Even some of his friends speculate Gov. Mike Lowry’s political future ended here Friday.
Lowry’s personal attorney announced the governor agreed to pay $97,500 in an out-of-court settlement of sexual harassment allegations by a former press aide.
The governor will pay the aide, Susanne Albright, out of his own pocket in three lump sums between now and February 1997.
In return, Albright agreed she would not sue Lowry over her allegations of unsolicited touching and suggestive comments by the governor.
Under the settlement, neither Albright nor Lowry admits any wrongdoing.
“I believe this was a very positive action. I certainly hope it is positive for Susanne Albright, a person who we care very much about,” Lowry said at a news conference, his wife, Mary, at his side.
Paul Berendt, chairman of the state Democratic Party, didn’t see much positive in Friday’s announcement.
“It’s devastating, with regard to his re-election,” Berendt said. “Whether he’s innocent or not, people will see this as an admission of guilt. It’s a real hard hit. A real blow to the governor.”
Lowry dismissed such talk. “They don’t know what they are talking about,” said Lowry, amid cheers from wellwishers at a Friday night picnic. “They said in 1992 Mike Lowry couldn’t win statewide.”
Albright, 37, resigned her $48,000-a-year post as the governor’s spokeswoman in January after suffering what she described as persistent groping, lewd remarks and outbursts of anger from Lowry.
“This has not been about money and it’s still not about money,” Albright said Friday. “The issue has been that I hope this never happens to anyone else again.”
Lowry agreed to the settlement to avoid an expensive, drawn-out legal fight, said his private attorney, John Wolfe. He also wanted to spare his family, friends and supporters from an ugly legal battle, Wolfe said.
Under the settlement, he will pay Albright $65,000 immediately, another $7,500 next Feb. 1, and the final $25,000 on Feb. 1, 1997.
All of the money is considered compensatory damages, except for $8,437, which is salary Albright lost.
“Compensatory damages means he’s compensating me for damage,” said Albright, who now works for a Seattle public relations company. “I think that’s pretty clear.”
Albright had offered Lowry a non-cash, out-of-court settlement earlier, but was rebuffed, said her attorney, Lawrence Finegold.
She never filed a formal complaint or a lawsuit. But she was about to start a lawsuit when settlement negotiations began in earnest last month, Wolfe said.
“Gov. Lowry believes he did nothing wrong, and that has been his statement from the beginning,” his attorney said.
But now that he’s agreed to pony up nearly $100,000 to settle the matter, Democratic Party leaders said Friday voters are likely to draw the opposite conclusion.
“It’s over,” said Oscar Hill, Benton County Democratic chairman. “He should step aside. Before there was this shadow of doubt, but if he’s willing to buy her off for $97,000, that settles it in my mind, and probably for a lot of other people.”
Lois Clement of Bellingham, president of the state organization of county chairs, was glum. “He must know it will hurt him. The perception is there that with such a big hunk of money, he must have done something.
“I’d be surprised if he could come back from this.”
Paul Fournier, Island County Democratic chairman, said he wished President Clinton would offer Lowry an appointment once his term is up, “so he could just bow out gracefully.
“The perception of the public is going to be that he bought his way out of this. No one is listening to the fact that he may be saving the state a lot of trauma and money.
“This precludes him from being a viable candidate in 1996.”
Lowry said paying the settlement will be painful.
“It will mean a lot of hamburger rather than steak,” he said, adding that settling “wasn’t an easy decision to make.”
For Lowry and his family, the tiresome controversy has never been resolved.
Some voters said Friday night they, too, are sick of the whole thing.
“I don’t know what happened between them and probably no one does except them,” said Janet Wainwright of Seattle, a Lowry supporter.
Gathered with the governor for a picnic Friday night, Wainwright was one of several voters who said they would vote for Lowry if he runs again.
Lowry’s record of protecting the environment is more important to her than unproven allegations, Wainwright said.
“I’m sick of it. Everyone’s sick of it. It’s time to move on.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Lynda V. Mapes Staff writer The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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