Maryland senator accuses lobbyist of improper touching

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

State Sen. Cheryl Kagan said a General Assembly lobbyist touched her inappropriately Thursday evening during a karaoke night at an Annapolis bar.

In a statement she released Friday on Senate letterhead, Kagan said it was not the first time that lobbyist Gil Genn, a former lawmaker, put his hands on her. She said she decided to publicly “call him out” now because it was the first time it happened since the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment began dominating national news.

“How someone would still have the audacity to do that, in this climate, astonished me,” Kagan said. She said she plans to file a formal complaint about the incident.

Genn denies he touched Kagan at all, calling her account of their brief karaoke night encounter “delusional.”

Although Maryland’s female lawmakers published a report describing anonymous accounts of sexual harassment in the General Assembly, Kagan is the first sitting Maryland lawmaker to publicly accuse someone of inappropriate conduct.

Kagan said Genn interrupted a conversation she was having with a former aide at the CastleBay Irish Pub on Main Street around 10 p.m. and slid his hand all the way down her back until he “grazed my tush.”

“It was completely inappropriate,” Kagan said. “And then he wanted to carry on a conversation.”

Genn said he and a group of friends had been at the bar for a while, and that he briefly ran into Kagan while leaving the bar with his longtime girlfriend. He said it would have been impossible for him to touch the senator because he had a wet coat and umbrella in his hand.

“This is so stunning and shocking, I'm almost breathless,” Genn said.

Genn and Kagan, both Montgomery County Democrats, have known each other for more than 20 years. Genn said he suspected Kagan was making the accusation in retribution for his lobbying firm’s opposition to the senator’s proposed ban on foam cups.

Kagan said that is not the case.

“Lobbyists have opposed various legislative proposals over my eight years in the House and four years in the Senate,” she said. “I’ve never leveled an accusation like this against any of them. … I don’t mind when people disagree with me. I have a problem with people who lie or disrespect me or my beliefs.”

Justin Fiore, Kagan's former chief of staff, said that after the senator introduced her to Genn they chatted briefly until Kagan's eyes went wide and she went stiff.

“All of a sudden, her facial expression changed, her body language shifted, and she is looking at me in the eyes with that stare that says, 'I need to get out of this situation.' " Fiore said. "It was every physical sign that one can give to say they're not comfortable."

He couldn't see the incident, but after Genn left a few seconds later, Kagan told him what happened, Fiore said.

Kagan noted that Genn has donated to her campaigns in the past.

She said that when their terms overlapped in the House of Delegates in the late 1990s, on at least two occasions Genn put his hand on her stomach, right below her breasts. She said he stopped after she threatened to tell his then-wife.

Genn called that allegation “as false as this delusional representation of what she said happened last night.”

Genn’s lobbying partner, Lorenzo Bellamy, released a statement about the allegations.

“As managing partner, I am concerned about the allegations raised by Senator Kagan,” Bellamy wrote. “I have the upmost personal and professional respect for all of my clients and legislators. I do not condone and have zero tolerance for any inappropriate behavior.”

Genn and Bellamy launched the Bellamy Glenn Group in September.

Kagan said in her written statement that she was making the accusation public because she was speaking up for legislative staff and interns “who are clearly more vulnerable than a Senator whose votes could affect a lobbyist’s clients.”

Kagan had posted on Facebook Thursday night after the encounter, saying she was “SO tempted to start naming names as a consequence.”

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller’s chief of staff, Pat Murray, said their office reached out to Kagan after seeing the post and encouraged her to report the incident.

“We take this very seriously,” Murray said.

The General Assembly revamped its sexual harassment policy late last year to include tracking of complaints and an annual report that identified sustained cases of harassment.

Legislative leaders in January created a 14-member commission to examine how to further expand the legislature’s process for preventing and addressing sexual assault. The current policy and procedures don’t cover lobbyists since they are not General Assembly employees. The commission is considering what to do when a lobbyist is accused of wrong doing.

ecox@baltsun.com

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