Congressional District 2 candidate Yahya Yuksel, left, answers questions from reporters during a press conference on Sunday. Yuksel made a statement about a decade-old allegation that he raped a teenage girl when he was in high school. He was never charged. 

Leading Pima County Democrats are demanding that 28-year-old Yahya Yuksel drop out of the Congressional District 2 race.

Yuksel gave an uninterrupted two-minute statement during a news conference Sunday where he denied a decade-old allegation that he raped an intoxicated teenage girl when he was in high school.

"I just want to say that no woman should be dismissed, no one should be dismissed. And women should be empowered to speak up," Yuksel said. "Regarding the allegation, it is deeply disturbing to me. It hurts. I could never ever force myself upon someone."

He then acknowledged that he was staying in the Congressional District 2 race.

"Of course. I didn't do anything wrong," Yuksel said

Yuksel then left the room and then his campaign headquarters, unwilling to take questions. Many in the audience demanded that he drop out of the race.

Yuksel would return the property minutes later, but only after a young woman chased him down as he attempted to leave, and agreed to take questions.

The candidate largely sidestepped a question about why he felt he was still viable, saying he was innocent of the allegations against him and that his political platform was gaining momentum in the seven-person Democratic primary.

Yuksel was challenged by Tucson resident Veronica Nicole to answer whether he had sex with the reportedly intoxicated girl — an allegation he was never formally questioned about, arrested on or charged.

The 28-year-old began to answer the question but was cut off by his campaign manager Ivanna Ferra, telling him to focus.

A few seconds later, Yuksel seemed to acknowledge some details of the incident.

"Listen, my friend; I was a virgin. I would not do anything like that. I would not impose myself on a person," Yuksel said.

Democrats were quick to react to the press conference, with all six of the Democrats running against Yuksel demanding that he immediately drop out.

"While Mr. Yuksel continues to deny the allegations against him, this story has left our community reeling," said retired Assistant Secretary of the Army Mary Matiella. "His continued presence as a candidate is not only causing grief among survivors of sexual assault in our district but also distracts from the conversation taking place about who would best represent our community in Washington."

The Pima County Democratic Party's executive committee is also considering taking emergency action against Yuksel.

Several party members have called for a meeting to discuss the candidate, but acknowledge that their options are limited.

The party has no power to remove him from the ballot but could offer an official condemnation of his actions.

Yuksel has also been uninvited to the next planned Congressional District 2 debate, set for Thursday. The debate was the latest in a string of debates organized by local Political Action Committee Represent Me AZ.

The group has not endorsed a candidate, but in a public statement, they said that had hoped Yuksel would have announced on Sunday that he was leaving the race.

"Attempting to explain away the damage by citing your youth was, at best, tone-deaf, and at worst, perpetuates a dangerous rape culture in which women who cannot give consent are frightened into silence are victimized further," the group said in a public statement. "Following today's press conference, we are not willing to give you access to voters."


Reporter with the Arizona Daily Star. I cover politics as well as the city of Tucson and other municipalities in Southern Arizona.