LANSING, Mich. —
Virg Bernero dropped his plans to run for a fourth term as Lansing mayor on Sunday.
Liz Hart may have had something to do with it.
Hart is a past campaign intern for Bernero, who says she was sexually harassed by the former mayor. Her experiences were first reported by Mlive.
She describes their first interactions; "When I met him as an intern, like before I'd met him, I definitely got a creeper feel from him."
"Like, I totally caught him checking me out... doing the up and down thing with his eyes," she said.
For Hart, who started working for Bernero in 2013, the sexual harassment would only get worse.
"He started talking about his fantasies of threesomes," she said.
She was warned by an office manager that Virg could be "flirty," or touchy."
"When I would wear my hair in a ponytail or down like this, he would pull it," says Hart.
"If he was making phone calls, walking around, he would pull at it... you know? Grab your shoulder and like touch your neck in a squeezing way."
Hart worked for Bernero for nine months.
She recounts a certain flirtatious pattern.
"We were having lunch and I sat down and I was wearing sandals, he sat down next to me and my feet were crossed. He took his finger and just moved it up my leg. I was like, 'Please don't do that. I told you the first time it wasn't okay, it's not okay this time.'"
"Later on we had phone calls to make, and that's when he told me about his foot fetish. He said, 'I just have a foot fetish, and you have beautiful feet,'" she said.
Hart says the harassment would happen almost every time she was with Bernero, "probably like 98 percent of the time."
Bernero declined to comment for this story, saying he was out of town with family and could not guarantee a future interview.
But Sunday, one day before these accusations became public, Bernero dropped out of the mayor's race.
Announcing the news on Facebook, he vaguely referenced sexual harassment allegations.
"Guided by faith, family and love for the city of Lansing and its residents, I stepped into the race for mayor," he wrote. "I was running as a better man than the one who left office 4 years ago, but not a perfect man, and was heartened and bolstered by the support of many of you. I had hoped to be a catalyst for necessary change that would bring new growth - and maybe I have been. My wife and family have forgiven me for the mistakes of the past, but politics is less forgiving.
"With gratitude and love as my compass and with unbound confidence in Lansing's future, I end my quest for mayor. This son of an Italian produce man will remain loyal to the city that so greatly honored me for 12 years. God bless Lansing and each of you!"
Hart has seen the post.
"His response is just your typical response of any guy getting called out for sexual harassment," she said.
"'I'm a changed man, I went to therapy.’ I'm glad his family's forgiving him..." Hart said. "But at the same time, I feel like there's multiple steps in that process. One of those is maybe reconciling with your victims, or at least acknowledging that you hurt them and apologizing to them instead of denying it and just saying you're a changed man. I think it changed man would actually address it."
Hart says Bernero ultimately robbed her of something incredibly important, the love she felt for her hometown.
"When the rumors started coming out that I was his mistress... Everyone in the city just looked at me a different way," remembers Hart.
"I just became silent and just tried to hide, and I hated Lansing for that."
So Hart got out of Lansing.
The young woman who once dreamed of spending her entire life in Michigan's capital city is now in a happy and loving relationship out West.
Her last wish for those still living in Lansing is to hold sexual predators accountable and never be scared to speak up.
"Without us all speaking up about what's happening, male or female, we'll never know each other's stories," concludes Hart.
"Then how do we help each other? I think that's what I really want, for anyone watching or reading to know it's never too late to speak up."
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