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Allegations against Denver mayor ignite debate regarding sexual harassment

Posted at 5:42 PM, Mar 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-02 00:44:21-05

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DENVER — It all started with an anonymous letter to Chief Investigative Reporter Tony Kovaleski.

“Talk to Leslie Branch-Wise,” it advised. “Get the real story about her settlement with the city and her complaints about the mayor.” 

In time, he did what other journalists couldn't: Convince the former Denver Police detective to show him the evidence and talk about what happened.

Our story, showing texts from Denver Mayor Michael Hancock calling Branch-Wise "sexy" and asking her about "pole dancing," set off a firestorm.

There's More to the Story | Mayor apologizes after detective accuses him of sexual harassment

The texts, she said, were clear examples of sexual harassment. A University of Colorado professor and expert in sexual harassment law agreed.

The mayor didn't think it went that far and many who read the story thought Denver7 was making a mountain out of a molehill. City officials called Denver7 “salacious” and “unfair.”  

Others on Facebook questioned the content of the texts.

Jeannette Malone Scarpello took to the Denver7 Facebook page saying, "Maybe it's just me, but when I was younger, this used to be called flirting! So what? Big deal!! And after 6 years??? Please!"

Jeannette is not alone.

London Pray questioned those texts, too, writing, "I found nothing sexual in this. I'm not defending this guy but where was her text saying stop? No response isn't a solution."

But some felt the messages the mayor allegedly sent to Branch-Wise crossed the line.

Vanessa Osizzle wrote on Facebook, "It is sexual harassment when a boss flirt or otherwise comments or compliments the appearance of a subordinate in a leading way PERIOD. It's not criminal harassment but it sure is HR level harassment because the subordinate can now be subject to feeling forced to accept these advances or lose their job."

There are a lot of questions now about what the mayor should do next. Some are calling for his resignation — others say not so fast.  

In an editorial published Thursday, the Denver Post calls the mayor’s texts, "galling and evidence of unbelievably bad judgment.” 

But worthy of a pink slip? The Post's editorial board writes:

"We are compelled to believe both Hancock's handling of this matter and the fact that his behavior appears to be isolated shows he is worthy to continue through his current term."

Denver7 stands by the story. We believe the texts to be newsworthy, along with the interviews we did with Branch-Wise and Mayor Hancock.

Most of all, we believe that Denver voters will ultimately decide if Mayor Hancock should continue to lead the citizens of the Mile High City.