In an unexpected twist in one of the most competitive House races in the country, a woman who accused a Southern California Democratic congressional candidate of sexual harassment withdrew the accusation, saying it was a misunderstanding.
The announcement Monday by Democrat Gil Cisneros’ campaign followed a barrage of Republican-backed ads spotlighting the accusations in the 39th District, where he faces Republican Young Kim in November.
Melissa Fazli, a former Democratic candidate for the state Assembly, said in May that an intoxicated Cisneros had made a sexually suggestive comment to her at a state Democratic convention, then later made another inappropriate comment on a phone call. On Twitter, she called him “an unethical, creepy man.”
The accusation was featured in a string of ads by the Congressional Leadership Fund, the House Republican leadership’s main financial arm for preserving the GOP majority. The ads depicted Cisneros as “shady” and “disgusting.”
A local community leader arranged a meeting between Cisneros and Fazli last weekend, where they agreed it was a misunderstanding, according to a statement issued by his campaign.
“I misunderstood the conversations that I had with Gil Cisneros,” Fazli said in the statement. “I don’t believe that Gil sexually harassed me.”
In an interview Tuesday, Fazli said she was prompted in part to meet with Cisneros after seeing the ads that used “massive dramatic licensing” and misrepresented what she had said.
She said Cisneros did not promise to make a donation or any other kind of payment to her as part of their agreement.
The fight for the seat occupied by outgoing Republican Rep. Ed Royce is widely considered a toss-up between Cisneros, a $266 million lottery winner and Navy veteran, and Kim, a former legislator and Royce aide.
The district includes parts of Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. Democrats are targeting a string of GOP-held districts in California that Hillary Clinton carried in the 2016 presidential campaign, including the 39th.
Fazli stopped short of saying she would recommend voting for her fellow Democrat. She has since moved to another district.
“I saw a different Gil Cisneros Sunday night,” she said, referring to their meeting, but added, “I’m going to be cautious going forward.”
The Cisneros campaign said Tuesday that the GOP’s ads would be taken down after it sent a letter to the Republican group.
Congressional Leadership Fund spokeswoman Courtney Alexander said in an email that “if he’s mad and threatening to sue CLF over our current ad, just wait until he sees our next ad.”