For a woman coming forward to allege that she’d been sexually harassed by a Republican presidential candidate, the setting wasn’t ideal.
On Monday, around lunchtime, the lawyer Gloria Allred—savior of the broken, mistreated, and tabloid adjacent—held a press conference at the Friars Club on East 55th Street in Manhattan. Allred was using the location, once a men’s-only comedy club and still home to the occasional misogynist roast, to flank Sharon Bialek, the latest woman to accuse Herman Cain of sexual harassment and the first to attach her name to the accusation. As one attendee described the event, it was like holding a feminist rally at “the house that sexual harassment built.”
And there were clearly problems getting people to take the whole thing seriously. In the beginning, before Allred arrived with her client, a Howard Stern minion commandeered the podium, declaring, “Ladies and gentleman, live from California, Ms. Gloria Allred!”
Allred refused to enter the room until the shock jock’s associate was ejected. So he asked for a vote: should he stay or should he go? “Get the f--k out” seemed to be the consensus.
The press conference itself was fairly straightforward. Allred took to the podium and began to list her client’s credentials.
“Ms. Bialek was born and raised in Chicago … She is the mother of a 13-year-old son. She is a college graduate,” Allred told reporters. Prior to working for the Educational Foundation at the National Restaurant Association—where she met Cain—Bialek was the co-host of a cooking television show. Other jobs: six years as a “key” account manager at Revlon; later, a manager and director of corporate development at the Easter Seal Society. Currently a stay-at-home mom. Also a registered Republican.
The point, however subtle, was that while Allred may be known for representing cocktail waitresses and strippers who’ve bedded stars like Tiger Woods, Bialek is different. If anything, Allred’s strategy with her new client seemed to mirror the tone she took in 2010, when she opted to represent an illegal immigrant who’d been employed by California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. After the woman came forward, Whitman lost the election in a landslide.
Allred explained that during Bialek’s short stint at the NRA, from 1996 to 1997, she sat next to Cain “on at least three occasions”—at dinners and a lunch at which Cain was the keynote speaker.
When Bialek was let go for reasons that weren’t exactly clear, her boyfriend suggested getting in touch with Cain for career advice. “Instead of receiving the help that she had hoped for,” Allred said, “Cain instead decided to provide her with his idea of a stimulus package.” Ahem.
Bialek took the microphone. She had long, wavy blonde hair and wore a demure black suit. She looked slightly nervous but not overly emotional.
Still, she said, she was speaking out “to give a face and a voice” to those who haven’t been able to come forward, and to implore Cain to “come clean.”
“Mr. Cain, I implore you,” she said to the packed room. “Make this right.”
As Bialek described it, things went wrong after she sought Cain out.
She said she called Cain at the office and told him she was headed to the Washington area to meet her boyfriend’s family. Cain allegedly told her that he’d be happy to meet and to call back when she’d firmed up the dates.
So she did, telling Cain that she was staying at the Capital Hilton hotel.
When she arrived at the hotel, she found out that she’d been upgraded to a “palatial suite.” As Bialek told it Monday, “I thought that perhaps my boyfriend had decided to surprise me.”
She soon found out otherwise. That night, she says she met Cain in the lobby. He asked her how she liked her room. When she replied that she “could not believe” the “gorgeous suite,” Cain “smirked” and said, “I upgraded you.”
Bialek says they went to dinner at an Italian restaurant, where Cain asked, “Why are you here?”
She told him, “I need a job.” Cain allegedly told her he would “look into it,” and after dinner, offered to take her on a tour of the NRA’s offices. But just before they arrived, he stopped the car short. “Instead of going in,” Bialek said, “he reached over and put his hand on my leg, under my skirt, and reached for my genitals. He also grabbed my head and brought it towards his crotch.”
She told him to stop. He said, “You want a job, right?”
Naturally, reporters in the room had questions. Lots of questions.
'Instead of receiving the help that she had hoped for,' Allred said, 'Cain instead decided to provide her with his idea of a stimulus package.' Ahem.
Did Bialek ever notify the restaurant association?
“No,” Allred said, speaking on her client’s behalf. “She was no longer working there.”
Could Bialek respond to the Cain camp’s immediate denial of her claims, which they called “completely false”?
“Well, that’s what he says, and everyone will judge for themselves,” Allred said.
Were there any plans to take Cain to court?
“She has no plans to file a lawsuit,” Allred said.
A New York Post reporter asked if this was a ploy for money.
“She is not filing any claim against Mr. Cain or the National Restaurant Association,” said Allred, adding that Bialek had also been offered money to sell her story to the tabloids and had turned it down. “She’s not interested,” Allred said.