BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - A mayoral candidate says he wants to set the record straight about how he treated some of his past co-workers.
After Bernie Tolbert retired from the FBI, he went to work for the National Basketball Association in a high-level security job. But a couple of lawsuits naming Tolbert and the league, alleging sexual harassment and discrimination, are now becoming an issue his mayoral campaign.
"I do not treat women in any way with disrespect," Tolbert stated.
The mayoral candidate categorically denies the allegations, and says he was opposed to the NBA settling the first lawsuit.
"I treat everyone well. Men, women, it doesn't matter your gender. It doesn't matter your race. I treat people fairly," he argued.
Buffalo Common Council member Bonnie Russell says Tolbert is unfit to lead the city. And while she admits to being a supporter of Mayor Byron Brown, Russell says her motivation is simply about women's rights.
"This is about women, this isn't about the Brown administration," Russell said. "This isn't about Bernie Tolbert running for mayor."
Mayor Brown was asked about the allegations against his Democratic primary opponent.
"These allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination are extremely troubling. And Mr. Tolbert needs to explain to the public what his role is in these issues," Mayor Brown said.
But Karen Spangenberg says she knows a different Bernie Tolbert. Now retired from the FBI, Spangenberg has known Tolbert for 30 years.
"I think he's an upstanding, honest ethical man. He has always treated me with respect. He's never done anything unwanted towards me," she said.
As for accusations that he has made demeaning comments about women, allegations now front and center in his mayoral bid, Tolbert chalks it up to politics as usual.
"I'm a big boy. I can take it. But it hurts. It hurts because I've spent my whole life trying to be just the opposite of what people are trying to make this out to be," Tolbert said.
The mayoral candidate would not comment on a second lawsuit because it's still pending. The first lawsuit has been settled and again Tolbert saying the allegations were not true and that there was no reason to settle.
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