Bandele, a political strategist and activist, was previously chief operating officer for Time’s Up, which she joined in October 2020.
Prior to Tchen stepping down Thursday, Time’s Up was in the process of bringing on an outside consulting firm to conduct an internal assessment, given the slew of controversies the women’s advocacy group had been embroiled in, regarding former New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s sexual harassment allegations.
Earlier this week, when the plan was still for Tchen to remain in her position as CEO, Bandele was already part of the top executive team navigating next steps for Time’s Up. Alongside board member and interim board chair Nina Shaw, who also has taken on increased responsibility with the group, Bandele was said to be working with the yet-to-be-named consultant on mapping out the future for the organization.
Sources tell Variety that the process of searching for an outside consultant is still active, and the firm has not been announced yet.
Bandele is on the steering committee for Communities United for Police Reform and is an activist with the Black Lives Matter Movement. She is a senior advisor for MomsRising where, prior to joining Time’s Up, she co-led a national grassroots organization of more than a million people working to achieve economic security and justice for moms, women and families. Before her work at MomsRising, Bandele successfully launched two historic and successful legal cases against police misconduct in New York City and worked to pass landmark police reform legislation in New York.
Tchen — the former chief of staff for Michelle Obama — resigned on Thursday after damning reports were published in both the New York Times and the Washington Post, which revealed texts that Tchen had sent to her staff at Time’s Up in December 2020, instructing them to “stand down” from publicly supporting Lindsey Boylan, the first accuser of Cuomo.
Tchen’s resignation came at a time of crisis for Time’s Up, which was founded in January 2018 by Hollywood A-listers and Washington power players on the promise of supporting women against sexual harassment. In recent months, though, Time’s Up committed a series of unforced errors, which culminated in a public reckoning about its own purpose.
Tchen and other Time’s Up staffers became involved in the handling of the sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo, and after their connections with Cuomo and others in his administration were uncovered, the controversy raised questions about whether a group that’s meant to protect victims had been compromised by its access to power.
Earlier this summer, Time’s Up was implicated in a bombshell report by the New York Attorney General that found that Cuomo had sexually harassed 11 women. The Attorney General’s investigation revealed that the law firm of a Time’s Up founder, Roberta Kaplan, represents Melissa DeRosa, a former Cuomo aide who helped draft a letter smearing Boylan. The AG found that Kaplan had spoken with DeRosa about a draft letter that would respond to Boylan’s accusations, which she read to Tchen at the time. The investigation described the letter as part of an “unlawful retaliation” against Boylan.
Following the AG’s report, Kaplan resigned, amid outcry from sexual assault survivors, and Tchen said she did not recall the details of her conversation with Kaplan and was unaware that the letter was meant to be disparaging against any women. As recently as this past Monday, Tchen told the Time’s Up board she had never been in direct contact with Cuomo, and had no plans to resign. But just days later, when Tchen’s text messages were published in the Post’s report, the writing was on the wall, as more details of her involvement in the Cuomo allegations were exposed.
In a statement announcing her resignation, Tchen said that she will continue fighting for women.
“Now is the time for Time’s Up to evolve and move forward as there is so much more work to do for women. It is clear that I am not the leader who can accomplish that in this moment,” Tchen’s statement said, in part. “I am especially aware that my position at the helm of Time’s Up has become a painful and divisive focal point, where those very women and other activists who should be working together to fight for change are instead battling each other in harmful ways. Therefore, it is time for me to resign and continue to work for change in other ways, and to let Time’s Up engage in the thoughtful and meaningful process I know will occur to move forward.”
In a statement, the Time’s Up board of directors said, “Accepting her resignation today is a demonstration of accountability and will allow our organization to move forward.”
How exactly Time’s Up will move forward is in question, as many sexual assault survivors have criticized the the organization, which is now on its third attempt to find a new CEO in just three years. (Before Tchen, Lisa Borders, the inaugural CEO of Time’s Up, stepped down in February 2019, after her son was accused of sexual abuse.)
Whether the #MeToo movement needs Time’s Up remains to be seen. But many survivors, victims and those in the community believe in the work of the organization and its legal defense fund, which has connected thousands of people to attorneys on legal cases that have helped towards the fight for equality.