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Time’s Up CEO Tina Tchen resigns in wake of Cuomo scandal

Aug. 26, 2021 Updated Thu., Aug. 26, 2021 at 4:40 p.m.

 In this June 23, 2014 photo, Tina Tchen, chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama, speaks at the White House Summit on Working Families in Washington. Tchen, who went on to become the CEO of the sex harassment victims' advocacy group Time's Up, resigned from the position on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, in the wake of revelations that leaders of the group advised former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on how to handle allegations made against him.  (Charles Dharapak)
 In this June 23, 2014 photo, Tina Tchen, chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama, speaks at the White House Summit on Working Families in Washington. Tchen, who went on to become the CEO of the sex harassment victims' advocacy group Time's Up, resigned from the position on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, in the wake of revelations that leaders of the group advised former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on how to handle allegations made against him. (Charles Dharapak)
By Mallika Sen Associated Press

NEW YORK — Time’s Up CEO and president Tina Tchen resigned Thursday in the wake of revelations that leaders of the sexual harassment victims’ advocacy group advised former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration after he was accused of misconduct.

In a statement posted to Twitter, Tchen — once an adviser to former President Barack Obama — said she’s “spent a career fighting for positive change for women” but she wasn’t the right person to lead the #MeToo-era organization at this time.

“I am especially aware that my position at the helm of TIME’S UP has become a painful and divisive focal point, where those very women and other activists who should be working together to fight for change are instead battling each other in harmful ways,” she wrote.

Monifa Bandele, a Movement for Black Lives organizer who left MomsRising to become chief operating officer of Time’s Up in October, will serve as interim CEO.

Tchen’s resignation comes on the heels of the departure of Roberta Kaplan, who stepped down as the chair of the board of directors Aug. 9. After months of resisting calls for his resignation, Cuomo himself left office earlier this week.

An independent investigation overseen by New York’s attorney general culminated in a report that concluded Cuomo sexually harassed at least 11 women. The report said top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa sent a letter that sought to discredit his first public accuser, Lindsey Boylan, to Kaplan — her attorney — for review.

“Ms. Kaplan read the letter to the head of the advocacy group Times Up, and both of them allegedly suggested that, without the statements about Ms. Boylan’s interactions with male colleagues, the letter was fine,” the report said, without explicitly naming Tchen.

The letter, ultimately never released, was drafted last winter, after Boylan accused Cuomo of making inappropriate comments, but before she explicitly detailed allegations of unwanted touching and kissing. Time’s Up itself called for an investigation in February, after Boylan’s second statement.

Tchen had resisted calls for her ouster for weeks, but said Thursday it was time for her to “resign and continue to work for change in other ways.”

Boylan pushed back against Tchen’s characterization of what led to her resignation, accusing Tchen of continuing to not “take responsibility for the harm she’s caused.”

“We aren’t fighting. We aren’t confused,” Boylan tweeted. She was echoed by another Cuomo accuser, Charlotte Bennett, who compared Tchen to the disgraced Democrat, tweeting that she “goes out the same way our former Governor did — listing her accomplishments, pointing the finger at others, and attempting to justify her inexcusable behavior.”

Carrie Goldberg, who represented one of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers, also found fault with Tchen’s statement.

“It’s inaccurate to say that activists/women are ‘battling each other,” she tweeted. “Rather, it’s survivors in the trenches fed up with powerbrokers making backroom deals and hoarding control.”

Weinstein’s downfall, galvanized by explosive revelations published in The New York Times and The New Yorker in October 2017, directly led to the founding of Time’s Up in January 2018. More than 300 women in entertainment — from television powerhouse Shonda Rhimes to actresses Reese Witherspoon and Eva Longoria — signed an open letter that established them as founders.

Its high-profile debut continued with that month’s Golden Globes, in which attendees donned black and sported Time’s Up pins to call attention to the movement for gender equality.

Tchen previously served as an assistant to then-President Barack Obama, chief of staff to then-first lady Michelle Obama and executive director of the White House Council on Women and Girls. She co-founded the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund in 2017, along with Kaplan and two other women. The fund was established to wield the group’s Hollywood profile and capital to help everyday survivors with legal costs, and had raised nearly $22 million less than a year after its founding.

Kaplan’s own departure was precipitated by an open letter from Time’s Up backers that accused its leaders of working to “align themselves with abusers at the expense of survivors.”

In a statement issued Thursday, the Time’s Up board praised Tchen’s tenure, saying she “has made a difference in the lives of so many and we are grateful for her hard work and impact.” But accepting her resignation was a measure of accountability, the board said.

This isn’t the first time the advocacy group has been roiled by leadership issues. Tchen took the helm in 2019, after former WNBA president Lisa Borders stepped down as president and CEO following sexual misconduct allegations against her own son.

Tarana Burke, the founder of #MeToo and a member of Time’s Up’s extended board, offered her perspective on the troubled waters earlier this week to The Associated Press. She described Time’s Up as a young organization born “in the middle of a huge change” with good intentions that’s now grappling with how to wield power years after #MeToo went viral.

“I think they have to do a lot of soul searching and at the end of the day,” she said, “it may come out the other end to be that they have to figure out how to work differently, that they have to relinquish some of the power and they have to sacrifice some of the wins in order to do the work well, in the way that people trust.”

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