When Sharon Bialek met fiance Mark Harwood for dinner at their Mundelein-area home Friday night, he sensed something was bothering her.
"I could tell she was agitated," said Harwood, 50.
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She proceeded to explain that, years earlier, she had been the victim of an unwanted sexual advance from Herman Cain, now a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.
And she said she intended to go to New York with celebrity attorney Gloria Allred and tell the world.
"I was a bit shocked," Harwood said Monday.
Harwood said he never doubted Bialek's account.
"When she told me, there was absolutely no reservations about believing her," he said.
Harwood spoke with Bialek after her news conference. She sounded "relieved," he said.
He described Bialek as a stay-at-home mom who went public "to do the right thing."
Harwood said Bialek wanted to be a voice for the women who have accused Cain of sexual harassment but have not come forward.
"It takes guts," Harwood said.
The news came as a shock to Paul Bialek, Sharon's cousin, whose wife saw the news conference and immediately called him.
"It was actually stunning," Paul Bialek, 45, of Deerfield, said late Monday night. "Especially because she's a registered Republican. There's a part of me that says, 'Gosh, I hope all of this is false,' but I would assume everything she is saying is true."
Sharon Bialek grew up on the Northwest Side of Chicago and now rents a townhouse in Glenview, according to family members. She and Harwood have dated for about four years and have been engaged since last year.
"I believe her to be a truthful woman, I don't think she's flaky and making this up," Paul Bialek said. "She's not somebody who's out there to get attention."
Bialek did not break any new ground while making the media rounds early Tuesday morning with attorney Gloria Allred by her side.
She appeared on the CBS Morning Show early Tuesday and said she had nothing to gain "but everything to lose" by coming forward at this time.
She reiterated that she wanted to be the face and voice for the other women who did not come forward with similar accusations, and again asked that Cain admit to the sexual harrassment allegations.
Sharon Bialek has a marketing degree from Arizona State University and is a former employee of the National Restaurant Association's educational foundation, according to her fiance. Bialek said her encounter with Cain occurred after she was terminated from that job.
"I can understand why she would keep it quiet; people don't always want to trumpet this," Paul Bialek said. "Her first response is not to tell the story to the tabloids, but to offer it freely. She was just out there speaking freely. She doesn't seem to have any personal gain."
After her time with the National Restaurant Association, Bialek worked in marketing and advertising for WGN and CBS radio stations in Chicago, Harwood said. She's a full-time mom now, raising a son from an earlier relationship, Harwood said.
Public records indicate her family had a home in Des Plaines.
Residents in the Bialeks' former neighborhood said the family moved out several years ago. The house is now rented.
No one answered at the Glenview townhouse Monday evening.
A steady stream of reporters knocked on Harwood's front door Monday. The British-born man took it in stride, joking with reporters and asking a few if they brought any Guinness stout with them.
Harwood said he understands the overwhelming media attention. The stakes are high when the story involves presidential contenders, he acknowledged.
He also is aware of the media scrutiny that lies ahead for him and his fiancee. So is Bialek.
"She's a strong girl," Harwood said.
• Daily Herald staff writers Lee Filas and Madhu Krishnamurthy contributed to this report.