A Miami congressional candidate shares her #metoo moment

Mary Barzee Flores ran against U.S Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.
Mary Barzee Flores ran against U.S Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. Barzee Flores campaign

Mary Barzee Flores was 17, working the night shift at Pizza Hut when her boss followed her into the walk-in freezer.

She had just been installed as the night manager after the previous night manager, the boss’s wife, was ousted after Barzee Flores noticed irregularities on the books.

Her boss was angry.

“The manager followed me in and shut the door,” Barzee Flores said. “He said if I was going to take his wife’s place I would have to do all of her duties, and he made clear what he meant by that.”

Her boss groped her, she said.

“It was terrifying thing to happen, but I pushed him off and told him off and got out of there,” Barzee Flores said.

Barzee Flores is now a 55-year-old lawyer and former judge who is running as a Democrat to replace retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The recent #metoo movement that exploded after high-profile sexual assault and harassment allegations against dozens of men in politics, entertainment and media gives more women the opportunity to speak out about their personal experiences, Barzee Flores said.

She didn’t tell anyone about the Pizza Hut incident at the time, choosing instead to keep working while keeping her guard up. Looking back, she said, it was a “terrible position for a kid to be in.”

“Sexual harassment is a bipartisan issue, it doesn’t have to do with whether you’re a Democrat or Republican,” Barzee Flores said. “It’s an abuse of power when it happens and I think that the last few months with these allegations coming out, whether in politics or Hollywood and workplaces all over the country have been very important.”

And Barzee Flores has been quick to criticize members of her own party who have been accused of sexual harassment.

She was one of the first Democrats to call for the resignation of Michigan Rep. John Conyers, a civil-rights icon and the longest-serving member of Congress, after multiple women accused the congressman of sexual harassment. At least one woman reached a taxpayer-funded settlement with Conyers.

“There is no reason we should hold Rep. Conyers to a different standard than any TV show personality, movie mogul, or corporate leader,” Barzee Flores said last week. “In fact, we must hold him (and every elected official on both sides) to a higher standard. For that reason, given everything I’ve read and seen, Rep. Conyers should resign.”

Her comments are in contrast to Democratic leaders like Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who said “I don’t know who they are” when asked if she believed Conyers’ accusers during an interview with NBC on Sunday. And Democrats in Congress have been slow to call for Conyers’ resignation over a week after BuzzFeed first published allegations against him.

Barzee Flores said she couldn’t speak for other Democrats’ decision-making about Conyers and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, who was accused of unwanted touching by several women, but that incidents like the one she endured at Pizza Hut are unfortunately commonplace for too many.

“I think women have had it and I think men and women are ready to have women speak up,” Barzee Flores said. “I think that I am not alone. What happened to me at various times in my life is unfortunately unremarkable.”

Barzee Flores hinted at the Pizza Hut incident, as well as an inappropriate comment from a sitting judge during her first day as a lawyer, in her first campaign video released Wednesday.

“When I became a judge myself, I made damn sure everyone in my courtroom was treated with fairness and respect,” Barzee Flores said in the video.

There are eight Democrats seeking to replace Ros-Lehtinen, including Barzee Flores, state Rep. David Richardson, state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman, Miami Commissioner Ken Russell, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn and Miami historian Marvin Dunn.

Barzee Flores, one of two women in the Democratic primary, recently won the endorsement of Emily’s List, which provides money and operational support to progressive, pro-abortion rights female candidates.

Democrats are hopeful that they can flip Ros-Lehtinen’s Miami-based seat in 2018. The district, which includes most of Miami and Miami Beach, voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by more than 19 percentage points.

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty