Viewpoints

They weren’t hugs. Hertzberg was sexually aggressive, and Assembly leaders ignored it

Robert Hertzberg hugs then-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa 2010 at the Assembly.
Robert Hertzberg hugs then-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa 2010 at the Assembly. hamezcua@sacbee.com

Sexual assault should never be trivialized, as The Sacramento Bee editorial board wrote, (“#MeToo is being hijacked to trivialize real sexual harassment. Here’s how to end that,” Dec. 18). However, I don’t accept the assertion that the complaint I made against Sen. Robert Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, was trivial.

I did not claim that what Hertzberg did was the equivalent of rape or sexual assault. I never considered involving law enforcement or wondered if what he did was illegal. I just asked the man to keep his hands off me, and he refused.

In early 2011, Hertzberg was a paid consultant for the California State Assembly and I was an assemblywoman. From the day I met him, I found his habit of wrapping his arms around my torso and rubbing his chest and lower body against mine in a prolonged embrace to be uncomfortable and unprofessional. Hertzberg physically accosted me multiple times. I repeatedly asked him not to hug me.

The last time he approached me was in a Capitol hallway. I told him: “Don’t touch me.” He responded by grabbing me, pinning my arms by my side and thrusting his groin against my pelvis. He restricted me from moving away, forcing prolonged torso-to-torso contact despite my shouting at him to let me go.

Like any reasonable adult, I can recognize a friendly hug. Hertzberg’s sexually aggressive groping wasn’t that.

After this incident, I went to Jon Waldie, then the Assembly’s chief administrative officer. He laughed and excused Hertzberg’s actions: “That’s just how Bob is.”

The top-ranking administrator in the Assembly dismissed my complaint, making it obvious Hertzberg wouldn’t have to answer for his unprofessional, obnoxious behavior. He subsequently was elected to the California Senate.

In the wake of the attention being paid to workplace harassment, I came forward again to report what happened to me. Investigation by The Sacramento Bee revealed that two women currently serving in the California Legislature have had somewhat similar experiences with Hertzberg. For The Bee editorial to suggest that partisanship is behind these allegations is simply false.

The two other women chose to remain anonymous, and I respect that. But between the two serving legislators and myself, women in the Democratic and the Republican Parties are represented.

According to a senator serving on the committee tasked with hiring independent investigators into sexual harassment allegations against Legislators, mine was not the first complaint against Hertzberg. “Bob has been counseled before,” I was told

The Bee’s Editorial Board wrote that Hertzberg is “known for his decency…and his lack of scandal.” But a man’s appropriate behavior in some interactions doesn’t preclude him from having serious character flaws expressed elsewhere.

I didn’t expect perfection from professional colleagues while working in Sacramento. I did expect to be able to work without having to tolerate some creepy guy’s hands on me.

I don’t live in California any longer, am not involved in politics, and have nothing to gain by coming forward. Hertzberg’s behavior humiliated me and I would prefer my privacy.

But my keeping quiet about Hertzberg hasn’t prevented him from using the pretense of friendliness to provocatively touch women who ask him to keep his hands to himself. I hope that my decision to come forward will spare other women from dealing with this unnecessary distraction from important work.

Linda Halderman, a Republican, and a physician who represented Fresno in the Assembly from 2010 to 2012, drhalderman@protonmail.com.

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