Florida Democratic Party chairman Stephen Bittel was forced to apologize after multiple party staffers accused him of "demeaning" behavior toward women.
Bittel has been accused of sexual harassment by the staffers who say he leered at women, made inappropriate comments and invited them on his private jet, Politico reports.
The staffers say Bittel kept a breast-shaped stress ball in his desk and would make comments about staffers showing their breasts.
Six women spoke against Bittel, but didn't want to be identified for fear of reprisal. Bittel is known in Democratic circles for being especially powerful and is friends with former Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.).
A former party fundraiser recalled how Bittel would inappropriately ask about her boyfriend, and she ultimately called him out on it.
"Really, who does that. Why would he ask about a woman’s boyfriend?" she said. "And it was not like a ‘how is your significant other doing?’ It was not that at all."
She said shortly after leaving the Florida Democratic Party, there was a memorable goodbye call with Bittel. He asked if he could help her in her next career move, and then asked whether she might consider moving to Miami for a job opportunity. And then she recalls him saying, "‘will your boyfriend be moving with you?’"
"I hung up," she said.
She quickly called back with a clear message.
"I’ve never had this type of guts, so I’m not sure where it came from, but I told him he’s creepy towards women, makes them feel uncomfortable, and it’s not ok," she said. "It needs to stop."
In response, he sent a text message she remembers clearly.
"Thank U [sic] for ur [sic] honesty," she says he wrote back. "I hope your words make me better."
"He’s just so f—-ng creepy," a former female staffer said. "He just leers at you, and stares. I don’t know if you know what that feels like, but he just leers at you. I don’t know how to describe the feeling."
There was even a general policy that female staff would never be alone with Bittel.
"The biggest thing I will say is that it became a policy that women, especially junior staff, were never to be left alone with him in his office, plane or house," another former staffer said. "There is a reason I left. He’s very demeaning. He’s inappropriate in his comments he makes to women."
A female candidate for office brought two of her female staffers to a meeting with Bittel, where they say he inapropriatly stared at them.
"I felt uncomfortable leaving them in the room with him," the former candidate said. "It was kind of icky."
The staffer also said his behavior has been well known throughout the state's Democratic Party.
Bittel released an apology after the allegations came to light.
"Every person, regardless of their gender, race, age or sexuality should be treated with respect and valued for their hard work and contributions to our community and if any of my comments or actions did not reflect that belief I am deeply sorry," Bittel said. "I have much to learn, but my goal is and has always been to make sure every member of our party has a safe environment in which to succeed. It seems I’ve not been successful in that goal, and I will do better."