Former Philadelphia City Council candidate Irina Goldstein, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for an at-large seat in the spring, is adding detail to the story that landed her on the cover of the Philadelphia Inquirer on June 25 and that spurred the resignation of Val DiGiorgio, the former head of the Pennsylvania Republican Party. The story has also triggered new accusations against DiGiorgio from other women, as the Inquirer reported this week.
The June 25 cover story by Chris Brennan outlined Goldstein’s claims that DiGiorgio reached out to her via Facebook and initiated a relationship that was unprofessional. As they spoke over a number of months, Goldstein alleged, DiGiorgio made various assurances about getting Goldstein into meetings with donors and power players within the Republican Party in order to help her campaign. At the same time, he initiated sexually charged conversations.
Later, Goldstein told Brennan, she began to feel harassed by DiGiorgio’s messages, and told him so. DiGiorgio disputed the characterization of the conversations as harassment. He tendered his resignation on June 25, the day the story was published.
Goldstein disputes none of the facts of the Inquirer story, but she does believe that the framing of her story — with an “emphasis on the ‘sexting’ and ‘#MeToo‘ angle,'” as she put it in an email to the Exponent — distracted from what she felt was the most important aspect of the narrative: “bad leadership in the GOP that was hurting everyone.”
“The way the story was presented was a misrepresentation of the fundamental problem: dysfunction in the GOP and their power brokers, and calling it anything else was dishonest,” Goldstein said. “Had Mr. DiGiorgio not come on to me, friend request me and make immediate crude sexual remarks, none of this would have happened. He was looking for someone to take advantage of and somewhere to throw his power and connections around, and he tried to find that in a young and ambitious candidate, and in the process everyone lost because of his bad choices and lack of ethics.”
She said the fact that DiGiorgio’s behavior pertained to sex was not the salient fact. “This is no classic #MeToo situation,” she said, “and I no victim.” (“Our story speaks for itself,” Brennan said.)
Goldstein also provided additional detail about how she perceived her communications with DiGiorgio, and why she felt politically compromised by them.
“I recognized early on someone trying to take advantage of me, their perceptions of me and my newness to the party and politics,” she said. “While I did attempt to reject the advances and keep it professional but civil, I ultimately decided to play along … based on my knowledge of who Mr. DiGiorgio was and who he knew and had influence over locally.”
That “playing along,” she said, was a strategy to protect herself “due to his connections to the local party and their ability to influence the outcome of a race my team, my family and I worked tirelessly and relentlessly on behalf of. I did not want this man’s bad decisions to determine my outcome.”
Goldstein strenuously objected to the notion that the communications between them were consensual, as DiGiorgio claimed.
“To suggest that anyone in my position could be a willing accomplice and the exchanges consensual is extremely irresponsible and dangerous as it further tells women who are put in these positions to not come forward,” she said. “Because of his position and connections, the position he put me in from the first moments of messaging me already disregarded all [consent] as I was never asked if that was OK with me, and every time I stated I wasn’t interested in his attention, he kept pressing the issue.”
She felt pressured to please DiGiorgio once she realized how much influence he had.
“Mr. DiGiorgio offered help and mentorship to me in exchange for my ‘friendship’ — all things I declined until I realized the party was working actively to block my advances and it was all those who had deep ties to DiGiorgio,” she said. “While he didn’t cost me my election, his poor leadership has cost the entire state.”
Despite her experience, Goldstein said, she’s still optimistic about the future of the GOP in Pennsylvania, even as its leadership is embattled by new claims that it did not respond appropriately to other complaints about DiGiorgio.
“I do not believe in any way that [DiGiorgio’s behavior] is a reflection of all men in power nor is it a reflection of the GOP, and that’s precisely why nipping it in the bud was important,” she said. “I hope that the new state elections will usher in a new dawn for the state and local GOP, where the leaders picked will be there to truly serve, honor and help grow the party. Small holes sink great ships and the GOP can’t afford any more miscalculations.”
Looking forward to 2020, Goldstein said, “I think it would benefit us all a great deal if we clean house of DiGiorgio’s leadership team and the power brokers that have created an environment where backroom deals and selling out to Democrats for contracts and other benefits has become the norm. I hope the Republican State Committee will make some fair and balanced decisions when they go to elect a new chair this month.”
DiGiorgio has not replied to a request for comment about the latest allegations against him, but he released a statement when he resigned, saying, “A recent media report contains gross mischaracterizations of mutual consensual communications between myself and a former primary candidate. My resignation should in no way be confused as confirmation of these mischaracterizations. I intend to rigorously defend myself against these assertions and protect my family, my colleagues, and the party from this private matter.”
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