ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Richard Ellenberg, the embattled chairman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico hoping to lead the Democrats back into the governor's office, resigned Monday amid criticism over his handling of sexual misconduct claims.
Ellenberg announced his resignation in a letter Tuesday following a state party convention where he was accused of questioning the credibility of sexual misconduct allegations against a union leader and overseeing a delegate process some said favored certain candidates.
Previously, he had faced criticism for his response to a Democratic Party of New Mexico vice chair's claim that she was a target of unwanted sexual advances by a party official.
"I regret the way in which I have managed complaints of survivors who have come forward about sexual harassment, and take full responsibility to continue to learn and grow so that I can be an advocate and ally in the future," Ellenberg wrote in a letter to Democrats.
He said it would be best if he stepped down.
The call for Ellenberg to resign increased this week after Ellenberg said he was hesitant to rush to judgment about the allegations against Jon Hendry, then the president of the New Mexico Federation of Labor.
Christa Valdez, in a lawsuit filed last week, accuses Hendry, also a business agent for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 480, of harassing and intimidating her and then orchestrating her termination when she complained about his behavior.
Hendry "continually harassed and intimidated" Valdez with sexual propositions while she worked at the union, the lawsuit states.
But Ellenberg said the claim didn't feel "credible" to him.
"I have some information about the allegations in this case that I'm told would cast some of this in a very different light," Ellenberg told the Santa Fe New Mexican .
Ellenberg acknowledged he and Hendry are co-owners of a rental property in Santa Fe.
Former U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez, who is one of many candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in an open congressional seat in central New Mexico, immediately called on Ellenberg to resign.
"Mr. Ellenberg used his position to do what so many powerful men have done before — cast doubt on a survivor and send a message to other victims that they will be ostracized, threatened and mocked for coming forward," Martinez said.
Ellenberg also faced scrutiny over the way he oversaw the delegate selection at the state party's convention this weekend. Some candidates said the process favored certain candidates.
Jeff Apodaca, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate who garnered 22 percent of the vote from party activists, said the process was "rigged" and showed favoritism.
"Given everything else that's happened, I was not surprised to hear Chairman Ellenberg has resigned because of inappropriate comments to minimize sexual harassment charges from his business partner," Apodaca said.
The resignation comes before midterm elections where New Mexico Democrats are hopeful at winning back the governor's seat and capturing more Legislative seats.