HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s Democratic Party chairman resigned Friday, acceding to Gov. Tom Wolf’s request that he step down in the wake of conflicting messages over how the party should respond to sexual misconduct allegations against politicians and party officials.
The last straw seemed to be Marcel Groen’s comments to a columnist this week that underscored the divide between Wolf — who has called for two Democratic state lawmakers to resign over allegations of sexual misconduct — and Groen, who has not lined up the party behind Wolf on it.
In a statement, Groen said he did nothing wrong and disagreed with Wolf’s “assessment,” but he agreed to resign because he did not want to be a distraction to the party.
At one point in The Philadelphia Inquirer column , Groen said Wolf was already unhappy with him over sexual misconduct policies. Reached by telephone Friday, Groen, a 72-year-old Montgomery County lawyer who became party chairman in 2015, declined to comment. Officials with Wolf’s campaign and administration also declined comment Friday.
Groen’s resignation comes amid a national reckoning over sexual misconduct in the workplace that has drawn in two state lawmakers and U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan of Pennsylvania.
In the column, Groen could not seem to explain the lack of an explicit party policy on sexual harassment and assault, something that party members said Groen had pledged to work on.
The party, under Groen, also had not echoed Wolf’s calls for two Democratic state lawmakers — Sen. Daylin Leach of Montgomery County and state Rep. Tom Caltagirone of Berks County — to step down after reports in recent weeks of sexual misconduct allegations.
In the column, Groen said neither he nor the party will tolerate workplace sexual misconduct, while stressing that “it’s important that we keep our balance” amid more aggressive action against it.
“These charges are very powerful and people that are being charged also should have the right to defend themselves,” he was quoted in the column.
In his statement, Groen said some of his comments were taken out of context and some were inaccurate, but he also said he should have spoken more artfully and clearly. Groen declined to give examples of any misquotes or lacking context.
The columnist, Will Bunch, responded that he stands by the column and that all of Groen’s comments were reported accurately and the context “stands for itself.”
Groen had plenty of time to correct any misquote, since the column was online for nearly a day before it appeared in print, Bunch said.
The party’s executive director, Sincere Harris, said the committee members will select a new chair at a regularly scheduled reorganization meeting in June.