DENVER – Mayor Michael Hancock issued an apology Wednesday for a remark he made in a debate with Jamie Giellis Tuesday as he tried to explain why he didn’t believe texts he sent to Det. Leslie Branch-Wise amounted to sexual harassment, and Branch-Wise, a former member of Hancock’s security detail, called him a liar and endorsed his opponent.
Branch-Wise, who first came forward to Contact7 Investigates last year with claims of sexual harassment involving text messages from Hancock, had stayed out of the mayoral race until last week, when she told Westword that there were more text messages, allegedly including one that used a racial slur. He denied Wednesday remembering sending the text.
But Branch-Wise spoke at a news conference Wednesday alongside Giellis and said that the mayor’s Tuesday comments amounted to him “blatantly telling additional lies.”
At Tuesday’s debate hosted by the Denver Post, Hancock said: “When you see the texts from Det. Branch-Wise, you see my texts. … The reason why I said that it wasn’t sexual harassment is because you don’t see the back-and-forth conversation that occurred.”
“If he has these things, which he claims he does, I’m challenging him to come forward,” Branch-Wise said at Wednesday’s news conference, saying she decided Wednesday morning to come forward and speak publicly after seething over the debate Tuesday night.
She added that “there was nothing sent that was inappropriate” from her that would have amounted to what Hancock claimed: “If he says he has something else then I’d like to see because it doesn’t exist.”
Contact7 Investigates reviewed the text messages when first reporting the story last February. He calls her “sexy” in one and in another said: “You made it hard on a brotha to keep it correct every day.”
Hancock told Contact7 Investigates at the time that he believed his behavior was inappropriate but that it did not amount to sexual harassment. He said he “blurred the lines between being a friend and being a boss” and apologized.
In his statement Wednesday, which was released just prior to the news conference with Branch-Wise and Giellis, Hancock again said he apologized after he “misspoke” at the debate.
“The most important thing in all of this is that my behavior seven years ago was unacceptable and inappropriate. There is no justification for it, and it’s something I am deeply sorry for,” he said in the statement.
“My bad judgment is a mistake that I own. No one else. While the detective never indicated at the time that she felt the text messages were inappropriate, and signed a sworn affidavit to that effect, I know she feels differently today,” he added. “I am held accountable for this mistake every day. And I will continue to strive to do my best by the people of Denver.”
But Branch-Wise said she had given her support to Giellis, who said there was “a culture of sexual harassment in the city, starting with the mayor himself.”
She said Hancock was victim-blaming during the debate.
Hancock, in an interview a couple hours after Giellis and Branch-Wise spoke, said he would not respond to Branch-Wise’s claims, saying it was “unfortunate she feels that way,” but again apologized.
“Last night was a boneheaded attempt to try to explain the relationship I think we had, as I shared with you a year ago. And that, you know, you didn’t see the full exchange between us,” he told Contact7 Investigates. “But it was not the right way for me to explain it. It was boneheaded and I don’t want to take anything away from the seriousness in which I take this issue and the accountability that I want to own as part of this issue.”
Giellis said Wednesday’s news conference was about being open. She has been scrutinized in recent weeks for forgetting what the NAACP stood for and for a decade-old tweet, among other things, as the battle between she and Hancock grows uglier and the June 4 runoff date nears. She acknowledged as much Wednesday.
“I think it’s gotten away from focusing on the real issues and that’s an unfortunate thing,” she said. “But we are where we are.”