Garcetti spokesman complained of being ‘hit on’ by mayor’s advisor, former aide testifies
For much of the past year, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s spokesman has responded to allegations that a high-level advisor engaged in sexual harassment and that top staffers in the mayor’s office did nothing about it.
Deputy communications director Alex Comisar has told reporters that Garcetti has “zero tolerance” for harassment. At one point last fall, Comisar said that neither the city nor the mayor was told of any allegations of harassment regarding the advisor, Rick Jacobs.
Now, two former Garcetti staffers have testified in separate, sworn depositions that Comisar himself complained about Jacobs’ behavior. One of those former staffers produced text messages from Comisar.
Comisar declined to comment on the statements and texts attributed to him. Garcetti’s office would not confirm that the staffer mentioned in the two depositions was Comisar, saying that person’s identity is protected under a confidentiality agreement.
“Furthermore, the employee denies experiencing any sexual harassment,” the mayor’s office said.
In a deposition given last month, former Garcetti aide Suzi Emmerling said Comisar informed her that he had been touched by Jacobs. The testimony was reviewed this week by The Times.
“He told me that Rick — I want to say touched him, his leg under the table or something like that,” Emmerling said in the deposition. Emmerling, who was Comisar’s supervisor, said the event occurred sometime between 2017 and 2019 and she did not recall the location.
Former Garcetti communications director Naomi Seligman said another high-level aide grabbed her and kissed her in front of several staffers, an incident she called humiliating.
Naomi Seligman, who also worked as communications director and was at one point Comisar’s boss, said in her own deposition that she too heard from Comisar about Jacobs’ behavior. “Got hit on by Rick again,” Comisar wrote in the text to Seligman, a copy of which was reviewed by The Times.
“Vile,” Seligman responded.
When Seligman’s deposition became public two weeks ago, Comisar’s name was redacted. Since then, two sources have confirmed to The Times that he is the unnamed mayoral employee who sent the message discussed by Seligman. Garcetti’s office declined to comment on whether key statements in the two depositions are accurate.
The mayor’s primary spokesman
Emmerling made her claims as part of a case filed by LAPD officer Matthew Garza, a former member of Garcetti’s security detail, against the city. Garza has accused Jacobs, who worked as Garcetti’s deputy chief of staff and later as his political advisor, of making crude remarks and touching him inappropriately.
The steady stream of depositions comes at a sensitive time for Garcetti, who is awaiting confirmation as President Biden’s nominee to become ambassador to India. They also raise questions about the communications strategy used by Garcetti to respond to Garza’s allegations.
Jacobs, for his part, has denied sexually harassing anyone. The former Garcetti advisor said in a deposition that he may have hugged Garza and made sexual jokes in front of the security detail.
Lawyers for Jacobs say that Comisar’s own deposition testimony, given in May, counters the notion that he was sexually harassed.
“His collective testimony throughout the deposition makes clear that he denied witnessing harassment or being harassed, and that he did not complain about harassment,” said Ashleigh Kasper, an attorney for Jacobs.
During his testimony, Comisar said he had “no firsthand understanding” of the validity of Garza’s claims. He also said he did not find Jacobs difficult to work with.
Asked if he had ever complained to anyone about Jacobs, he responded: “Not that I can recall.”
Comisar joined the mayor’s team in 2015 and currently serves as the primary spokesman for Garcetti within the mayor’s office.
Earlier this month, Garcetti declined to comment after being asked by The Times whether it was appropriate for Comisar to handle questions about the Garza lawsuit given that he has been mentioned in the case. The mayor also said he hadn’t seen the text message reviewed by The Times.
Emmerling, who worked as Garcetti’s communications director from November 2017 to April 2019, said in her testimony that she did not see Jacobs behave in a sexually inappropriate manner herself. She acknowledged that she did not file an anonymous complaint at City Hall about any the allegations she had received.
“Since this lawsuit came up, I have really struggled with the fact that I did nothing,” she said.
Exchanging text messages
As part of her testimony, Emmerling also provided a copy of text messages she exchanged with current and former Garcetti staffers about the Garza case. In one exchange, the group discussed a Times story about claims made about Jacobs by former Garcetti staffer Henry Casas.
Garcetti aide Sumi Parekh texted the others an excerpt of the story in which Casas said it was “common knowledge” inside the mayor’s office that Jacobs engaged in inappropriate behavior toward male employees. “I mean ... he’s not wrong,” Parekh wrote.
Another former Garcetti staffer, Anna Bahr, responded, “He’s exactly right!” according to the text exchange.
Bahr, who later worked as a spokeswoman for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, declined to comment. Parekh did not respond to questions from The Times.
Emmerling said Bahr and two other former Garcetti staffers told her after the Garza lawsuit had been filed that they too had been subjected to improper behavior by Jacobs. One of those former staffers was not surprised to learn about the lawsuit alleging improper behavior by Jacobs, Emmerling said.
“He said, “You mean can I believe that the man who groped me the entire time at City Hall is finally being sued for it? Yeah, I can,” Emmerling testified.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti is Biden’s choice for ambassador to India. Garcetti would leave behind a city confronting a homelessness crisis and a surge in homicides and gun violence.
That staffer did not immediately respond to calls from The Times seeking comment.
Kasper, Jacobs’ attorney, did not immediately comment on the groping allegation. But she said one of the other ex-staffers mentioned by Emmerling has already denied being sexually harassed during his own deposition.
Garza filed his lawsuit in July 2020 and Comisar became the person to field questions about the allegations.
Seligman, his former boss, later testified that she received a text from Comisar on the day the news broke. Although Comisar’s name was redacted in the deposition, two sources identified him as the message’s author.
“Looks like it’s finally happening with Rick,” the message said.
Asked about the text, Seligman testified that she understood the message to mean that “years of Rick’s harassment and abuse were going to be exposed.”
Neither Comisar nor the mayor’s office responded to questions about the text message on Wednesday. When Garza originally filed his lawsuit, Comisar told The Times that the mayor “unequivocally” did not see any of the behavior alleged by Garza.
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