UPDATED: Bauman taking leave as CA Dem chair due to sexual harassment charges
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In light of the sexual misconduct allegations against him, gay California Democratic Party Chair Eric Bauman is taking a leave of absence while the investigation into the accusations is conducted.
A statement released by the party late Monday said that Bauman's leave was effective as of 5 p.m. and would last through the conclusion of the independent investigation being conducted. First Vice Chair Alexandra "Alex" Gallardo Rooker is assuming the duties of the chair for the time being.
Mike Roth, a spokesperson for the California Democratic Party, explained in an emailed statement to reporters that Bauman had made the decision "after taking the holiday weekend to consider the most constructive path forward for" the state party.
"Chair Bauman believes this decision is the best way to ensure the independence and integrity of the process," stated Roth. "The Party is confident that the procedures in place will allow for all parties to come forward freely and provide for a thorough and complete review."
The announcement came hours after the Bay Area Reporter reported that the chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party felt Bauman needed to relinquish his day-to-day management duties of the statewide party while being investigated. In a phone interview Monday afternoon David Campos, a gay man who formerly served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, told the B.A.R. that he felt Bauman should step aside until the investigation is completed.
"One thing I would say is I don't see how he can perform his duties while an investigation is ongoing," said Campos. "From my perspective, at a minimum, he should take a leave of absence so the work of the party can continue."
The day after Thanksgiving the state Democratic Party was rocked by the revelation that a number of the party's staff had accused Bauman of sexual harassment and assault in conversations with party Vice Chair Daraka Larimore-Hall. In a letter he released to his fellow party members, Larimore-Hall said the "young political professionals" desired to be left alone and some wished to remain anonymous.
Without going into the details of the allegations, he wrote that, "Their stories are devastating. I believe them."
Upon learning of the allegations, Larimore-Hall said he had demanded that Bauman resign, which he refused to do. Larimore-Hall said he then filed charges calling for Bauman's removal as chair with the state party's secretary, Jenny Bach.
"Obviously, it is completely unacceptable for Chairman Bauman to remain in office given these credible, corroborated and utterly heart-breaking allegations," wrote Larimore-Hall. "That is why I initiated a complaint within the California Democratic Party Human Resources Department, and also called on Eric Bauman to resign as chairman of the California Democratic Party."
He pledged that, as vice chair of the state party, he "will not tolerate sexual harassment or assault on any level. And once a thorough investigation is conducted, we must work to ensure this never happens again."
Khanna tweet breaks story open
The matter then broke open publicly when Congressman Ro Khanna (D-San Jose) tweeted about the allegations late Friday night, calling the accusations against Bauman "shocking." He added that the party should replace Bauman as chair with Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, who in June led the successful recall of former Judge Aaron Persky due to his lenient sentencing of a Stanford swimmer who sexually assaulted and attempted to rape an unconscious woman.
Dauber responded in a tweet thanking Khanna for his confidence in her.
"It's definitely way past time to stand with survivors and say #EnoughIsEnough to this kind of conduct from our leaders. We need to make sexual harassment and violence a voting issue — in the party and at the ballot box," wrote Dauber, who tagged in the tweet a reporter for the website San Jose Inside, which was the first news outlet to report on the allegations.
In a statement released Saturday, as other news organizations began reporting on the matter, Bauman released a short statement in which he did not deny the allegations made against him.
"I take seriously any allegation brought forward by anyone who believes they have been caused pain," stated Bauman.
He disclosed that "a prompt, thorough and independent investigation of the allegations has been undertaken by a respected outside investigator ensuring these individuals making the charges are treated with respect and free from any concerns of retaliation."
It was reported that the Sacramento-based law firm Churchwell White had been retained to look into the allegations.
In his statement Bauman pledged that, "The California Democratic Party should and will be the model for how allegations like these are treated to ensure fairness and to determine truth. Procedures are in place to handle these matters, and independent counsel will ensure that they are followed."
He added that he looks "forward to putting these allegations behind us and moving forward as unified Democrats."
Bauman became the first openly LGBT chair of the California Democratic Party in May 2017 in a heated and close contest with progressive leader Kimberly Ellis of the Bay Area. He won by a 60-vote margin, which Ellis contested.
As news of the controversy spread over the holiday weekend, most prominent LGBT Democrats in the state remained silent about the allegations. The LGBT Caucus of the California Democratic Party has yet to comment about it.
Gay Assemblyman Evan Low (D-San Jose), who chairs the Democratic Legislative LGBT Caucus, told the B.A.R. Monday that, "Eric Bauman has dedicated his life to the Democratic Party and we are a stronger party because of him. Recent news has been troubling and I support the prompt actions of a thorough and independent investigation while also protecting victims from retaliation."
In response to a request for comment from the B.A.R., statewide LGBT rights advocacy group Equality California released a statement saying, "Any time that allegations of sexual harassment, abuse or discrimination are made, they should be taken seriously and an independent and thorough investigation should be conducted immediately. It is our understanding that Mr. Bauman has requested such an investigation. Equality California is committed to creating a world that is healthy, just and fully equal for all LGBTQ people - and that includes combatting all forms of sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination."
Omar Torres, a gay San Jose resident who represents Region 7 on the state party committee, did not respond to the B.A.R.'s request for comment Monday. Over the weekend he criticized the party's handling of the matter in an interview with San Jose Inside.
"I have been texted, called, and emailed from various state delegates about these accusations and not our party leadership," he told the news site.
Jess Durfee, a gay man who serves with Bauman on the Democratic National Committee, told the B.A.R. he was waiting to comment until after seeing the independent investigation report.
Campos told the B.A.R. that he first learned about there being allegations of improper behavior between Bauman and young people during a bus tour ahead of the November 6 midterm elections on the Thursday prior to election day. That weekend Bauman was set to participate in a get-out-the-vote event in San Francisco that the local party and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) had coordinated, but the local party leaders asked him not to attend.
"Both Pelosi's folks and I felt the allegations were serious enough that it was important for him not to come to our event," said Campos. "We specifically requested at that point an investigation be done by the Democratic Party. I presume that process began right away."
While Campos believes at least one of the people alleged to have been harassed by Bauman attended the San Francisco event, he has not spoken directly with any of the victims. He stressed that they must be heard and empowered to tell their stories.
"I don't know the veracity of any of the allegations," said Campos. "They are very serious and have to be taken very seriously."
It wasn't until Friday that Campos learned of the formal complaint that Larimore-Hall had filed against Bauman.
"Look, I believe we have to protect the victims, respect the victims, and I think we should give him due process," said Campos. "This should be an independent investigation. But I don't see how he can perform in his job given what has happened."
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This story was updated to report that Bauman would take a leave of absence.
This story was updated to include a comment from Assemblyman Evan Low.