Despite taking a leave of absence while under investigation for sexual harassment, Sen. Tony Mendoza returned this week to his Capitol office and attended a Sacramento event hosted by an interest group.
The Artesia Democrat said he was in town to “confer with legal counsel.” But he also met with his Capitol staff and a proponent of one his bills on Monday to review his legislative agenda. On Tuesday evening, he attended a reception at the Citizen Hotel for the California Contract Cities Association.
In a statement, spokesman Saeed Ali said Mendoza “is faithfully observing the previously agreed upon conditions regarding his work as a Senator on Leave.”
Under intense pressure from his colleagues, who met with him behind closed doors for more than four hours, Mendoza agreed last week to step down from his official duties with pay until February. The Senate is currently investigating allegations that he made inappropriate advances toward three female employees in his Capitol and district offices over the past decade.
Mendoza has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and criticized efforts to sanction him before the conclusion of the investigation as “premature.” He initially refused to take a voluntary leave when asked last month by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León.
A spokesman for De León said his office asked Mendoza on Tuesday to return to Southern California. His office said the leave of absence includes all Capitol activities, but it is unclear if the Senate can prohibit Mendoza from attending events outside the Capitol.
According to Ali, Mendoza’s work at the Capitol this week included conferring “with his staff regarding pending measures facing deadlines to assure that they each have suitable substitutes during his absence on leave to present each measure, and to work with his staff to develop new measures, that he intends to introduce upon his return on February 1, in time to meet legislative deadlines.”
A friend and city councilman from Artesia also “dropped into his office to visit,” Ali said, and Mendoza “took the opportunity to meet with” him to discuss Senate Bill 405, legislation they are working on together about outdoor advertising in Artesia.
The reception on Tuesday evening was hosted by the California Contract Cities Association, an organization that lobbies on behalf of 75 cities that contract out some or all of their services. The was event as part of its annual “legislative tour,” which the association describes on its website as “imperative to building long-lasting relationships with members of the legislature and governor’s office.”
Ali said Mendoza, a former three-term councilman in Artesia, “attended a reception with a city association of which he was a member for over a decade as a council member.” The California Contract Cities Association could not immediately be reached for comment.
Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, a Democrat from Bell Gardens who represents an overlapping district, said through a representative that she has seen Mendoza in the Capitol since he went on voluntary leave.
“Leave means leave,” Garcia said in a statement. “Mr. Mendoza continues to show his lack of willingness to adhere to the rules he’s been told to abide by in the State Legislature.”
She added that Mendoza’s “actions continue to add insult to injury. This community must take this issue seriously. California Contract Cities should have asked him to leave their event and others should follow suit until this matter is resolved. This shows further how pervasive this culture is and how much work we must do.”
Mendoza is one of several lawmakers currently being investigated for alleged sexual misconduct. The issue has consumed the Capitol since October, when nearly 150 women published an open letter denouncing the “pervasive” culture of sexual harassment in California politics. Two Democratic assemblymen resigned last year amid accusations that they groped women and masturbated in front of a lobbyist.
While announcing his leave on the Senate floor last Wednesday, Mendoza said his colleagues felt it was important that he “step back a little bit.”
“I thought to accommodate that and to take away type of an appearance of impropriety or any type of appearance of giving any type of special influence, I have decided that I will take a leave of absence for this month of January to allow the investigation to move forward,” he said.
Editor’s note: Due to incorrect information from her office, this post previously stated that Garcia had seen Mendoza at district events. That reference was removed on Jan. 11 at 11:45 a.m.