Sexual harassment should not be tolerated
Mayor Michael Hancock must resign from his role as Mayor of Denver. Mayor Hancock, a CU Denver alumnus, has taken advantage of his position as mayor to harass Denver Police Detective Leslie Branch-Wise, who was assigned to his security detail.
Hancock exploited his position of power to send Branch-Wise a litany of lewd text messages. For example, one text sent by Hancock read, “So I just watched this story on women taking pole dancing classes. Have you ever taken one? Why do women take the course? If not have you ever considered taking one and why? Your thoughts?”
Why would Hancock ask a security officer these questions? Certainly, a teacher of an aforementioned pole-dancing class could answer his questions more thoroughly. Second, if Mayor Hancock were genuinely curious on what compels some women to take a pole-dancing class, why couldn’t he have asked someone who does not work for him? Or perhaps, his wife? Is Branch-Wise a leading expert on the psychology of pole-dancing? No, she is a police detective. Branch-Wise said she did not respond, but the mayor kept going, writing, “Be careful, I’m curious. LOL!” In what way do these questions relate to Branch-Wise’s job? In reality, telling Branch-Wise to “be careful” sends a more chilling and sinister message.
Hancock is her employer and a public official. “It was a hard time in my life,” Branch-Wise said. “I didn’t have anyone to tell, I didn’t have anyone to talk to. That’s my boss,” Branch-Wise said.
Hancock said that while he does not believe his behavior was sexual harassment, he now realizes it was inappropriate.
“Six years ago, when Detective Leslie Branch-Wise was on my detail, we became friends,” said Hancock. “And I blurred the lines between being a friend and being a boss. Our text exchanges became too casual, too familiar, and last week I learned, after six years, that they hurt her and offended her.”
In an attempt to compliment Branch-Wise on her haircut, Hancock had texted, “loved the short doo. You made it hard on a brotha to keep it correct everyday.:)” A friendly, non-sexual compliment, such as “loved the short doo,” would have been much more appropriate. Hancock’s refusal to acknowledge that texting an employee, “You look sexy in all that black! LOL!” is sexual harassment—not just a friendly text from a boss—demonstrates that either Hancock does not understand what sexual harassment is or is unable to admit when he has made a mistake. It is further evidence that he is unfit to be a leader, a civil servant, and a public official.
“Once an abuse of power is uncovered, it is not something a simple apology should fix,” said Colleen Zahradnicek, who has filed to run for a council seat in the May 2019 election. “We can and should expect our city leaders not to sexually harass their employees. We can do better than tolerating this behavior.”
“They say they want to be transparent but then there’s no transparency,” said Branch-Wise. “The mayor says he made a mistake and because he said, ‘Oops, I goofed’ then this all goes away. That’s not fair. No. No one else in the city would be able to get away with that,” she said.
In 2012, Branch-Wise reported that Hancock’s friend and political advisor, Wayne McDonald, had also harassed her. Hancock is in a position of leadership and sets the example of what is and isn’t acceptable workplace behavior. McDonald may have felt emboldened by Hancock’s brazen harassment, observed that Hancock received no repercussions for his actions, and therefore perpetuated harassment. Four days after Branch-Wise reported McDonald, McDonald was fired. So if McDonald lost his position for harassing Branch-Wise, why is Hancock allowed to keep his job?