HARRISBURG — Months before candidates face off in hotly contested races across the state, Pennsylvania’s Democratic Party is looking for a new leader.
Marcel Groen, the party chairman for the last three years, said in a letter released Friday morning that he was resigning at the request of Gov. Wolf. Groen, of Montgomery County, had come under fire for a series of mixed messages, controversial comments — and in some cases, silence — in response to sexual harassment allegations involving Democrats in the state.
His resignation comes amid a fight over the direction of the state party, which emerged badly bruised from the 2016 election in which President Trump eked out a victory in Pennsylvania by gaining votes in traditionally Democratic territories. This year, the party hopes to piggyback on a wave of anti-Trump sentiment to gain more seats in the state legislature and U.S. House, and hold onto the governor’s office.
Sources within the Democratic Party said that Wolf, who has quickly and publicly denounced all public officials accused of sexual harassment, was unhappy with Groen’s stance on what he considers an important issue.
“I have always believed that the commonwealth’s chief executive should have final say on whom the chairman of the party should be,” Groen, 72, wrote. “The governor’s staff informed me that he no longer wants me to serve as chairman of the party.”
Groen’s comments on sexual harassment were highlighted earlier this week in an opinion column by Will Bunch of the Inquirer and Daily News ,who blasted his tepid response to allegations against state Democrats and his unwillingness to demand the resignation of Republican U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, who settled a sexual-harassment claim with taxpayer money.
In the column, Groen was quoted as saying that while harassment in the workplace is unacceptable, “it is important that we keep our balance” and allow the accused to defend themselves.
Though Groen accepted responsibility for his “inartful” statements in the column, he also said some of his words were reported inaccurately or taken out of context.
“We stand by our reporting,” said Gabriel Escobar, editor and vice president of Philadelphia Media Network, publisher of the Inquirer and Daily News.
Reached by phone Friday, Groen said, “I think my letter speaks for itself.”
Groen and Wolf have taken different approaches in reacting to news that Democrats have been accused of sexual harassment.
Preaching zero tolerance, Wolf called on Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery) to resignwhen ex-staffers said he touched them inappropriately and made sexual jokes. The governor also called on longtime State Rep. Thomas Caltagirone (D., Berks) to resign after news that House Democrats had paid at least $248,000 to secretly settle a complaint that he sexually harassed a former staffer.
Another One Bites the Dust