• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Up Close: Scott Stringer accused of sexual abuse, reopening New York City

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

In this episode of Up Close, a former campaign volunteer is accusing New York City Comptroller and mayoral candidate Scott Stringer of sexual abuse.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

- This is Eyewitness News Upclose with Bill Ritter.

JEANNE KIM: Scott Stringer repeatedly groped me, put his hands on my thighs.

SCOTT STRINGER: I didn't do this. I'm going to fight for the truth because these allegations are false.

BILL RITTER: A former campaign volunteer accusing New York City Comptroller and mayoral candidate, Scott Stringer, of sexual abuse. She says it happened nearly two decades ago. He denies it and says it was consensual relationship. This morning, we talked to Mr. Stringer about the allegations, about how it's affecting his campaign, and the major issues facing whoever becomes the next mayor of the country's biggest city.

Also this morning, how in the world can we predict the New York City can fully reopen on July 1st? mayor de Blasio is doing that. So what data is he basing that on? Or is it just hope that more people will get vaccinated and masking rules will be followed? This morning, we talked to ABC's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Jen Ashton.

Now, good morning, everyone. Welcome to Up Close. I'm Bill Ritter. This past week, a bombshell allegation in the race for New York Mayor. A former campaign volunteer accusing Scott Stringer of sexual assault nearly 20 years ago. But Mr. Stringer, the current city Comptroller, insists he did nothing wrong. And says the two were in a consensual relationship.

Jeanne Kim who is now a political lobbyist claims Stringer repeatedly grabbed her back in 2001 when she interned on one of his campaigns. She claims the unwanted advances took place during taxi rides. And Stringer warned her not to tell anyone.

JEANNE KIM: Scott Stringer repeatedly groped me, put his hands on my thighs and between my legs. And demanded to know why I wouldn't have sex with him.

BILL RITTER: After Miss Kim spoke, Mr. Stringer held a news conference of his own emphatically denying the allegations. But late Friday, the Working Families Party withdrew its endorsement along with New York Congressman Jamaal Bowman. But other supporters are asking for more information before they decide what to do. And joining us now. Scott Stringer, to talk about all of this, and like the other candidates we've had on Up Close about why he wants to be the next mayor of New York. Mr. Stringer, welcome again to Up Close.

SCOTT STRINGER: Bill, good to be with you this morning.

BILL RITTER: I guess this is the strangest time you've ever had as a political candidate. Have you ever been accused of sexual abuse before?

SCOTT STRINGER: No, never.

BILL RITTER: And when did you last talk to Miss Kim? Did she tell you she was going to go public with this? How did you find out? And what did you say to her if you did talk to her?

SCOTT STRINGER: Well, if I could, I want to say that I think it's important that women have a space to be able to bring forth allegations against men in regards to sexual abuse. Because so often, those allegations do not get heard. And I do want Miss Kim to be heard. I also want to be heard. And I want to say without any hesitation, total categorical absolute denial of every one of these allegations.

This is not how I-- this is not how I talk, this is not how I act. And this is not me. It's not who I am.

BILL RITTER: You claim that you had a consensual relationship with her, on again, off again, for many months. Did she ever tell you, "Hey, you abused me, I don't like it"? Did she ever tell you that she was going to go public this last week?

SCOTT STRINGER: No, never.

BILL RITTER: When's the last time you talked to her?

SCOTT STRINGER: Well, I mean we-- look, we were friends for many years. She was not an intern in my campaign. She was a friend, who like many of my friends back in 2001 volunteered for my campaign. She was not paid by me. She's never worked for me. And that's a fact. So the intern thing is not true. Where she did want to work for me in 2013, she sent me a resume. Sent our person an email saying she very much wanted to work for me.

Before that, she had sent emails saying that she wanted actually to help me go out to Queens and other places. And so everything was fine. We did not hire her in the 2013 Comptroller race. She ended up working for my opponent, Eliot Spitzer. We did not speak, you know, after she went for-- went to work for Mr. Spitzer for obvious reasons.

BILL RITTER: And so you haven't talked to her in years is what that means. Since the election was in 2013.

SCOTT STRINGER: No.

BILL RITTER: OK. You had no indication. How did you find out that she was going to go public with these allegations?

SCOTT STRINGER: We saw a press release. And then we found out that she made the allegations. And we waited to see what the allegations were. I wanted to be very respectful. And once she made her allegations, I came out with my wife. And we categorically said this was not true. It did not happen. I don't talk this way. This is just simply not true.

I do respect and hope that she has the space to make her comments. But I also have to make sure that I'm speaking truth as well. And allegations need to be corroborated. There needs to be an airing and a transparency. And that's all I'm asking for.

BILL RITTER: All this came out on Wednesday. On Friday, Miss Kim made some news as well. Because on Thursday night, she's a stand up comic as well. And she was part of a Zoom comedy show on the internet. And she had some things to say. And I want to get your reaction to it. Let's show the viewers what she said.

JEANNE KIM: I had to "me too" one of the politicians I used to work with because he couldn't keep this thing in his pants.

- Oh.

- Oh.

- Oh.

- Oh.

JEANNE KIM: Yeah. You know, and I actually-- I was watching myself on, you know, New York 1 and the local news. I actually knocked Rudy Giuliani off of the top view.

BILL RITTER: What's your-- what was your reaction when you saw that, Mr. Stringer?

SCOTT STRINGER: I'm going to take my campaign to the people who will decide whether they're going to hire me or fire me. And that's the voters of New York City. I'm out campaigning in every neighborhood. I was in Harlem this morning. I just got back from Brooklyn to be on this show. I'm just not going to speculate. And you know, I'm certainly not going to comment on the things that are coming out. It's really for other people to, you know, to take a look at, to ask questions, and then to make decisions.

But I have every faith in the voters of New York City when they watch something like that or other things. But I'm really focused on the campaign. And I'm really focused on being the next mayor of New York City and building back this city. Because that's ultimately the contribution I want to make. I want to do this for my two children. I want to do this for my family. But I want to do it for the families of our city that I care about so much.

BILL RITTER: I assume that was not your reaction when you first saw that. Let's say in your reaction to your wife or your campaign advisors and whatnot.

SCOTT STRINGER: You know, I'm home with my wife and my two boys. And to be honest, until you showed me that, I have not-- I did not see it.

BILL RITTER: So this was your first reaction? This is the first time you saw that?

SCOTT STRINGER: Yes. And my reaction is I'm going to take it to the streets. Can win this election. Because I have a 30 year record, a record of integrity and honesty. And let the voters decide.

BILL RITTER: OK. Real quick, as I do want to get to some issues of the campaign. But some of your opponents, and there are, you know, 8 or 9 of them have said you should resign. A couple of them have. And you have called on Governor Cuomo to resign after his eight allegations against him of sexual harassment and abuse. Any contradiction in that? Have you rethought-- have you thought about this at all? Or you're pretty steadfast about wanting to stay in this race?

SCOTT STRINGER: Well, first of all, I am staying in the race. I've raised one of the-- a lot of money. And I have advertisements running. I have strong political support, strong name recognition. And I'm going up in the polls. And I expect it to continue.

Look, my-- the candidates running against me, you know, they have their right to their opinions and to campaign the way they want to. I'm going to campaign the way I'm going to. I've always run hard. I've always run tough races. This is a tough race. But New York like somebody who sticks out, and fights, and talks, and is transparent and honest. And that's what I'm going to be.

BILL RITTER: Well, we appreciate you coming on and talking about this, Mr. Stringer on Up Close. I want to get to some of the issues now. Because you are running and we've had other candidates on. I want to get your opinions about what you need to do. Well, first of all, why do you want to be mayor? And you know, it's inarguably this would be the strongest, toughest challenges any mayor will have ever faced. The next one elected mayor of New York.

SCOTT STRINGER: Well, first I love this city. And I want to see the city come back. I want to see the economy open differently than we closed it. I want to battle the health disparities that cost so many lives, especially in communities of color. I want to talk about the issues, the challenging issues for our children.

Look, I have two kids, a third grader and a second grader in public school. I know that this is going to be a long road for our children. We need a mayor who has a plan, who has vision, and skills to get this done. This is not a time-- this is not a time for first time candidacies. This is a time for somebody who's spent 30 years in government making tough decisions. It's not a mayor to be on training wheels.

BILL RITTER: You already have been the Comptroller for eight years. You were a Manhattan borough president for many years. You see all the closed down stores that we have here. When Mayor de Blasio ran his first campaign in 2013, he campaigned trying to fight this tale of two cities, the haves and the have nots. It is inarguably worse now than it was eight years ago, nine years ago. What are you going to do about it? How do you fix all these closed stores? How do you bring all these jobs back? How do you bring some New Yorkers back that left during the pandemic?

SCOTT STRINGER: Well, the tale of two cities, we added more chapters to the book. And COVID expose how government has disappointed the working people of this city. How they were treated, how they were protected. So I'm going to go in and shake everything up at City Hall. We're going to manage the city. We're going to streamline programs so that they actually go to the people. We're not going to have any pay to play. We're going to do this mayoralty the way it should have been done.

And so what I'm going to do when it comes to small business? I'm going to take a billion dollars in stimulus money. We're going to create a grants program for all those businesses that are literally clinging to life. They need grants to restock their stores, to hire the workers.

And you know, Bill, I was calling out the challenge of our vacant commercial corridors even before the pandemic. We now have at least 17 million square foot of vacant retail space. So we need to incentivize new mom and pop stores to get into those commercial corridors. We need to get the city agencies off the backs of our business people, the people who hire folks with 50 people are less than the small business. I know how to do that. We have a detailed plan to do that.

But we also have to think about what the new economy is going to look like for our young people. The green economy is real. The retrofitting opportunity is for real. Let's get people trained workforce development training so they can also get back in the workforce.

BILL RITTER: And that's a longer run strategy. The shorter run strategy might be to figure out a way to not get people evicted from their apartments and their homes. There was a May 1st deadline. Now, it's been extended to parts of summer. How long do you want to extend that? And how much help is needed to help people afford rents that they don't have jobs to pay for?

SCOTT STRINGER: No, we cannot put people out in the street. That's inhumane. That money, that stimulus money that rent set aside must help people. Because they're not going to be able to pay rent arrears. We have to help the small business, I'm sorry, the small landlord who has mortgage obligations, as well as the renters who are going to face arrears.

But right now, I do support the August moratorium because we're just getting back on our feet. We're getting our sea legs. And we don't want to cause more hardship for people who are still unemployed. Remember, Bill, we have 600,000 jobs that we have lost. Got some of-- you know, some of the economy back but not all.

BILL RITTER: OK. The flip side of that is forgiveness of property taxes has been talked about for landlords who have forgiven rent by their tenants. Is that a possible thing? You know, the city needs- you're the Comptroller, you know this. The city needs billions of dollars.

SCOTT STRINGER: Well, we need billions of dollars but we also have to deal with the crisis at hand. Thanks to smart action by the legislature, we are going to see more revenue come to New York City. Thanks to Chuck Schumer in Washington D.C, we're going to see-- as well as the congressional delegation, we're going to see $6 billion in stimulus money. That money is only good for, you know, 2 years, 2 and 1/2 years. So we need an experienced mayor who knows how to invest that stimulus that will turn into multiple years of help.

BILL RITTER: I literally have 15 seconds for you to answer this question. It's a minute kind of answer, a 10 minute answer. Mayor de Blasio wants to reopen everything a 100% in New York City by July 1st. Is that too early? Is he dealing with data or hope? 15 seconds.

SCOTT STRINGER: Maybe, maybe a little of both. We have not yet crunched the data or the data on the budget that he's proposed. But we'll be coming back to you shortly with that analysis.

BILL RITTER: Well, keep us posted because we're all waiting. Scott Stringer, thank you for for coming on, making your case. We appreciate it. It's a different time for a politician with this. And I appreciate you coming on Up Close. Good luck.

SCOTT STRINGER: Thank you very much. Take care, Bill.

BILL RITTER: And to our viewers, by the way, we plan to continue our interviews with leading candidates for mayor. This is the seventh one so far. We hope you find them informative at least. When we come back, mass requirements eased. And now a national push to reopen as we head into the summer. Is this the right move? And what to do about the people who are hesitant to get the vaccines? We talk to ABC's Dr. Jen Ashton. That's next.

Welcome back to Up Close. Here's the hard truth. Less than 30% of Americans are fully vaccinated. Experts say, ideally up to 85% will be fully vaccinated to defeat this pandemic. Vaccine hesitancy, the perhaps way too polite phrase to use for those who are not taking the shots. No matter what we call it, how big a problem is this?

Joining us now to discuss that and more, ABC News chief medical correspondent, Dr. Jen Ashton. How big a problem is vaccine hesitancy? And if all the people who didn't want to get the shot didn't get it, could we still kill this pandemic?

DR. JENNIFER ASHTON: Well, there's so much to unpack there, Bill. First of all, let's talk about the motivation on the part of the people who have questions, concerns. Inquisitiveness. I feel like is a better term than hesitancy. But you know, that's OK, that's appropriate, that's normal. The job of us in the medical field, in public health, and in science is to allay those fears with facts. And to go by the facts and not emotion.

And I think that when that is done and when people understand how this vaccine or these vaccines work, how the virus can do real damage not just in terms of serious illness or death but in terms of long term side effects and endangering the lives of others, I think that most people with time will come to the decision to take the vaccine. But I think that we are making progress. Is it as quickly as we would like? Of course not. Are we out of the woods? Absolutely not. All you have to do is look at what's happening in India for a reminder of that. But I think we are starting to see signs with vaccination metrics that we're going in the right direction.

BILL RITTER: So let me ask you that. And we will use this as a launching pad to things that are happening in New York. Just this past week, on Thursday, mayor de Blasio says he wants all of New York reopened a 100% by July 1st. Governor Cuomo now says by May 7th, restaurants can have 75% capacity filled up. Is this based on hope? Is it based on data? A little bit of both? Can we look-- you know, you like to say all the time, I don't have a crystal ball. And it seems like these guys are using a crystal ball a little bit.

DR. JENNIFER ASHTON: Well, I would hope and like to think that they are making those predictions and putting those dates out there based on more facts than hope. But I think it has to be a combination. We have to incentivize our society to get vaccinated if we want to do things like go to restaurants, and sporting events, concerts, and Broadway. And people need to see that that carrot is real and not just a mythical kind of dream put forth in front of us.

So I think it's a complicated situation. But I want to be very, very clear. If you hear that headline and you are fraught with anxiety or trepidation because you have not been vaccinated, I think that tells you exactly how important that vaccine is for our peace of mind, for our physical safety, and our psychological comfort as we reopen.

BILL RITTER: We are having-- actually, the tri-state Northeast in general a bigger reaction. More people are getting vaccinated. You know, the 30% are in the United States as a whole. There was an interesting wire story on Friday, saying that there's this thing called you know, anxiety about the vaccines. And that's causing some people to not-- you know, not want to do it. And there's five states where actually over three days, they sort of got sick. The reaction to the shots because of anxiety in the reaction. And so the psychological impact here is huge, right?

DR. JENNIFER ASHTON: Well, this is something that anyone who's in clinical practice in medicine like I am has seen this. They know this. The CDC was tracking these kind of reactions in at least five states and found anxiety about possible side effects related to the vaccine did, in fact drive reports of side effects.

And let me explain to you how that works. This is not made up. It's not woo, woo fluffy. It actually has to do with the thing that most people have heard of, the placebo effect. If you think something will work, 30% of the time you will get a positive clinical result. The opposite is also true, Bill. If you think something won't work, if you think you'll have a side effect, it's called the nocebo effect. You will have side effects.

And I see that all the time in my practice. And I think where these vaccine related side effects are concerned, we're seeing that as well. Remember, side effects are common. It's your immune system working. They are not serious. They don't require hospitalization in the majority of cases. And the benefits of that vaccine far outweigh any risks of these short term non-life threatening side effects.

BILL RITTER: You said you hoped that people like mayor de Blasio when he said he wants to open New York City July 1st, which we just talked about. I want to go back just for a second. And we only have a couple of seconds to talk about this. But are you worried? Is that just too far in the future to predict? Or is he just trying to be hopeful about that?

DR. JENNIFER ASHTON: No, I think it's achievable. But I think we have to be smart. People need to get vaccinated. People need to follow the CDC recommendations. And understand that if you put yourself in a crowded situation, you're not vaccinated and you're indoors, that does represent higher risk if the majority of people around you are unvaccinated. So multiple reasons for us to get that vaccine.

BILL RITTER: Good advice as always. Dr. Jen, thanks for joining us on Up Close again. Good to see you. When we come back, the first 100 days of the Joe Biden presidency is gone, over. So what has he accomplished? How much does he want to spend to fix the problems that plagued the nation in a pandemic recession? And what are the chances he gets his ambitious multitrillion plans through Congress? We discuss that with our political team next.

Welcome back to Up Close. Let's get right to our political team. ABC News political director, Rick Klein and political consultant, Hank Sheinkopf. Gentlemen, once again, thank you for joining us on Up Close. Let's get to the Biden speech this past Wednesday and five days ago. But in fact, the politics of it are going to resonate for months. He really tried to say this is what we have to do to rebuild the middle class up again and get out of this recession. Rick, how big a hill does he have to climb on this?

RICK KLEIN: Well, he's got a hill of public opinion to try to climb on this. First and foremost, the country is at a point where we can finally say that we are close to the end. He's going to have a heck of a challenge though getting people that are vaccine hesitant to really defeat the disease once and for all. And then beyond that, to begin to embrace the quite expansive view of government and what government can do. Trillions of dollars in new spending that he's proposing. And looking for a skeptical Congress and a skeptical country to go along for the ride with him.

And it's going to be difficult. But the president clearly sees himself in major historic terms at this moment. And thinks that there are big things that government can and should be doing for people.

BILL RITTER: And Hank, you know, a lot-- if you look at a checklist for his first 100 days, which we have passed, you know, a lot of things are really bold. And you know, climate change and transgender rights, everything. But unless there are jobs, everything else falls by the wayside. Because without jobs, we stay mired in this recession.

HANK SHEINKOPF: Truly, it's truly accurate what you're saying. You know, without jobs, without people feeling they're going to be brought back into the middle class, not just black people or Latinos but frankly blue collar whites, he's going to lose this argument. That's the problem. Billy has got to bring everyone in.

BILL RITTER: And to do that, Rick, you know this guy who built his reputation on being bipartisan is saying, "Look, Republicans," he said it at the speech the other night, "If we don't do this, you know, standing still and doing nothing is not an option here." And implying that he's going to go ahead and push this through or at least try.

RICK KLEIN: Yeah, well there is a distinction that I hadn't heard quite laid out this way before, which was national unity is a goal that may be separate from bipartisanship. Usually, we think of the two things as entwined. But he views this as, look, we can do these things that help the country overall, that the public supports. Whether or not there are Republicans who support it in Congress is immaterial.

And I think there's a push pull between a couple of different versions of Joe Biden. The deal maker that used to be in the Senate versus the president now who sees himself at this historical juncture. And clearly, he's becoming more of the latter. Someone who's trying to go big. If he can get it done even if that means getting it done without any Republican support.

BILL RITTER: Yeah, I think he does want to make friends with the Republicans, Hank. Nicole Malliotakis, the Congresswoman from Staten Island. They sort of hit it off a little bit. They said let's talk about stuff. And she's not the one that necessarily going to praise Joe Biden. But it did seem like there was maybe an indicator of possibilities anyway, of some sort of detente.

HANK SHEINKOPF: He's looking to bring what we used to call the Reagan Democrats back into the Democrat fold. How does he do that? He becomes the economic equalizer president. That's what he wants to do. And he sees the danger if we don't do some of that. We can't go on this way, two separate nations. It's no longer just about race. It's not about economics. And that's what he's really talking about.

BILL RITTER: It's also about Donald Trump still, even though a lot of people would say that we don't want it to be about Donald Trump. But he did something that most presidents would never do. And that is former presidents. And that is speak about another president's speech three months after he's left office. He did that several times. And now his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, this past week was raided by the FBI. What does all this mean politically? I don't want you to get into the legal stuff, Rick or Hank. But what does it mean politically?

RICK KLEIN: Well, the Trump era clearly isn't over. I mean, he is gone. But he is isn't allowing himself to be forgotten. We also saw Mike Pence emerge in the last couple of days. The strands of Trumpism are still very strong in the Republican Party. And there are hints and maybe more than that of legal action against Trump and a lot of people around him that have an impact on it. But none of it is going to make him go away.

And he is indicating that he's thinking about running again. And even if though the voice is muted compared to what it used to be when he had the ultimate megaphone of the White House and social media channels like Facebook and Twitter, it is still an outsized voice. And Republicans are listening. And continue to listen and take their cues from the man who's ensconced at Mar-a-Lago.

BILL RITTER: Hank, your take on that.

HANK SHEINKOPF: Look, Donald Trump matters a lot to Republicans. But not all Republicans, some Republicans. And a lot of what occurs will depend on frankly when people stop-- when they get tired of hearing him scapegoat others for what he may have done or allowed those close to him like Giuliani to do while he was in office.

BILL RITTER: And the fake narrative of the scandalous election results still in play. Hank Sheinkopf, Rick Klein, thank you once again gentlemen for giving us some insight on Up Close. See you next time.

RICK KLEIN: Thanks, Bill.

BILL RITTER: And that's going to do it for this edition of Up Close. [INAUDIBLE] is next. If you missed any of today's programs, I'm going to post today segments on my Facebook page. That will happen tomorrow. Thank you all for watching. I'm Bill Ritter. And from all of us here at Channel 7, we wish you health and peace. And let's take care of each other.

[MUSIC PLAYING]