Capitol Alert

Top California Democrat resigns after sexual misconduct complaints

Facing a sexual misconduct investigation and growing political pressure to step down, Eric Bauman announced Thursday that he would resign as chair of the California Democratic Party.

“I have made the realization that in order for those to whom I may have caused pain and who need to heal, for my own health, and in the best interest of the Party that I love and to which I have dedicated myself for more than 25 years, it is in everyone’s best interest for me to resign,” Bauman said in a statement.

It marks a swift downfall for the first openly gay leader of the California Democratic Party, who narrowly won a contentious and controversial race for the chairmanship last year.

One of Bauman’s deputies, Daraka Larimore-Hall, initiated the process to remove him last week after hearing from individuals who said Bauman had sexually harassed and assaulted them at party events. By Monday, the party had launched an investigation into the complaints and Bauman took a leave of absence. He announced Wednesday that he would seek unspecified treatment for health problems and alcohol abuse.

But the calls for Bauman’s departure intensified on Thursday after Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom weighed in. Responding to an article in the Los Angeles Times, which reported that Bauman frequently made explicit remarks to both male and female staffers about their sex lives and bodies and that he touched them in ways that made them uncomfortable, Newsom said he should resign.

“Sexual harassment shouldn’t be tolerated — no person or party, no matter how powerful, is above accountability,” Newsom spokesman Nathan Click said in a statement.

More soon followed, including the prominent lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights group Equality California and California Democratic Party Secretary Jenny Bach.

Born in the Bronx and raised in Queens, Bauman, 59, worked as a nurse before entering politics. He organized gay voters in the early 1990s and took over the Los Angeles County Democratic Party in 2000, transforming it into a political force over the course of nearly two decades.

The well-connected Bauman, who was a top staff member for former Gov. Gray Davis and in the Assembly Speaker’s Office, waited in the wings for years to assume the state party chairmanship. But as he rose in prominence, he faced a backlash from some Democratic activists for consulting on initiative campaigns related to health care and for his brash style.

In August, he ignited a political firestorm when he called for a boycott of fast food chain In-N-Out for donating $25,000 to California Republicans. He walked back his statement a few days later.

Other accounts of Bauman’s alleged behavior continue to emerge.

Spencer Dayton, a 21-year-old party delegate from Lodi, told The Bee that he was twice groped at Democratic events by Bauman, who did not appear to be drunk either time.

The first incident was during the May 2017 convention in Sacramento, Dayton said, when he approached Bauman in the main hall to say hello. Dayton was supporting Bauman’s opponent for chair, but he said he wanted to hear Bauman’s opinion on issues of importance to the party’s rural caucus.

Dayton said it the first time he had ever spoken personally with Bauman. When he shook Bauman’s hand, he said, Bauman pulled him in close and grabbed his penis. Though it happened in front of other people, none of them saw.

“It was very, very quick, but very intentional,” Dayton said.

At the party’s executive board meeting that November, Dayton said he again approached Bauman to ask for support on a resolution that he planned to introduce.

Bauman put his arm over Dayton’s shoulder, he said. Then “he reached down and grabbed my butt and said, ‘Well, I’m going to have think about it.’” Dayton said he felt like he was being propositioned to trade sex for Bauman’s help.

Dayton said he had only ever told a few people about what happened, but he felt compelled to come forward when he heard that others were speaking out about their experiences with Bauman. He said he has retained a lawyer and reported the incidents to party officials as part of the investigation.

That investigation will continue, according to Alexandra Gallardo Rooker, the first vice chair of the party and its acting chair in Bauman’s absence. She said Thursday that the party will formulate a plan in the coming days to elect a new leader, likely at its May convention.

Editor’s note: This post was updated at 12:08 p.m. with Dayton’s account. It was updated at 1:33 p.m. with Bauman’s resignation.

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