MERIDEN — Embattled U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty found a supportive audience Monday at one of her first public appearances since announcing she won’t seek re-election.
Members of the Meriden Senior Center embraced and thanked the congresswoman for helping them get housing, replacement wheels on a motorized wheelchair and for her work with veterans. Esty, a Democrat from Cheshire, has represented the 5th District since 2013.
“I don’t think she should have gone out,” said Nancy Flagg, of Meriden. “I like Elizabeth. A lot of them have done a lot worse, including (President) Trump, and they are still in there.”
Esty announced last month that she would not seek re-election after media outlets reported she allowed her chief of staff Tony Baker to remain in her office for three months after she learned of allegations of physical, and verbal abuse directed at female staffers. Baker was also given a letter of recommendation and more than $5,000 in severance pay.
Top state Democratic lawmakers called for Esty’s resignation from Congress last month. Days later, Esty announced she would not seek re-election.
After taking a week off with no public appearances, Esty met with 5th District constituents over the weekend. She said she will spend the next eight months concentrating on constituent services, sponsoring and supporting “good” legislation, and voting down “bad” legislation such as Medicare and Social Security reform.
“If someone 10 years ago said you can be a member of Congress for eight months, I would be shocked but I would also say there is a huge number of things I want to get done,” Esty said. “That is why I kept my seat.”
Esty mentioned jobs, veterans, education and aviation advancement initiatives for women.
She also talked about changing what led to the “horrible experience” in her office.
“I want to really try to make a difference,” she said. “I don’t want any member of Congress or a staff member to go through what Anna (Kain) went through in my office.”
Esty is talking to human resources managers in private companies and unions about best practices needed to improve the culture in Congress. In addition to more training, Congress also needs a professional human resources department to professionally handle harassment and assault issues, she said.
She is also awaiting the results of a probe by the Congressional Ethics Office into her handling of the situation with Baker. Should it find that she did nothing wrong, that in itself is evidence change is needed.
Esty’s visit to the senior center aimed to address questions the seniors might have about Social Security and Medicare. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s pending retirement is a good sign nothing will change, she said.
“It’s a sign the Republicans don’t think they are going to keep control of the House,” Esty told the seniors. Ryan ”doesn’t think any policy things he wants to do will happen in this session of Congress. Ryan’s priorities are entitlement reform, which everyone in this room understands is Medicare and Social Security. “
Esty told the seniors Trump appears not to want to touch Social Security and Medicare.
Some of the senior citizens said that while they disagreed with the handling of her office manager, they did not feel she needed to leave Congress.
“She didn’t step up fast enough,” said Diana Gordon. “They were going to force her out.”
Patricia DeMaria said there are bigger problems to deal with in the district and the country.
“People are instigators, DeMaria said. “We need to get on with the business of the country and stop the slander. I always liked her, she’s very supportive.”
The reaction at the senior center was typical of what she has been hearing in the 5th District since she resumed her public appearances this weekend.
“I ran to try to serve people,” Esty said. “It’s nice to know that people see that, you know regular people, not politicians, not the media. But the folks whose lives depend on whether elected officials or others take care of them.”
Most of the seniors said Esty got bad advice and learned from her mistakes.
“She came through for Kathy. She’s been trying to get a wheelchair and she got it in a couple of weeks,” said Karen Daddario.
Others wanted more information before seeing Esty leave Congress.
“We need to know everything that happened before we convict,” said Nancy Lowry “She’s done good except for this boo-boo.”