Democrats chide Alan Grayson over domestic violence reports

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson is in the final weeks of the Democratic primary campaign for U.S. Senate. [Associated Press (2015)] 
U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson is in the final weeks of the Democratic primary campaign for U.S. Senate. [Associated Press (2015)] 
Published Jul. 28, 2016

TALLAHASSEE — Four staffers quit U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson's campaign for the Senate on Wednesday, continuing the political fallout from newly emerged allegations that he abused his ex-wife four times over 20 years.

Among those leaving was Mario Piscatella, Grayson's political director.

"We're sorry to see our political director and a few of our good field staffers leave the campaign, but our core team remains intact," campaign manager Michael Ceraso said in a statement confirming the departures. "As in recent weeks and months, we are constantly retooling and adding talent to the campaign, and we'll continue to do so."

First published Tuesday by Politico, the allegations stem from police reports, obtained by the Times/Herald, that show his ex-wife, Lolita Grayson, twice called the Orange County Sheriff's Office, in 2005 and 2014, to report abuse. According to Politico, she also did so in 1994 and 1999 when the couple lived in northern Virginia.

After Grayson angrily confronted a Politico reporter when questioned Tuesday about the allegations at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, video footage of the heated encounter went viral. Now, fellow Democrats, including incoming Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, are questioning Grayson's candidacy.

"He ought to do the right thing and drop out," Schumer told Politico on Wednesday evening in Philadelphia.

"As a woman who was on the board of a couple domestic violence shelters, that really signifies to me that he's got some greater anger problems," said Palm Beach County Tax Collector Anne Gannon, who has supported Grayson rival U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy in the Senate primary. "Perhaps the relationship didn't work and they both should have been in counseling, but it's concerning to me that we would send someone like that to Congress."

Grayson of Orlando denies the allegations. His lawyer, Mark NeJame, called them "discredited and utterly false" and intended to "smear an innocent victim in a vain effort to derail a Senate campaign and distract voters" in a statement Tuesday.

During a bitter divorce that ended in annulment last year, Alan Grayson's lawyers claimed that he had been the victim of domestic abuse, writing that his wife "physically assaulted Alan Grayson on multiple occasions" and "she has hit, kicked, bitten and shoved" their children.

One of Grayson's opponents in the Aug. 30 primary, Miami labor attorney Pam Keith, said that if the allegations against Grayson are true, he is unfit for office.

"Under no circumstances would I ever vote for someone who I came to believe was a spousal abuser," Keith said. "I could never believe that a person who did that to a spouse over a long period of years would ever truly be a champion for women or women's issues."

Murphy, D-Jupiter, declined to comment.

Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Allison Tant said the news surprised her.

"We've got to continue our focus on defeating Marco Rubio, and we are going to have to have the top candidate do that," she said. "I'm anxious for this primary to be done."

Though they've been quick to criticize the allegations, Democrats have not called for Grayson's resignation.

Times staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report. Contact Michael Auslen at Follow @MichaelAuslen.