fast. The Working Families Party withdrew its endorsement of Stringer for mayor. So did a number of high-profile state legislators, along with US Rep. Jamal Bowman. Are they right to do so?
The answer to that question requires consideration of the particular circumstances of this case as well as more general issues regarding the sexual misbehavior of public figures.
There is ample evidence that Jean Kim is not telling the whole story of her relationship with Stringer. Contrary to Kim’s claims, Stringer and Kim had known each other for several years at the time of his alleged abuses. Critically, they did have a consensual sexual relationship, which she also denies. Of course, unacceptable, abusive behavior can take place in the course of a mostly consensual relationship, but Kim’s dishonesty about the nature of their relationship must cast doubt on her account of the details. Reporting by The Intercept (link above) has revealed other inconsistencies in her story. Kim and her lawyer have offered no corroboration of her account. Stringer denies the accusations, so, we have a classic “he said…she said” problem. In the absence hard evidence, there is simply no way of knowing for sure who is telling the truth. But, given the demonstrable untruthfulness of part of Kim’s account, I would lean strongly toward Stringer.
That, clearly, was not the approach taken by the various progressive luminaries who quickly withdrew their support of Stringer. Rather than consider any possible problems with Kim’s story, they acted on general principle, the principle being, we must infer, that any accusations by any woman against any man must be believed. End of story. That is in fact the popular slogan of the #MeToo movement: “Believe women.” A defensible and reasonable slogan would be “Listen to women” or “Take women seriously,” but “Believe women” demands mindless, knee-jerk behavior. It should never be used. (Except, maybe, with an asterisk, but effective slogans don’t use asterisks.)
But there are valid general considerations raised by this case. One is timeframe; the other is the presence or absence of a pattern. The alleged offense took place 20 years ago. No other allegations of any kind of misconduct by Stringer have been advanced publicly by any other woman.
To be clear: I think misogyny and male privilege are big problems in our society, and I am glad powerful men are increasingly being called to account. And I wish I could be sure that Stringer is innocent of the accusations against him. But as so often happens, the best we can do under conditions of uncertainty is make a reasonable decision. Both the particular circumstances of this case and general considerations point to the same conclusion: I’m sticking with Stringer. The progressives who have chosen to abandon him are sacrificing our best chance for a fine mayor on the altar of wokeness. (I hate to use that term, since it has been taken up so obsessively by the right, but in this case, it is entirely appropriate.)