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Text messages claim misconduct by Garcetti aide as mayor’s nomination faces challenges

Exterior view of City Hall
Newly released text messages suggest that a former spokeswoman for Mayor Eric Garcetti may have been subjected to unwanted kisses and “squeezes” by one of the mayor’s most powerful aides. City Hall is pictured.
(Nick Agro / For The Times)
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As Mayor Eric Garcetti’s ambassadorial nomination faces more scrutiny in the Senate, new text messages viewed by The Times on Friday suggest that a former Garcetti spokeswoman may have been subjected to unwanted kisses and “squeezes” by one of the mayor’s most powerful aides, and later, that she didn’t speak up because she didn’t want to “bring down” the mayor.

Although onetime spokeswoman Anna Bahr said she does not recall being sexually harassed by Rick Jacobs — a former top Garcetti aide and subject of a sexual misconduct lawsuit — she alleged she did hear about others being harassed. She told The Times that the subject was “something everyone talked about” in the mayor’s office.

The texts were written by Bahr and another former Garcetti aide in October 2020, said Greg Smith, attorney for LAPD Officer Matthew Garza, who is suing the city over Jacobs’ alleged behavior. Smith provided the texts to The Times, which showed Bahr and the Garcetti aide discussing an individual named “Rick” at one point.

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Bahr said she was “pretty sure” she remembered sending the messages to a co-worker but could not find the message thread in her phone. Speaking for the first time publicly about the Jacobs furor, Bahr said she could not recall the kissing and other conduct described in the texts.

“While I was never sexually harassed by Rick Jacobs,” Bahr added in a follow-up text message to The Times, “I knew people who were and I found him to be an abusive boss.”

As to the comments in the texts where she is alleged to have said she didn’t want to “bring down” Garcetti, Bahr said she had been dragged unwillingly into the furor over Jacobs’ alleged conduct that has raged since Garza filed his lawsuit against the city in July 2020. “I didn’t — I don’t — want to be made a part of a story that I don’t feel like I’m a part of,” she said.

Smith wouldn’t identify the former Garcetti aide who messaged with Bahr.

Jacobs’ attorneys didn’t respond to a request for comment. The former aide and confidant to the mayor has said in the past that he never sexually harassed anyone and never did anything to intentionally cause any pain.

The text exchange comes to light as Garcetti seeks to get to India. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) announced last week his office has launched an investigation into what Garcetti may have known about the allegations of sexual harassment involving Jacobs.

Garcetti’s critics say the new messages buttress their contention that many in the mayor’s office knew about the misbehavior but opted to remain silent. The texts do not directly address what Garcetti saw or heard.

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One of the mayor’s former communications directors, Naomi Seligman, testified that she complained about Jacobs’ misconduct to Garcetti’s previous chief of staff, Ana Guerrero. She said nothing was ever done about it. Guerrero denies that she was ever told.

On Friday, Bahr said that she told both Seligman and Suzi Emmerling, another Garcetti communications director, about problems with Jacobs.

“I told them about abusive behavior toward me in general; Rick being mean and a bad boss. But we also discussed his alleged behavior around sexual harassment of other people in the workplace,” Bahr said. The two leaders of the communications office “did nothing” to address the situation, she said.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office gave a non-public report into allegations of sexual harassment in his office to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

March 17, 2022

Seligman and Emmerling denied that Bahr reported sexual harassment to them. Emmerling, who worked in the mayor’s office from 2017 to 2019, also noted that Jacobs had left the mayor’s office by the time she got there.

In a joint statement responding to the texts, the two added that they were “deeply saddened to hear that Anna Bahr was sexually harassed and abused in Eric Garcetti’s office, like so many others.”

Bahr acknowledged that she didn’t complain about Jacobs to her first supervisor, Yusef Robb. She recalled Jacobs yelling at her during that time, but Bahr surmised she stayed silent because she was new at her job and was “keeping my head down.”

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Garza’s lawsuit against the city accuses Jacobs of harassing him and making crude sexual comments over a period of several years. Garcetti witnessed some of the behavior but didn’t intervene, Garza’s lawsuit alleges.

Garcetti has denied he condoned any misconduct, saying that the safety and security of workers in his office has always been a priority and that he would have acted promptly if he had been informed of a problem.

In the text messages, the person Smith identified as Bahr tells the unnamed former Garcetti staffer, “He abused me and harassed me the whole time he worked in the mayor’s office.”

“Kiss on the lips?” the other person responded. “Yes of course,” Bahr responded. “Squeezes.”

After being told, “you should reach out,” Bahr responded, “No.”

“I’m not getting in the mix,” Bahr added. “And I don’t want to bring down Eric.”

Bahr, who now works as the spokeswoman for Rep. Karen Bass’ campaign for mayor, said she did not remember Jacobs ever kissing her on the lips.

Asked whether she had been subjected to “squeezes,” Bahr said, “Not in any way that I would think of as being sexual harassment toward me. No.”

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She added: “I remember hugging Rick. I don’t remember being made to feel uncomfortable by those hugs.”

Asked about the “crass” statements she said Jacobs made, she said: “I remember him making inappropriate jokes and comments in the office. But I don’t remember what specifically they were.”

As for the reference to being “abused” and ”harassed,” Bahr said: “I think that I think it’s important to note that it doesn’t say anything about that being sexual abuse or harassment.”

She also added that “Rick was a very difficult person to work for at times. And I think he did not always treat his employees with the respect or courtesy that they deserved. But it doesn’t sound to me like I was referring to sexual abuse.”

Bahr described herself as a “very junior staffer in the mayor’s office, with no power and no authority.”

She added: “City Hall could be a toxic and at times abusive work environment — especially for a junior staffer like myself. As a young woman starting her career, I was afraid of making an enemy of a powerful person. I plan to testify to this if and when my deposition is scheduled.”

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Bahr joined the mayor’s office in 2015 and held various roles, including speechwriter and deputy press secretary, before she left in 2019, according to her LinkedIn page.

She was already viewed as a key witness for Garza’s legal team, which sought to take her deposition last year after the deposition of Emmerling, the former Garcetti communications director, according to court documents.

Emmerling testified in June 2021 that after Garza’s lawsuit was filed, three people, including Bahr, confided in her that they had also been treated the same way by Jacobs that Garza alleged he was treated.

Emmerling also produced a group text message that included Bahr and other former Garcetti staffers discussing the allegations against Jacobs.

At one point in the exchange, Bahr appeared to suggest that it was common knowledge inside the mayor’s office that Jacobs engaged in inappropriate behavior toward male employees.

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Bahr declined to comment last summer when asked about the comments and the text attributed to her.

Garcetti on Friday called Bahr “a highly talented professional” whom he holds in high regard.

“I am deeply saddened to learn that Anna and others might have been treated this way while working at City Hall,” Garcetti said in a statement. “I have always been committed to creating a safe, supportive environment for everyone on my team and that will always be a top priority. I never witnessed, nor was I made aware of any of the behavior being described. Had I known about it, I absolutely would have acted to stop it.”

Dozens of former and current staffers have given deposition testimony in the Garza case. Text messages have also been produced during those depositions, including messages sent by Alex Comisar, now Garcetti’s director of communications.

In the exchange, Comisar wrote in a text to a former Garcetti staffer, “Got hit on by Rick again.” In subsequent deposition testimony, Comisar said he didn’t recall writing the text and denied that he ever felt harassed by Jacobs.

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