The man at the center of a Portland election-season controversy is defending himself against the charge that he "engaged in some kind of serious sexual misconduct" against County Commissioner Loretta Smith.
Baruti Artharee, an aide to former mayor Charlie Hales, admitted in WW to 2013 that he commented on Smith's appearance at an event organized for black leaders and others: "Here's our beautiful commissioner, Loretta Smith. Mmm, mmm, mmm, she looks good tonight," he recounted at the time to WW.
He was ultimately suspended from his job at the mayor's office for a week for violating city policy against workplace harassment, before he later resigned.
Artharee's name resurfaced last week when he got up at an arts forum for Portland City Council candidates and danced the Electric Slide with front-runner Jo Ann Hardesty, Smith's opponent.
Smith made the matter a campaign issue—telling WW she viewed his dancing a few feet away from her as "a re-victimizing" of her.
Arathee returned fire in an open letter to Smith, a copy of which he emailed to WW. (The full letter is below.)
"You should be ashamed of yourself," he wrote. "For your own selfish political interests, last week you disgraced the many courageous women who in recent months have come forward with legitimate complaints of sexual harassment and assault. Your recent public comments about me falsely implied that I previously engaged in some kind of serious sexual misconduct against you. You know that it untrue and far from anything close to truth."
Both candidates declined to comment, but Smith's campaign objected to the idea she had not experienced sexual harassment.
"Trying to silence people who experience sexual harassment is the very thing that the #MeToo movement has been fighting," says campaign manager Elizabeth Mazzara Myers. "Our campaign stands with Loretta and all others who have experienced sexual harassment."
The Hardesty campaign said the candidate was unaware of the letter when contacted by WW.
"This is the first that Jo Ann is hearing about the letter," says campaign manager Anna Nguyen. "She doesn't know anything about it or these accusations. We're focused on the issues that are critical to working families and how Jo Ann can help solve those issues on the City Council, especially with only 25 days left. At this very moment, we're working on a questionnaire on housing and homelessness that is due later today."
Here is Artharee's letter in its entirety:
Dear Commissioner Smith: You should be ashamed of yourself. For your own selfish political interests, last week you disgraced the many courageous women who in recent months have come forward with legitimate complaints of sexual harassment and assault. Your recent public comments about me falsely implied that I previously engaged in some kind of serious sexual misconduct against you. You know that it untrue and far from anything close to truth. Specifically, you said: “He swung his hips the same way he had when had had made the suggestive and offensive remarks that led to his being fired from the Mayor’s office. He was happy to move his hips in front of me again.” Your stunning mischaracterization of the situation, including your reference to the situation that occurred in 2013, is grossly misleading and deeply upsetting to me, my reputation and my legacy. And most troubling, you recklessly made those accusations with absolutely no concern over how your false accusations would harm me. I and my family have been traumatized because people who know me, my son and grandsons often comment on how respectful we are. In my opinion, your actions against me now and in 2013 were motivated for purely political, selfish reasons – namely, to discredit me because of your loyalty to Roy Jay, who was your mentor and political supporter. As you well know, at that time I was one of seven African American professionals pushing hard for an investigation by the Department of Justice into Roy Jay’s embezzlement of $1,400,000 of charitable funds, which were intended to help low income and at-risk individuals. As you also know, the DOJ undertook that investigation, which eventually led to a settlement that required Mr. Jay to pay the DOJ $600,000, to dissolve all of his non-profit organizations, and to no longer serve in any fiduciary capacity with an Oregon non-profit without the DOJ’s written permission. I will get into that more below. But first, let me set the record straight. 1. In June 2013, at a public gathering, I made a public gaffe by commenting on your appearance. My introduction of you at the reception was meant to be a “shout out” to you because I had always extended that courtesy to any elected official when I served as a Master of Ceremonies. 2. When I made the comment, I did not “swing my hips” as you have stated. (In fact, the only person who claimed I did so has confided in me that she was pressured by Roy Jay to make that false claim to make me look bad.) 3. I meant no harm – but understand that it was an inappropriate comment in that political setting of grass-roots community leaders discussing diversity. 4. I admitted my mistake, I called you to apologize and, when you did not respond, I wrote you an apology. You never, ever responded. 5. I was not fired for my comment (nor have I been fired from any job). 6. I did not violate any law, state or federal. 7. We have never met privately and have only spoken over the phone when you initiated a call to me for political favor or support, which you most recently did earlier this year. I have never propositioned you, never asked you out for a date or ever even touched you. Any interactions between us have always occurred in a public setting. 8. After the incident, a group of women that I have worked with voluntarily wrote a letter to the Mayor to support me, stating among other things that: “We know him to be a man of integrity and honor. We know him to be a man who loves Portland and who had worked professionally and privately to better the lives of our citizens. The Baruti Artharee we know is and has been respectful of people of all ages, colors, sexes, orientations and beliefs.” 9. I am respectful of women and very proud of the relationships I have had with the women that I worked for, the women that I have worked with and the women that have worked for me. My track record in the promotion of diversity and inclusion for all people is almost unmatched in the public and private sectors. Now, turning to what in my opinion is your true motivation. Many people who have followed this story have said it “does not add up” or “it must be more to the story.” Your allegations are serious and have served up to deflect attention away from the real issue that originally made me a target of political retribution in 2013 and now. In 2013 when I begin to question and challenge the inappropriate use of charitable funds by your friend, mentor and adviser Roy Jay Harris, I came under verbal attacks to silence and/or discredit me. The primary culprits being you, Roy Jay Harris and Former State Senator Margret Carter. Your latest charges against me came shortly after I recently posted on Facebook for you to renounce your long-term ally, Roy Jay Harris and publically call for him to repay some of the $1.4 million he used for his own personal benefit (including things like condos in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and Sun River, Oregon), as identified by the DOJ’s financial investigation. Yet, you have remained silent. It is telling that you to this day you have never once denounced Mr. Jay’s serious and substantial misuse of charitable funds for his personal benefit alone. For that reason, I call on you now to speak up about the repayment of those monies, monies which were meant for low-income and at-risk citizens. Commissioner Smith: Call it what it is. Roy Jay embezzled money from his charities. Do the right thing and demand that Roy Jay returns that money. The fact that you have not and will not do so – and yet so easily and selfishly will vilify me for a public gaffe – reveals your true self as a ruthless, selfish and untrustworthy politician. I will no longer be silent and allow you to attack me with vengeful innuendos, misrepresentations and outright lies. I will show up, speak up and stand up at any community and political forum as I see fit. You will not silence me. Baruti L. Artharee