Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Harassment allegations, true or not, hurt us all

Allen Warren
Allen Warren

Allen Warren has been a very good city councilman representing northern Sacramento neighborhoods bypassed by prosperity abundant in more fortunate sections of town. Just this weekend, and every weekend all summer long, hundreds of kids and their families congregated in Del Paso Heights for well-attended events meant to keep peace and promote community.

The music, comedy and dance events, called Nightlife Turned Right Sacramento, have played out every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night since June. They have been made possible by $200,000 in Measure U funds, raised when Sacramento voters elected to tax themselves to restore police officers laid off during the recession. Some community activists had been frustrated that more Measure U money wasn’t being used for community-building.

Enter Allen Warren, who used his political acumen to leverage the funds for neighborhoods that needed the help. Warren was elected in 2012 and, last week, allegations of sexual harassment against him surfaced.

“He told me he had $200,000 in Measure U money if we could organize events,” said Darrell Roberts, one of the best-known community activists in Sacramento. “So we did.”

“We’ve been able to keep kids safe all summer long. We’ve averaged 300 people at every event, more than half of them kids.” This might not sound like much if you live in neighborhoods where such events aren’t essential.

But they are to Sacramento neighborhoods yearning for diversions to keep young people out of the rear seats of police squad cars on hot summer nights.

Warren’s gift as a budding politician has been melding his business experience with sensibilities shaped by his upbringing in Del Paso Heights – still a community overrepresented in police calls for service, poverty, free school lunches and TB outbreaks, and underrepresented in opportunities for young people.

“He’s been effective,” Roberts said of Warren. “He’s delivered things you want from elected officials. He’s brought businesses to Del Paso Heights. He talks to people about making the community more attractive. He has the kind of personality that brings people together.”

Northern Sacramento, and especially Del Paso Heights, needed someone like Warren on the City Council. Local politics are still rife with cliques and political clubs lacking in racial, ethnic and economic diversity.

Warren’s predecessor, Sandy Sheedy, was a divisive voice in her final years. Her nadir came in late 2011 when Sheedy was a no-show at a Del Paso Heights community event where residents gathered to express their concerns over the death of an African American man in police custody.

That Sheedy blew off the meeting – but found the time to hold a news conference bashing plans for a downtown arena that same week – personified the lack of political representation for northern Sacramento’s poorest neighborhoods.

For all these reasons and more, the sexual harassment allegations levied against Warren are more than just damaging to him. They threaten the interests of those he represents.

Delia Chacon, a former Warren staffer, made very specific allegations against him. She claims Warren coerced her into having sex with him for nearly two years. She claims Warren brandished firearms in front of her and laughed when she expressed fear. She claims she traveled with Warren on out-of-town trips, “sexual escapades.” She claims Warren threatened her with termination if she spurned his advances.

Warren’s response on Thursday, just before a City Council meeting and the nationally televised Republican presidential debate: “I want to state clearly that the allegations made by Ms. Chacon are false. Since this matter is under investigation, it is inappropriate for me to comment further at this time.”

When the response to the allegations came three days after they came to light, you wondered in the interim if some mea culpa was coming. Was this a relationship that was about consensual adults before it went bad? Was Warren going to do a Bill Clinton after the jig was up? Was he going to say he had “sinned” and was going to try to make amends with his family, colleagues and constituents?

Nope. If this were a card game, Warren has called the bluff and put his chips on an all-or-nothing hand. It’s all false, he said.

OK, but the stakes are higher. The allegations go beyond sex and harassment.

Chacon alleged that Warren also tried to coerce her into spending her work hours on assignments that had nothing to do with city business. She claims that Warren wanted her to spend her time working on assignments meant to help his business, New Faze Development.

Mayor Kevin Johnson, a close Warren ally and friend, has gotten negative publicity this summer for having members of his staff spend considerable work time on Johnson’s efforts to lead a national group of African American mayors.

But here is the difference between the two situations as they stand now: Johnson was using his staffers while taking over the National Conference of Black Mayors. By all accounts, this was a terribly run organization afflicted by legal and financial problems that were considerable.

You could argue that as a leader of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and as a high-profile African American leader himself, Johnson had an obligation to help improve a group, founded during the civil rights era, that had fallen on hard times.

Given Sacramento’s reputation as a diverse city, having Johnson lead the group was good public relations for the city. Johnson’s national profile has been good for the city. And even if you don’t agree with that – and Johnson’s loud detractors do not – there has been no proof that he profited from getting involved with NCBM. You could even argue that he should have his head examined for ever doing so given the grief he’s gotten from the experience.

But in Warren’s case, Chacon alleges that he used City Hall staff time to help a for-profit business founded by Warren. If the outside counsel retained by the city finds this allegation to be true, Warren has a problem. If the investigation finds he coerced an employee for sex, Warren has a problem.

In this card game, Warren had better not be bluffing or all that good work he has done is jeopardized. Already, the Democratic Party of Sacramento – a liberal but not very diverse group antagonistic toward Johnson for years – has called for the formation of an ethics panel because of the Warren allegations.

Johnson, who has faced his own sexual harassment allegation as well as the black mayors flap, has been quiet and withdrawn this summer. The only sound you hear from City Hall is the circling of wagons, while Johnson’s enemies get louder and louder.

Sacramento City Hall is the opposite of transparent right now. A lot of important work should be done right now. Is there a leader in the house?

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