SACRAMENTO (AP) — A California Democratic state senator known for greeting people with hugs is now facing allegations that his behavior made women he worked with uncomfortable.
Sen. Bob Hertzberg’s penchant for hugging is so well known he has nicknames such as “Hugsberg” and “Huggy Bear.” As an Assemblyman, he once handed out pins reading “I was hugged by Assemblyman Bob Hertzberg.”
But three women who have or still work in the Legislature told the Sacramento Bee on Wednesday that his hugs crossed into inappropriate territory.
Their comments came as the California Legislature deals with multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, which already prompted two Assembly Democrats to resign.
Hertzberg spokeswoman Katie Hanzlik said the assemblyman will now be more mindful of whether people are comfortable with his hugs in the future.
“He understands that hugs are taken differently by different people, and while he means them as a way to connect with people he expects and respects that not everyone shares the same sentiment,” she told The Associated Press.
Hanzlik also gave FOX40 the following statement from Hertzberg:
“All of my life I have greeted my friends and colleagues with a hug. My intentions have only been to foster a warm, human connection. I apologize to anyone who may have ever felt uncomfortable, and I will change how I greet people moving forward.”
Former Republican Assemblywoman Linda Halderman said Hertzberg repeatedly hugged her for prolonged periods of time during her term from 2010 to 2012.
“A lot of people are affectionate or greet people with hugs. That’s one thing,” Halderman told FOX40. “But when a person thrusts his groin into you, when he repeatedly grabs you and hugs you when you have specifically said, ‘I don’t want that, I don’t like that, that’s not me,’ that’s a different thing. And what Bob Hertzberg has done is minimize what he did by dismissing it as a friendly personal gesture. But the fact is, he didn’t do to male colleagues what he felt like he could do to female ones.”
At one point, she told him she was not comfortable with the hugs.
“He pinned me against him so that I couldn’t push his chest away from me,” she told FOX40. “And to me, after I had repeatedly told him, ‘I don’t care for hugs, please don’t touch me,’ that is so far over the line.”
Halderman said she reported Hertzberg’s behavior to Jon Waldie, former chief administrative officer of the Assembly, who said “Bob’s just like that.”
Halderman is a practicing surgeon, now out of politics. She says she came forward hoping to save other women from what she experienced and to send a message to sexual harassers.
“To know that there are consequences for what they do to women so that the vast majority of decent people who work in office don’t have to deal with that.”
Two other sitting lawmakers, who didn’t want to be named, told the Sacramento Bee that Hertzberg inappropriately hugged them too.
Hertzberg was elected to the senate in 2014 after serving many terms in the Assembly, including as speaker.
Senate President Kevin de Leon, a Democrat, did not comment Wednesday on the allegations. He is expected to speak on the matter on Thursday morning.