HARRISBURG — State Sen. Daylin Leach said Monday that he was "taking a step back" from his congressional campaign to deal with allegations from eight women and three men who said he had crossed the line with sexual talk and inappropriate touching.
In a statement, the Montgomery County Democrat did not specify whether he was abandoning or suspending his bid for the party's nomination to challenge Republican Rep. Patrick Meehan, or merely seeking time to assess his next move.
His lawyer, George Bochetto, said that "it doesn't mean he's quitting" the race. "I think he just wants to pause and reflect."
In his statement, Leach, one of the Senate's most liberal Democrats, indicated he planned to stay in his seat despite calls from Gov. Wolf and other Democrats across the state that he resign.
"While I've always been a gregarious person, it's heartbreaking to me that I have put someone in a position that made them feel uncomfortable or disrespected," he wrote. "In the future I will take more care in my words and my actions, and I will make it my top priority to protect those who speak up to help change the culture around us."
Leach also said he plans to work with state Senate leaders "to address these allegations and fully cooperate as they are all vetted."
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D., Allegheny) has said his caucus is gathering information about the claims against Leach and "will take the appropriate next steps."
Leach's statement struck a more remorseful note than one he issued in response to Sunday's report by the Inquirer and Daily News that detailed allegations from men and women who claimed the senator had behaved inappropriately toward young female campaign staffers and volunteers on multiple occasions between 2008 and 2016. Since the allegations were aired, criticism of Leach from party officials and other political candidates has mounted from Harrisburg and beyond.
Leach, in a response to questions from the Inquirer and Daily News, denied that he inappropriately touched two women who described their encounters at length to the newspapers.
The carefully worded statement stood in sharp contrast to some of the comments Leach has made since Sunday on his Facebook page, under a copy of his original response to the newspapers' report. The comments were deleted Monday afternoon.
On his page, the three-term Wayne senator, 56, has received support from friends and constituents. One example was a comment from one woman who posted a photo of Leach with his arm around her shoulder.
"#IStandWithDaylin and his very respectful hand on my shoulder," the woman wrote, to which Leach responded: "I'm very sorry if I traumatized you."
In another post, Leach responded to a woman who on his Facebook page described a bad encounter with him, including his talk of sex acts. The senator called her "a horrific monster," and accused her of fabricating "insane attacks and laughable lies."
"I hope whatever it is that makes you such an unhappy person gets resolved," Leach wrote. "In a world where making progress is so freakin hard, you are just a human wrecking ball of hate."
Contacted Monday, the woman, Colleen Kennedy, said she did not want to discuss the exchange.
A number of Leach's closest advisers have said privately that the senator believes Kennedy, a 28-year-old who volunteered for his campaign in 2013, is responsible for stirring up false rumors about his behavior to help one of his primary opponents in the race for the Seventh Congressional District seat.
In a comment on Leach's page, Kennedy denied that women are spreading untruths about him, writing: "We'd have to make up things that are really shameful to talk about, potentially risk our careers and our future, see threads like this one, and the big prize we get is that some other white dude might get to win the PRIMARY? Like are you kidding me?"