***Content warning: Allegations of domestic violence, including and physical and verbal abuse, are mentioned in this interview.
State Senate Candidate Amanda Kirchgessner is being accused of domestic violence by her ex-wife, Brandi Morgan, according to an Ithaca Times investigation this week. Amanda Kirchgessner spoke with WRFI’s Laura Rosbrow-Telem on ‘Your Morning‘ about her response to these allegations. This conversation first aired on Oct. 5.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, know that there are resources available to safely help. The Advocacy Center in Ithaca’s hotline is (607) 277-5000, and the National Domestic Violence hotline is 1-800-799-7233.
*Kathryn Miller assisted with the transcript, below the audio.
Laura Rosbrow Telem: I’m Laura Rosbrow Telem and you’re listening to WRFI. Amanda Kirchgessner is running for State Senate in New York’s District 58. She recently won the Democratic nomination and she’s facing incumbent State Senator Republican Tom O’Mara. But, I imagine you can agree that this week has been probably the toughest for your campaign. And you. And before we get into the domestic violence allegations that were reported in the Ithaca Times, I just wanted to first acknowledge that you were also in a car accident this week. I hope that you’re feeling OK.
Amanda Kirchgessner: A little sore. My fiancée and I were going to a meet and greet in Corning. The driver came out from a stop sign right in front of us. I did my best to avoid it. Yeah, we were a little shaken up, a little bruised, definitely sore, but thank you for inquiring.
LRT: Yeah. No. It’s, it’s just terrible.
AK: Yeah, replacing a car right now is going to be a lot of fun.
LRT: Yeah, yeah. So, in any case, obviously the main reason that we’re here is this Ithaca Times story. You also released a full press release at the end and you said at that that you would actually be happy to speak with any reporters who wished to contact you and so anyway…
AK: Yeah, absolutely like, I, yeah, deeply regret that Matt Butler had to rush this story out because I’d given him the names of eight folks of high integrity in this community who could have spoken to my side of the story. But we were given about 18 hours opportunity to get in touch with them before the story went to print. I was really disappointed to learn that it had been in the works for over two weeks. Yeah, that’s my biggest regret in all of this. He was very respectful in keeping our interview off the record. I have to give him that. I just I didn’t realize how detrimental being off the record with a reporter of integrity could be. You know, I’m a political novice – I’m a reportering – I’m not used to dealing with reporters. And it’s all about the story. So here we are.
LRT: Right. Right. I – you know – but now that you’re here. I’d like to hear from you personally how you respond to these allegations.
AK: I, like, certainly got into a DWI accident. I was arrested for DWI in 2011. I had a severe drinking problem. I’ve gone through counseling. It was diagnosed as a drinking problem. I learned why I drank to excess. I learned to recognize the symptoms. And I do drink infrequently, now. It’s taken a lot of self-discipline to learn my limits. I mean, aside, you know, I’m doing the sober October thing some of my friends are. But that was purely consequential. Yeah. This is – that wasn’t really… I don’t know if you or any of your listeners have been in a long-term relationship that wasn’t working out and they couldn’t figure out why you turned to other sources of enjoyment. Working in the service industry, alcohol is available. It’s pretty commonplace so it was an outlet for me.
LRT: Was it a factor in any of these incidents?
AK: I mean, I can’t speak to that. I know I’ve read many of the police reports and I imagine that an odor of alcohol would have been reported in those. You know, I’ve seen probably half a dozen police reports of times when I had called the police to help deescalate our argumentation. You know, like, I really – it just makes me sad, because I was in a relationship with somebody that I loved deeply. I wanted so badly for it to work. She was the first person I’d ever been in a long-term relationship with. We married rather quickly. And I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t make her happy. And I tried everything that I knew, you know, the tools in my box to make that work, but, you know, here we are – like I tried to make it work, couldn’t make it work… If it weren’t for a handful of people who recognized that, you know, under those 230 pounds that I had become because I was eating myself and drinking myself to death, you know, that they help me realize that I had some self-worth and self-value, like, I don’t think I would have been able to get out. You know a handful of co-workers who just became my friend despite of where I had gone and just really encouraged me. A longtime friend who recently passed away like held my hand through filling out the divorce paperwork and made sure I got it done, you know. And she was very inspirational to me because she had been through a divorce herself and she and her husband – er, ex-husband – remained best friends. And that was what I really wanted. Like I knew that, you know, I loved Brandi. I knew that we weren’t right for one another as romantic partners and I – yeah, it just breaks my heart.
LRT: So, you were mentioning that, you know, alcohol wasn’t mentioned in the police reports but for most of these incidents there weren’t police reports, they were just instances that occurred between you and Brandi and were unreported and she, you know, had corroborated by several people she knew in her life who she talked to about it.
AK: Matt showed us multiple police reports from Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department –
LRT: Yeah, I’m saying that there were but it wasn’t of each of the incidents that was mentioned in the article. That’s what I’m saying.
LRT: And, I know that this is going to be painful but I think that this is important for our listeners concerning these allegations have now been made public. I’m going to have you listen to part of a tape recording that Brandi made in which she lists the things that she claims that you did against her.
AK: Yeah, you know Matt played this for me and he said because I didn’t categorically deny what she was saying he thought that was enough evidence to move forward with.
LRT: Yeah, I’m gonna –
AK: I don’t know if any of your listeners have been in a relationship where agreeing with everything your abuser says is a form of coping. But I will say that I agreed with everything that Brandi said as a means to not create a fight. So I think that that’s really important for folks to understand before they hear this. If the weather was wrong it was my fault. You know if the animal – if one of the cats pooped on the floor it was my fault. You know, I I learned to take responsibility for everything because of the nature of our relationship.
LRT: Ok. Now I appreciate that explanation. I’m going to still play this clip though.
Brandi Morgan: You threw me to the ground. You pulled my pants off. You told me you wanted to choke me to death. You took my phone away. And now you grabbed the back of my head and pulled my hair out to get your phone.
AK: Well, you still wanted to be with me.
LRT: So how do you react to that? You said at the end – that’s a little bit hard to hear, but you said at the end, “Well, you still wanted to be with me.”
AK: I mean, the details of our bedroom I don’t think are relevant to the conversation. Lots of different people are into lots of different things. So, I’m just going to set that one aside. I did, in an instance when I was hiding in the bathroom from her, she got into my phone and started roaming through my contacts, berating my friends. And I opened the bathroom door, reached across her to grab my phone and went back into the bathroom. If she fell it was an accident but… I… yeah… she did want to be with me. I mean she had her claws in me and I did not know how to get them out. And – yeah – it’s – again, like, I just wanted her to be happy and I knew it wasn’t going to be with me.
Because it just took me time to recognize the pattern because I’d never been in a relationship before. And you look at me now – like, I am in a relationship with somebody who loves me and I’m on the ballot and I’m flourishing. I’ve dug in on social justice issues locally and throughout the region. I see that there’s a tremendous amount of potential in what some folks have commonly referred to as the “Sacrifice Zone” that is the 58th District. I mean this is one of the most neglected areas of New York State. They’re willfully extracting resources, it’s a dumping ground for fracking waste, the people are poor, they’re addicted to drugs, you know, and I recognize the humanity in each and every one of those individuals. You know, we could make this about my past but I’d much rather make this about our future. There are incredible insights that are coming to me daily. A friend of mine pointed out how half of black men in this country have criminal records. So, are they not supposed to run for office? One of the most intelligent people I know is a formerly incarcerated person and he would make an excellent representative at any level of government, because he just knows the system inside and out. Why? Because he’s been inside of it and –
LRT: Yeah, I understand the comparison, but I think at the same time part of winning an election is winning over public opinion. And I think it’s fair to say that these allegations are deeply depleting people’s opinion of you –
AK: But they’re false. That’s the problem. Like, I was in an abusive marriage. That does not make me an abuser and getting out was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
LRT: But you haven’t denied the things that you did. I’m not saying that there wasn’t also things emotionally that were abusive towards you. But you’re not denying the things that are mentioned in this article.
AK: I did not attempt to rape her. I never hit her. I never threatened to kill her. I never threaten to kill our animals. Her leaving and taking one of our dogs was one of the most – the hardest things for me because she kept telling me she’s going to come and take the cats. I had to give up four cats to the SPCA. Is that something that an abuser would do when I was going to kill the cats? I don’t think so. I tried keeping those cats for months after our relationship ended because she kept saying she was going to come and get them. Again, like, I don’t – it makes me so sad to think about because I loved what we had, parts of it – the abuse was the problem. That’s why I filed for divorce. That’s why I did, you know, that’s why I offered to let her stay in that house six months rent-free so she could get her life together, pack up, move out. You know, she chose not to take me up on any of those things.
LRT: Okay, with all that aside, let’s say you come to the conclusion that this will affect your campaign so negatively that you won’t have a good chance against Tom O’Mara. Michael Lausell’s still on the Working Family party –
AK: No, he’s not.
LRT: It says on Ballotpedia that he is.
AK: That hasn’t been updated.
LRT: Fair enough.
AK: I just – I mean, Working Families has put me on the line and they have endorsed me.
LRT: Would you consider backing out of the race at this point?
AK: Absolutely not. The people of the 58th District deserve a real representative, somebody who wants to serve them. I don’t think measuring people on their past actions is what is relevant. It’s measuring people at where they are now. If we continue to measure Americans by their history, we’re a nation of genocidal maniacs. If you really want to look at who, where America comes from. Doesn’t mean we don’t have potential to be better in our future. And now is the moment to recognize that.
LRT: You just heard from Amanda Kirchgessner who is running for State Senate in New York’s District 58. She recently won the Democratic nomination and is facing incumbent State Senator Republican Tom O’Mara. We were just speaking about the Ithaca Times article where Kirchgessner’s ex-wife accused her of domestic violence. Kirchgessner gave her side of the story today. Thank you so much for coming in.
AK: Thanks for having me.