A month ago, Sharon Bialek stood with her attorney Gloria Allred before a bank of microphones in New York City and accused GOP hopeful Herman Cain of behavior that bordered on assault.
Going public with unprovable allegations of sexual groping against a presidential candidate exacts a personal price that hovers somewhere between high and shoot-me-now. Her motives have been questioned, her failures have been aired for the world to judge: Two bankruptcies. A child-support battle with the father of her 13-year-old son. Engagements but no marriages. A checkered job history.
Even a normally private and painful moment made headlines when Bialek, who is behind on her rent for her 3,000-square-foot attached home, was served this week with an eviction notice.
Bialek said she didn’t regret going public with her assertion that, after a business dinner 14 years ago, Cain stuck his hand up her skirt and tried to force her head toward his crotch. Women approach her in grocery stores to quietly cheer her on, she said. Her son’s orthodontist thanked her.
“It was imperative that I come forward,” said Bialek, who is 50. “I am all about justice and doing the right thing. I couldn’t sit there and let this man become president, knowing what I knew, and knowing that he is lying.”
Several weeks earlier, on Oct. 1, Bialek had quietly confronted Cain backstage at a tea party gathering in a Chicago suburb. She said she had no idea there were other accusers in the wings; she simply hoped for some acknowledgment, or maybe an apology.
“I thought I might feel better, but I think I felt worse, in a way,” Bialek said. “Because it made me relive everything, kind of, again.”
She decided to speak up after Politico revealed that two women had received confidential settlements after accusing Cain of sexual harassment when he ran the National Restaurant Assn. in the late 1990s. Under the terms of the settlements, both women are barred from discussing the details of their cases. Their identities were unknown initially; Bialek was the first to step out publicly.
Cain held his own news conference to deny the accusations. (Later, he told David Letterman that all the women — including Bialek — were liars.) His attorney called the settlements “nuisance” payments and warned that any others should “think twice” before coming forward.
This week his campaign was rocked again when Atlanta businesswoman Ginger White said she had a 13-year affair with Cain. She said she was offended by the way in which she believed Cain had “demonized” the other women.
The accretion of unsavory news has caused Cain to tumble in the polls. Though he denies ever straying in his 43-year marriage, he said he would decide in coming days whether to continue his campaign.
“I have been somewhat vindicated,” Bialek said this week. “I applaud her [White] and I thank her, because based on what’s happened to me, she will be subject to intense scrutiny by strangers. But it’s not about me, it’s not about her, not about my finances or that I look like a ‘fat white-trash bimbo.’ People are just really cruel. It’s about this man’s moral character, or lack thereof.”
At her New York news conference, Bialek had recounted how she came to know Cain in 1997 at the National Restaurant Assn. convention in Chicago, where she worked for the group’s education foundation. She sat with him at a luncheon and a dinner, and was invited along with her pediatrician boyfriend, Dr. Victor Zuckerman, to an after-party in his hotel suite on the convention’s final evening. The events were corroborated by an uncomfortable-looking Zuckerman during an Allred-orchestrated news conference on Nov. 14. Zuckerman declined to be interviewed for this article.
In her living room in Glenview, outside Chicago, Bialek said that during the restaurant convention, she and Cain talked at length about being left-handed. (They both are.) He was fascinated by her interest in astrology, she said, and asked her to do his chart.
“I remember saying to him, ‘You are a fire sign; you have to be a Sagittarius.’ And he goes, ‘How did you know?’” she said. She composed his astrological chart on the back of a birthday party invitation and presented it to him.
As Bialek recollected the encounter, a familiar face looked on from her laptop: Allred, who monitored the interview by Skype.
In 2 ½ hours, the attorney intervened only a few times: She would not let her client share the cellphone number that Bialek said Cain gave her in 1997. She did not want Bialek to discuss her dismissal from the restaurant association nor her expensive child-support battle with West Naze, a marketing executive, which Bialek said drove her into a second bankruptcy.
“I don’t manage money well. I never have, I never will,” said Bialek. So get me Suze Orman and get me some help, OK? If that’s my crime, so be it. The only difference is most people that have problems with money don’t get it blasted all over the media and vilified.”
Allred chimed in: “She could have sold her story, which would have had a substantial value, and she didn’t.”
Bialek, who lives on child support payments, said she was out buying food for her cat, Roger, when sheriff’s deputies served eviction papers at her residence Tuesday.
Her son, home with his uncle, signed them. “Awful,” said Bialek.
Though Bialek has worked as an account executive at radio stations and marketing companies, she is also a passionate foodie who, from 1985 to 1994, played a Vanna White-style co-host on a public-access show called “Cooking with Chef Ryszard.” “The premise of the show was that I couldn’t cook, and for nine years, he taught me how to cook,” said Bialek.
Just before she went public, she had taken a waitressing job at an Italian restaurant. Her newfound profile made it impossible to start training, she said, so she bowed out.
But she’s back on the hunt, hoping to land something more compatible with her experience. She has no idea if potential employers will be leery, or intrigued.
When Bialek arrived at a radio station last week for an interview — in a smashing red dress and black heels — someone she hadn’t expected joined two executives for the meeting: a representative from human resources.