PHOENIX — An Arizona county sheriff seeking the GOP nomination for an Arizona congressional seat publicly came out as gay on Saturday, amid allegations of misconduct made by a man with whom he allegedly had a relationship.
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu denied claims he tried to threaten the man, who is Hispanic, with deportation if their past relationship was made public, and said he is no longer a part of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
Babeu’s announcement comes just one day after the Phoenix New Times broke the story about allegations from the sheriff’s former boyfriend that Babeu’s attorney threatened him with deportation after he refused to sign an agreement promising not to disclose details of their relationship.
“I’m here to say that all these allegations that were in one of these newspapers are absolutely, completely false,” the sheriff said in a news conference Saturday, surrounded by a number of his deputies and fellow elected officials.
“Except for the issues that refer to me as being gay. Because that’s the truth. I am gay.”
Babeu, 43, confirmed that he did have a relationship with the man identified by the New Times only as “Jose,” but denied claims that he threatened him with deportation following their breakup. Babeu said now believes Jose is a legal citizen.
The New Times reported that Babeu had sent lewd photos of himself, text messages and emails to Jose, who found out Babeu was also communicating with other men through an account on the gay dating website Adam4Adam.
A rising star in the Arizona Republican party, Babeu had been serving as co-chair of Mitt Romney‘s presidential campaign in Arizona, and is a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the state’s fourth congressional district.
Babeu has appeared alongside Romney on the campaign trail, and alongside U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in a pro-immigration television commercial which McCain aired during his primary campaign in 2010. Babeu also spoke earlier this month at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul confirmed has that “Babeu has stepped down from his volunteer position with the campaign so he can focus on the allegations against him,” the Huffington Post reported.
Babeu said he had no plans to suspend his campaign for Congress or resign his office as sheriff.