Second Colorado lawmaker accused of sexual harassment
DENVER — A second Colorado lawmaker on Wednesday denied allegations of sexual harassment, this time made by a political organizer who claimed the legislator improperly touched him at a 2012 fundraiser.
Democratic Rep. Paul Rosenthal of Denver denied the claims by Thomas Cavaness, a 29-year-old organizer for U.S. Rep. Jared Polis’ 2018 gubernatorial campaign.
Cavaness, who claims Rosenthal touched his backside and tried to kiss him, said he was inspired to come forward by the “#metoo” social media movement in which victims worldwide have told their stories of sexual harassment and abuse.
“I also want it to be known that there are men who are victims, and this is a systemic problem within the gay community in my opinion,” he told The Denver Post.
Both men are openly gay.
Rosenthal was a candidate for the state House at the time of the alleged incident, and he was elected in November 2012.
His attorney, Harvey Steinberg, emphatically denied the claims.
Steinberg said Cavaness filed a formal complaint with the state House leadership on Tuesday — but that since Rosenthal wasn’t a member of the House at the time of the alleged incident, the Legislature had no formal jurisdiction to handle the complaint.
“We unequivocally deny any of it took place,” Steinberg said. “Secondly, there are numerous Facebook posts and correspondence between the two of them until recently, but there is nothing to suggest any romantic interest on the part of either party.”
Cavaness told The Associated Press that sexual assault often does not involve romantic interest but is sometimes about power and control, and that he remained cordial with Rosenthal because he didn’t know how the allegations would affect his career.
“I wouldn’t expect somebody being accused of something like this to be forthright and honest,” Cavaness said.
Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran issued a statement saying she would not comment “due to my role in investigating any formal complaints.” But Duran did suspend Rosenthal from his post as vice chair of the House Local Government Committee, said House Democratic spokesman Dean Toda.
On Friday, Duran removed Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock from his post as chair of the Local Government Committee and called on him to resign from the Legislature after Rep. Faith Winter and two other women alleged he sexually harassed them. Winter, an Adams County Democrat, filed a formal complaint about an alleged 2016 incident involving Lebsock on Monday.
Lebsock, who also represents Adams County and is running for state treasurer in 2018, has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Cavaness said Winter’s decision to come forward also inspired him to share his story.
“Her coming forward is what pushed me over the edge,” he said. “I plan to do whatever is necessary to make sure Paul Rosenthal is held accountable for his actions.”