Alaska Gubernatorial candidate Charlie Pierce selects Edie Grunwald to be his running mate at a campaign event at Paradisos restaurant in Kenai on Saturday, March 5, 2022. Grunwald announced Tuesday that she was withdrawing as his running mate in response to allegations of harassment made against Pierce. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Alaska Gubernatorial candidate Charlie Pierce selects Edie Grunwald to be his running mate at a campaign event at Paradisos restaurant in Kenai on Saturday, March 5, 2022. Grunwald announced Tuesday that she was withdrawing as his running mate in response to allegations of harassment made against Pierce. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Citing Pierce harassment allegations, Grunwald suspends lieutenant governor bid

The announcement came days after Pierce and the Kenai Peninsula Borough were named as defendants in a lawsuit

Alaska lieutenant governor candidate Edie Grunwald announced Tuesday that she is suspending her campaign citing “recent circumstances” surrounding her running mate and current gubernatorial candidate Charlie Pierce.

Grunwald, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and chair of the Alaska Parole Board, joined Pierce’s bid for governor in March. Grunwald in a statement shared with media on Tuesday thanked the Alaskans who have supported her campaign and urged voters to support incumbent Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s bid for reelection on Nov. 8.

“I support and advocate for the respectful treatment of women in politics, the workplace and the world in general,” Grunwald said. “I believe my stepping down at this time is in the best interest of Alaskans and a demonstration of my support for all women, regardless of political affiliation. There are recent circumstances surrounding my Gubernatorial running mate, Charlie Pierce, which have led me to make the decision to withdraw from the Pierce-Grunwald for Governor campaign team.”

Grunwald went on to encourage Alaskans to “give their support” for Dunleavy and running mate Nancy Dahlstrom, who she said she will be voting for on Nov. 8.

The announcement came days after Pierce and the Kenai Peninsula Borough were named as defendants in a lawsuit filed by Pamela Wastell, a former borough employee, who said Pierce sexually harassed her while he was borough mayor and she his executive assistant.

Wastell in the suit describes multiple incidents in which Pierce kissed her, touched her or made sexual comments to her while she worked as his assistant. The same suit said the Kenai Peninsula Borough “failed to protect her” from the harassment after not taking action after previous incidents of bullying, harassment and discrimination by Pierce against other borough employees.

The borough has previously paid out a total of $267,000 in settlements for allegations involving Pierce.

Per the borough’s Bullying, Harassment, Discrimination and Retaliation Prevention Policy, it is “encouraged” that all perceived instances of discrimination, harassment or retaliation against a borough employee be reported.

That policy says that incidents should be reported by the employee to their supervisor or department head, to the borough attorney or to the borough’s human resources director. The complaint is then investigated by the human resources director. At the time Wastell made the complaint against Pierce, the borough’s acting HR director was Aaron Rhoades — Pierce’s chief of staff.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Attorney Sean Kelley said Tuesday that Wastell’s report was investigated pursuant to borough policy. The borough in July hired Anchorage firm Ashburn & Mason to conduct a confidential, internal human resources investigation and placed Wastell on paid administrative leave.

Records obtained by The Peninsula Clarion via a public information request show that the Ashburn & Mason investigation cost the borough about $17,800.

A statement released by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly during a special meeting on Sept. 11 said that investigation found the claim to be “credible.” The same statement said Pierce was asked to consider submitting his resignation as a way to resolve the harassment allegation.

Pierce announced on Aug. 26 that he would be stepping down as borough mayor effective Sept. 30 to focus full-time on his gubernatorial bid.

Holmes, Weddle & Barcott’s Richard Moses, who has represented Pierce since Wastell filed a complaint in mid-July, declined Monday to comment on “pending litigation.”

Former Alaska governor and current gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker, along with lieutenant governor candidate Heidi Drygas, on Saturday called for Pierce to drop out of the race for governor in response to the suit. The ticket also called for Dunleavy to revoke his support for Pierce. Dunleavy has at recent gubernatorial forums urged voters to rank Pierce second during the Nov. 8 general election.

Dunleavy in a statement provided by the campaign Monday called the allegations “serious” but said it would be “inappropriate and unfair” to draw conclusions. In an email Tuesday, spokesperson Andrew Jensen said the campaign had not changed its stance regarding “respect for due process” for all parties involved.

“Edie Grunwald’s statements today likewise did not take a position on these allegations. We respect her decision, and we are grateful for her support for our ticket in this election. We’ll continue to focus on our race, and keep working to earn the support and the votes from as many Alaskans as possible.”

In a text message Tuesday, Pierce said he was not ending his gubernatorial bid. “I am not dropping out of the race and I continue to look forward to the November 8th, election,” he told the Clarion.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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