Embattled New Mexico Democratic Party chairman resigns | KOB 4
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Embattled New Mexico Democratic Party chairman resigns

Kassi Nelson and J.R. Oppenheim
March 13, 2018 10:12 PM

SANTA FE, N.M. -- Stepping down amidst ongoing criticism, the chairman for Democratic Party of New Mexico announced his resignation Tuesday.

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Richard Ellenberg has received backlash for the way he dealt with sexual harassment allegations against a union leader. As Democrats are looking to take back the governor's seat in this year's election, some wonder if this could bring the party negative attention.

Ellenberg sent out his resignation letter to the party's central committee Tuesday. In it he writes: "I regret the way in which I have managed complaints of survivors who have come forward about sexual harassment, and take full responsibility to continue to learn and grow so that I can be an advocate and ally in the future."

Ellenberg was criticized for questioning the credibility of sexual misconduct allegations against a union leader. He also apologized for his reaction to sexual harassment claims against a Doña Ana County commissioner.

Several of New Mexico's top elected Democrats pushed for new leadership, writing: "As Democrats we stand with the silence-breakers who have come forward to share their stories of sexual harassment and abuse."

As Democrats look to take back the governor's office, University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson said Ellenberg did the right thing.

"It's best to move on if you're a party leader or something like that you don't want this kind of stuff hanging in the news," she said.

It remains to be seen if this controversy will trigger any division among the Democratic candidates as the state heads into primary season.

"Memories are very short," Atkeson said. "The primary is still several months away, and the party chair really doesn't have anything to do with that."

Others, including gubernatorial candidate Jeff Apodaca, blasted Ellenberg for a "slanted" delegation process favoring certain candidates. Apodaca said he was the only Democratic candidate to receive more than 20 percent of the pre-primary vote.

Apocada said Ellenberg's resignation did not come as a surprise.

"Given everything else that’s happened, I was not surprised to hear Chairman Ellenberg has resigned because of inappropriate comments to minimize sexual harassment charges from his business partner, John Hendry," he said. "Hendry has been active in the AFL-CIO and also heads a PAC that has supported Michelle Lujan-Grisham for governor -- the candidate who benefited from the pre-primary rule violations."

The Democratic Party of New Mexico released this statement on Ellenberg's resignation:

"Our country and our state are in an incredible moment in which survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault feel empowered to come forward, and the Democratic Party of New Mexico has taken upon itself to be a leader on this issue. Chair Ellenberg has taken responsibility for the fact that he has more to learn and has stepped down.

"We encourage everyone to strive to end a culture of sexual harassment in our state. We will be moving forward to ensure our Party is an ally for the countless women who have come forward and working to change our culture so everyone is treated with respect and professionalism in the workplace."

The chairman of the state's Republican Party, Ryan Cangiolosi, also weighed in on Ellenberg's resignation.

 "Accusations should always be taken seriously and victims should always be heard," he said. "Sadly, Democrats waited to act until after their convention because candidates like Michelle Lujan Grisham needed the party to corruptly rig the nominating process to achieve a pre-determined outcome. The resignation is overdue but the hollow calls for action from so-called party leaders only amount to political posturing."

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Kassi Nelson and J.R. Oppenheim

Copyright 2018 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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