WASHINGTON — Her motives and personal history under scrutiny, the woman who publicly has accused Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain of groping her inside a parked car in July 1997 says she came forward out of duty.
Cain rejected Sharon Bialek's claims as "totally fabricated" while his campaign pointedly noted her personal history of bankruptcies, unpaid debts, legal troubles and, at times, a lavish lifestyle with few financial assets to support it.
Who's telling the truth?
Bialek was flanked by prominent celebrity attorney and Democratic activist Gloria Allred as she appeared on the morning TV news shows Tuesday, recounting her story of how Cain harassed her when he ran the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s. Her details put the first face to a trail of anonymous accusations from at least three other women, marking a dangerous turn as Cain seeks the GOP presidential nomination.
But just as details unfolded about Cain's alleged behavior, so have specifics about Bialek's personal life as a 50-year-old, single, stay-at-home mother in Chicago been revealed.
Bialek has a 13-year-old son and lives with her fiancÉ, Mark Harwood, in a two-story, suburban Chicago home. Harwood, a medical device maker who just turned 50, supports the family financially and has supported Bialek's decision to come forward.
Fourteen years ago, Bialek worked for the restaurant association's educational foundation in Chicago. As a foundation manager, she helped oversee an outreach program for teenagers who wanted careers in the hospitality business. By 1997, she was dismissed for not raising enough money, a charge she disputes.
Partly on the advice of her then-boyfriend, a pediatrician not publicly identified, Bialek said she contacted Cain for help finding another job. She met him in Washington, where Bialek said he ran his hand under her skirt as they sat in a parked car on a downtown street after having dinner.
Bialek remained silent about the encounter and later took a job at WGN Radio. Her marketing job there for five years was a brisk 15-minute commute from her 41st-floor luxury condo along Chicago's famed Lake Shore Drive.
Meanwhile, Bialek filed for bankruptcy, according to court records, and claimed few personal assets while owing $4,500 in unpaid rent and at least $13,000 to four credit card companies. A county judge issued a $2,200 judgment against her, then another judgment for $6,750 from a property management company.
As of July 2009, Bialek owed more than $5,100 in federal back taxes.
Bialek acknowledged money problems. "I have had bankruptcy and it was after the death of my mother, to help my father pay for medical bills, and a custody battle. Like millions of other people out there I was struggling," she said.
She said she had no financial motivation to come forward, wasn't offered a job and wasn't being asked by Allred to pay a legal fee.
"I'm just doing this because it's the right thing to do," Bialek said. She said she waited this long to speak out because "I was embarrassed ... and I just kind of wanted it to go away."
Cain's campaign quickly pounced Tuesday on her background, detailing for reporters a hodge-podge of county and federal court cases. The campaign drew a contrast between Cain's "four decades spent climbing the corporate ladder" and Bialek's financial woes.
Bialek said her son was one of the reasons she came forward. "My biggest fan is my son. .... I called him and I said, 'Nick, what do you think I should do?'" He said, 'Mom, you have to do the right thing. I think you need to tell on him.'"
"That confirmed it for me," Bialek said. "If my son is saying it, I want to be the role model for him and for other kids growing up that this is not appropriate behavior."
"I could have sold my story," she said. "But I didn't."
Associated Press writer Sophia Tareen in Chicago contributed to this report.
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