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By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Tomas O'Grady was surprised to learn that the interview committee for the Stonewall Democratic Club was planning to endorse him for city councilman in Council District 4. He had, in his mind, been honest and blunt throughout the 45-minute interview.
"I was thrilled," says O'Grady, in his charming Irish brogue. An outsider and first-time candidate running against incumbent Tom LaBonge, O'Grady had gained admiration for his years of work on community issues in Los Feliz. But getting Stonewall's endorsement was no small feat.
He brought his daughter with him to see what he assumed would be his endorsement. The packed meeting hall included a veritable who's who of the L.A. political elite: Congresswoman Maxine Waters, City Council members Jan Perry and Bernard Parks et al.
The interview committee made its recommendation, and a few people got up to make speeches for and against. A hush fell over the room as the last speaker rose. It was Eric Bauman, former president of the Stonewall Democrats, chair of the L.A. County Democratic Party, vice chair of the California Democratic Party, and senior adviser to Speaker of the Assembly John Pérez.
Of all the dignitaries in the room, it was Bauman, the powerful boss of the countywide Democratic Party, who commanded the most attention.
Bauman's speech was tinged with anger. He was shocked that Stonewall — his club, for Bauman is its former president and in many ways still controls it — would even consider endorsing anyone other than sitting City Councilman Tom LaBonge.
"We don't kick incumbents to the curb," he said plainly, according to O'Grady.
Bauman says that's untrue — that he never used LaBonge's incumbency to shut out O'Grady, a strong new face in city politics. But people present at the meeting say it's not so.
Some in the room accuse him of intimidating Democratic Party Club members. Bauman denies doing this as well — at least on purpose. He is, after all, intimidating before he opens his mouth, looking as he does like some stock character from The Sopranos, from his solid, stocky frame and long overcoat right down to his gold pinky ring and gruff East Coast accent.
When he talks to you, he has the disturbing habit of staring coldly into your eyes.
"I don't have to use intimidation," he says, "because I am really good at being persuasive."
In his speech, he said O'Grady ought to "wait his turn" and that LaBonge should be allowed to "serve out the rest of his term." As if once a City Councilman gets elected he automatically serves for 12 years. As if elections were mere formalities.
Sure enough, the Democratic Club endorsed LaBonge.
"The message was loud and clear: 'We're going with the incumbent,' " says O'Grady. "And Eric Bauman was the enforcer. He told the room what to do."
But six weeks later, the weakened LaBonge, seen by many in Los Feliz and Hollywood as an ineffectual cheerleader, all speeches and no ideas, sweated out Election Night when O'Grady — without any big-name Democratic Party endorsements or big money backing — won an unexpected 31 percent of the vote in a three-way race. LaBonge managed to hang on and avoid a runoff by pulling in 54 percent. Bicycle advocate Stephen Box took 14 percent.
It seems both unlikely and almost inevitable that Bauman, a former trauma nurse, a gay Jew from the Bronx, would rise to such a position of power in Los Angeles — power that Bauman uses with what some might call reckless abandon.
No local Democratic Party Club is too small, no race too minor, for Bauman to involve himself, whether a school board race in Antelope Valley, a City Council battle in West Hollywood or the primary for Los Angeles mayor, still more than a year away.
Again, Bauman pleads innocent, insisting that the event at his house wasn't his. He hasn't endorsed Greuel and he counts both Greuel and Eric Garcetti, also running for mayor, as good friends.
"He's a hard-driving, Machiavellian powerhouse, a brilliant behind-the-scenes tactician," says Ryan Gierach, publisher and editor of WeHo News, the scrappy online site that covers West Hollywood. "He knows where all the bodies are buried because he buried them."
The Stonewall Democratic Club was founded in 1975 by Morris Kight, who also founded just about everything else gay and institutional in Los Angeles (the late Tracy Sypert, former news editor of Frontiers magazine, once joked that Kight "invented homosexuality"). Stonewall was the political arm of the gay-rights movement in L.A., a way to promote gay rights and to back gay-friendly candidates. Bauman, who moved to Los Angeles the year Stonewall was founded, eventually rose to the top of its leadership.
"He basically decided he was gonna be a big shot in California politics," says Miki Jackson, an LGBT activist, president of the Hollywood Highlands democratic club and herself a well-known player in the Stonewall movement.
But rifts soon developed. In 1999, with a push from Bauman, the Stonewall Democrats endorsed Gray Davis for governor, despite the fact that his positions on gay issues were the safest of all the Democratic candidates. Bauman angered many members, like Jackson, who felt the L.A. County Democratic Club was selling out.
"The whole nature of the club transformed," says Jackson, a gay woman, who left Stonewall soon after. "We went from being this little grassroots democratic club that put gay and lesbian issues ahead of everything to being this organ of the Democratic Party."
Davis won the election. Six months later, he hired Bauman as his special assistant.
"Just a coincidence, I'm sure," says Jackson dryly.
Jackson's public and somewhat personal feud with Bauman has, strangely, stood the test of time. In March, she got a threatening letter from the L.A. County Democratic Party's lawyer, demanding that Jackson "cease and desist" from her "unlawful use of the name of the Democratic Party" in her club, which was founded in the 1930s and has counted Ronald Reagan and Upton Sinclair as members.
Such a letter could only have been sent if Bauman had ordered it.
"I doubt that what they were saying was true or enforceable," says Jackson, noting that Bauman seemed to forget about the First Amendment. "I asked a couple of attorneys and they just started laughing."
She posted a blog item that colorfully mocked Bauman, and jokingly changing the name of her group to the "Hollywood Highlands democratic club," small d, small c. This, oddly, satisfied the picayune elements that seem to drive Bauman, who considers the name change official and the matter settled.
"He's a bully," Jackson says. "Anytime you call a bully's bluff, what do they do? They fold. Vintage Eric Bauman."
"They are a very peculiar group of people who have a very strange and angry agenda," Bauman responds. "The truth of the matter is, they're a distraction."
Perhaps Bauman has good reason to feel a sense of ownership over the words "Los Angeles" and "Democratic."
"I turned the L.A. Democratic Party from a $50,000-a-year organization into a $1.5 million–a-year organization," he says.
The party is a rising force in Los Angeles City Hall politics even though races for City Council, controller, mayor and city attorney are legally nonpartisan, meaning candidates are forbidden from listing any party affiliation on the ballot.
But Bauman has been unabashedly eroding that law every chance he gets.
He inserts the Democratic Party into city races through a blizzard of glossy mailers delivered to voters' mailboxes — helping ensure that five Democratic ex-assemblymen now hold City Council seats; these are the same people who carry with them the highly partisan habits of their peers in Sacramento.
Bauman has helped push the City Council, controlled by Democrats for decades, further to the heart of establishment Democratic orthodoxy — no independent thinkers allowed.
Like O'Grady, Buscaino, a new face in politics, is not a party insider. So Bauman is using Democratic Party muscle to elect the forgettable Warren Furutani, a lifelong pol from Gardena best remembered by some for presiding over the greatest decline in Los Angeles Unified School Districts schools — a 12-year period when he sat as a less-than-inspiring member of the LAUSD Board of Education.
"It's important that they remain nonpartisan," says political consultant John Thomas, who worked for O'Grady's campaign. "We're talking potholes and infrastructure, not abortion and gay marriage."
Bauman, of course, disagrees.
"No office is nonpartisan," he says flatly.
But Bauman's job isn't just to make sure Democrats get elected — it's to make sure the right Democrats get elected.
"The sad thing about what's happened," says Bernard Parks Jr., chief of staff to his father, L.A. City Councilman Bernard Parks, "is that the Democratic Party and labor have merged themselves to the point where you can't be a Democrat if you don't support labor 100 percent."
In Councilman Parks' failed bid in the Los Angeles County Supervisor race against Mark Ridley-Thomas in 2008, the Democratic Party spent more than $342,000 supporting Ridley-Thomas and $65,000-plus attacking Parks — a solid Democrat — all because Parks had dared to question labor's hegemony in city government.
To Bauman (who chastised this reporter for getting his business cards from a non-union printer), that's how business is done now in Los Angeles: "Part of building successes in politics is, when you ask people to do stuff for you and they do it, you then have to support them."
That's why he got Stonewall to support the uninspiring LaBonge, and that's why he fights so hard to protect labor-friendly candidates against those not as friendly to labor: If you make someone a promise, you have to follow through at your end, or the next guy won't believe you.
Bauman is famous for meeting with almost anyone who's considering a run for office. He gives advice that is often blunt and helpful — but also asks unannounced candidates not to run at all, employing both the carrot and the stick. Bauman isn't above threatening them to stay out of the race. For example: "If you don't bow out, we're gonna spend $100,000 against your candidate in the mailbox," or, "If you ever want to have a political career in this town again ... "
Nor is he above the occasional promise. For example, "If you don't run, we'll take care of you." Machine politics at its finest.
"If anybody said that I went up to them and said, 'Don't run,' they're full of shit," Bauman insists. "I don't make promises or ask people to do things in a quid pro quo format. That would be against the law. I'm way too high-profile, way too visible a guy to do that."
He then adds: "Have I ever said, 'I will help you in a future race"? I'm sure I have. Have I ever said, 'I'll try to be helpful to you in your career in the future'? Sure."
Bauman's kingmaking doesn't necessarily make for good government — or a more livable Los Angeles.
The labor-friendly, almost entirely Democratic City Council has proven itself adept at handing out honorific certificates and making public declarations about corporate personhood and Arizona laws, but handles such issues as balancing the budget, crafting a coherent marijuana policy and maintaining the roads and water pipes with quite a bit less grace.
Bauman doesn't dispute this, admitting that Los Angeles today has "the most unstable, least productive and successful governance ever."
He blames not his own Democratic Party of Los Angeles County and its numerous choices for City Council, who have almost invariably won. He blames term limits.
Thanks to the musical chairs set off by term limits, as many as five Democratic state assemblymen are angling to jump to far higher-paying Los Angeles City Council spots — a jump in salary from the Legislature's $100,000 to the City Council's $178,789.
The L.A. County Democratic Party and its labor allies will push lifelong establishment candidates like Furutani for each of these spots — Bauman's choices — and keep out outsiders with broad professional and personal backgrounds, like Tomas O'Grady.
"I'm a little disappointed that the Democratic Party, in particular, would be doing business like this," O'Grady says. "I thought the Democrats were the good guys."
Reach the writer at email@example.com.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Eric Bauman as a former trauma surgeon. He was a trauma nurse.
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Thank you for this article. The current crop of LA Councilmembers and the Mayor are so disgusting that I'll never vote for anyone endorsed by the democratic party. They and their labor cohorts have brought our city to bankruptcy.
Eric is an incredible leader. He is progressive, fair and has a vision for making life better for all LA citizens. He works tirelessly and has been very creative in promoting the Red Zone program to help Democrats get elected in Republican strong-holds in LA County. He is a masterful political strategist and will hold to what he thinks is right for Dems/and LA. He and I have had our words but has always been respectful but firm. He will listen and is able to change his mind when he sees the wisdom in the other's point of view. This article was way off base painting Eric as some kind of sinister Godfather. Get involved in a Democratic Club to find out how Progressive LA politics is. Any registered Dem can attend the LACDP meetings which Eric chairs. Don't believe this drivel.
Responding to Valley for Democracy:
You are mistaken. The Rules always allowed the Immediate Past Chair to serve as a member. All members have the same rights to run for office in the County Party as any other member.
Garry S. ShayParliamentarian and Past Chair LACDP
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Is it just me, or has the once liberal LA Weekly been singing a much different tune ever since they were hit with an anti-trust suit by the Bush Administration.
Since his days as a staffer to the late Councilman John Ferraro, Tom LaBonge has never showed a propensity toward progressive or liberal politics especially with portions of his district housing the 1-percent club - He did not want to offend them.
But then when he faced opposition in his race for a third term, a desperate LaBonge cloaked himself as a long-time liberal and started accusing his two grass-roots local candidates of being "right-wing" tea partiers.
But LaBonge along with his City Council colleagues supported the bankrupting of the City to fund Billionaires and Millionaires such as Eli Broad, right-wing (and anti-gay rights) Philip Anschutz, CIM Group, and Mutual Fund managers.
He ran to protect the Redevelopment Agencies and their beneficiaries in direct opposition to Governor Brown's proposal to eliminate them.
But the hypocrisy of LaBonge was overshadowed by Eric Bauman and Gov. Brown's handlers who gave LaBonge unconditional support without knowing where LaBonge stood on issues critical to working class Democrats, the City and the State and just as importantly, where his opposition stood on those very same issues.
I remember when Eric Bauman lost his re-election for Los Angeles County Central Committee in his own Assembly, eight years ago. He came in 11th place out of 13 candidates, and was beaten by a bunch of LaRouche backed Democrats. What did Eric do to "keep in power" after he lost that election for County Central Committee? He had the Party Rules changed to allow him to run for Chair of the LACDP as "an Ex-Officio Member." He stuffed the ballot box, and even though the Democrats in his OWN NEIGHBORHOOD told him to "buzz off" he still kept his silly Chairmanship.
This is article explains my love hate relationship with the democratic party in L.A. I've been a resident of this city all my life and have started to become aware of the political candidate sausage making that takes place at city hall. I will think twice before voting for any candidate endorsed by the Los Angeles County Democratic Club or any other club associated with them. Any one defending Eric Bauman in these comments wants you to believe candidate sausage making doesn't exist, but that's exactly the kinds of smoke and mirrors they want people to focus on rather than what their actually doing, a microcosm of what the Democratic Party has become, controlled by a few to benefit their narrow point of view.
The accusation that Eric Bauman is "Macchiavellian" is based on the unstated premise that Macchiavelli wrote in The Prince that "The ends justify the means." Macchiavelli never wrote that phrase and if Eric is Macchiavellian, it is because his long years of experience have given him the wisdom of the phrase that Macchiavelli really wrote: "Si guarda al fine," which better translated means "the outcome is what counts" or "one must think of the final outcome."
I am the quintessential outsider as a member of the Peace & Freedom Party (who despises most of the leaders of my own party too) and somewhat like Eric, I know where all the bodies are buried because I was either on the burial detail or else I had it under surveillance (I've been a private investigator for over 30 years). Yet, my political and professional involvements lead me to agree with Eric approach to supporting the issues that are important to him.
Term limits? The most important thing they have accomplished in Sacramento and at the municipal level is to hand more actual power to legislative staffers, even though the technical authority to vote and make decisions resides with those who are elected. Experience counts in legislative bodies and when the staffers have been around longer than a legislator or council member, the institutional memory confers more power to the staff.
The logic of Eric's preference for more or less friendly incumbents is perfectly sound. As Benjamin Franklin said, "Words may show a man's wit, but his actions, his meaning." Why exchange oratory during a campaign from somebody who has never worked in government for the known record and ability of an incumbent? The AFL-CIO has a tried and true rule that is institutionalized for candidate endorsements: if an incumbent has a 95% or better COPE rating they should be endorsed except in exceptional circumstances.
The bottom line is that Eric is pragmatic while maintaining his idealism. As Macchiavelli really wrote, he doesn't lose site of the final outcome in any of his political calculations. He follows the same pragmatic path that led Morris Kight--West Coast Founder of the Gay Liberation Front and a member of the Peace & Freedom Party--to leave for greener pastures with the Democratic Party where he could actually get things accomplished.
I supported and spoke for Thomas O'Grady as both a member of the Stonewall Endorsement Committee, a member of the Stonewall Board, and as a constituent of the 4th City Council District. He was the best candiate for the job and I was thankful we had him as an alternaive to LaBonge. If I remember correctly, it was a close vote at Stonewall, despite the fact that LaBonge stacked the house and most people there hadn't met O'Grady before. Thomas was a strong candidate and the fact that he was able to get as close as he did to a long-time incumbent is exceptional. People still ask me about him. Thomas continues to be an incredible environmental activist who you can count on time and again. He has a terrific political future ahead of him.
As for Bauman, he has been a very fair Chair at the L.A. County Democratic Party meetings. All sides are heard. Things do not always go his way. I obviously did not agree with him regarding La Bonge, and I'm not happy with the outcome because I live in the 4th Council District where LaBonge voted AGAINST a rent freeze for tenants. But, Eric's vocal support on social justice issues, including, but not limited to, homelessness, has been much appreciated. If people are swayed to vote a certain way because of Eric's support, than that's their problem. They should listen to both sides and make up their own minds on who the best candidate is for the job.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. The whole process of Democratic Club endorsements is totally corrupt and Eric and his little band of followers just step in line.
I am curious about how much time the writer actually spent directly observing the endorsement meetings at the Democratic Clubs or the LA County Democratic Party? I suspect none.
I didn't attend that particular Stonewall endorsement meeting, but my experience is that a small committee vets the candidates via questionnaires and interviews, and then membership is given the opportunity to uphold the recommendation or to decide on their own endorsement. The O'Grady and La Bonge endorsement is not the first time, nor will it be the last time the membership of a Democratic club or the Democratic Party delegates make a different endorsement decision than the one recommended by the committee. Mr Bauman is a member of Stonewall and does not chair Stonewall at this time, he is very much in his right to speak out in an endorsement discussion, something he rarely does.
Our Chair, Eric Bauman, also never speaks out on an endorsement discussion and vote at our monthly LA County Democratic Party meetings and we always end up with at least a few different endorsement results than those suggested by the interview committees. Perhaps if O'Grady had spent time cultivating relationships with the grass roots party activists and elected County Central Committee members - he might have had a base to call upon to come out and vote for his endorsement.
As for allowing for differences of opinion, advocacy of issues, candidates and initiatives - Mr Bauman never attempts to prevent our grassroots activism. I have supported initiatives and issues that the Democratic Party was against. And some prevailed. I was never called to task for my advocacy. And the elected County Central Committee members, including me, are opinionated and strong willed. I tend to say what I want and support whatever issue I want with no one asking me to do anything except to do it with respect for my fellow members and delegates and our process.
As for Ms Jackson, and the Hollywood Highland democratic Club, much respect for their body of work and history of activism. On the other hand, state law gives the power to charter Democratic organizations to the Democratic Party. Just as it does for the Republicans, and etc... Only chartered organizations should use the name of a political party. If someone started using the name of the NRA, ACLU or the NACCP without authority they would be told to cease and desist.
The truth is that *I* submitted a formal complain to the Rules Committee of the LA County Democratic Party in regards to the Hollywood Highland club. Yes, I initiated the process that led to Hollywood Highland losing their charter and I requested that they be advised to stop using the Democratic Party name. In the 2011 primaries, the then Hollywood Highland Democratic Club endorsed non-Democrats. They actually endorsed Republican Tea Party candidates like Lydia Gutierrez and others. If you are a Democratic club chartered by the Democratic Party you endorse registered Democrats or no one. If you would like to endorse Republicans and Tea Party extremists then you should charter a Republican club. When we charter as Democratic clubs we know that we lose our charters if we endorse non-Democrats. So let there be truth in this issue, no one bullied Ms Jackson or Hollywood Highlands - they turned their backs on us and ceased to be a Democratic Club by their actions.
In closing, I am not a party "insider." I am not employed by a politician or the Democratic Party. I simply became interested in politics after the passage of Prop 8. I organized the post-Prop 8 march from the Eastside's Lincoln Park to Downtown LA and from there decided to place myself on the ballot to be a Democratic Party Central Committee member. Far from being an "insider" I am one of the 99% and times are very tough right now, but so is reading the untruths in this article.
Robert Olivarez,Elected Member, 58th AD, LA county Democratic Party Central CommitteeDelegate, CA Democratic Party Founding President, The Latino Democrats
Eric often speaks during endorsements. And I was at the club meeting described unknowingly sitting near O'Grady. Eric definitely swung the outcome.
He never speaks on candidates during LACDP endorsement votes and rarely speaks about them at club votes. He doesn't even have the time to be at every club endorsement meeting. And why shouldn't he stand up for a candidate in whom he believes? If he has paid his dues then he should be able to speak. And if he swung the outcome it is because he is persuasive and the folks respect his position. On the other hand, unless you polled everyone walking in the room, you have no idea how they were going to vote in the first place.
For the record, I am a Registered Nurse (trauma & critical care nurse), as my bio clearly states, not a trauma surgeon. That was an editorial error, not my error.
As to the rest of it, res ipsa loquitur.
Gray Davis did more than take safe positions on Gay issues in his Governor race, he was not for Gay Marriage and interestingly enough his two Democratic opponents, Jane Harmon and Al Checchi both supported Gay Marriage - back in 1998. That made him the only major Democratic candidate not supporting Gay Marriage in the race. Strange that the premier GLBT Democratic club in the state, the grassroots, but very influential Stonewall Democratic Club, would endorse the one candidate NOT for extending GLBT civil rights? Morris Kight was there and he was appalled. Huge amounts of union money began flowing to Stonewall and many long time members- and some new ones- saw that as the end of the club's dedication to it's original mission and the beginning of it being another cog in the machine.
Thanks to the Weekly for once again, telling it like it is, here in the city of angels. While it is flattering to be given ownership of Hollywood Highlands democratic club, no one owns this rambunctious bunch of independant thinkers. So far as we have been able to tell, it is the oldest continuously operating Ddemocratic club in Southern Ca. I would be really, really, really old to have founded it, so I was just the latest in a long line of club presidents. Boy, would I look good for my age!
Our club website, hollywoodhighlands.org, gets over a million hits a year so we distract a lot of people.
I attended that meeting of Stonewall. I doubt that anyone speaking for, or, against a candidate changed anyone's mind, as you write. More likely, the La Bonge campaign, knowing they did not have the recommendation, may have decided to have operatives turn out sympathetic members to over-ride the recommendation and give the endorsement to Mr. La Bonge - a tactic permitted by the rules that Mr. O'Grady was not anticipating at the time. Later that week, having been impressed by O'Grady's energy and authenticity, I agreed to advise his campaign.
Eric Bauman a "trauma surgeon"? He was a registered nurse back in the early '90s. Did he tell you he was a surgeon? What verification do you have? Sounds like an egomaniac as well as a bully. Do you fact checking....
This article is idiotic. I have been on endorsement committees and been at several general meetings of the Stonewall Democratic Club where endorsements were voted on. Eric never told the committee who to vote for and his speaking in favor or against a candidate at the meeting does not always carry the day. His influence over the Stonewall nominating is no greater than any other prominent Democrat.
The whole starting premise of this article is false because at the Stonewall meeting in question, there was a call for a secret ballot. How people voted at the meeting was not public and nobody was looking over anybody's shoulder, meaning that intimidation was not a factor. Labonge got the endorsement because the Stonewall members who showed up to vote, voted in sufficient numbers for Labonge. In the future, Hillel, I highly recommend that you get your facts straight before writing any further articles.
--Dante AtkinsRegion 2 Vice-Chair, Los Angeles County Democratic Party
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Just one correction: Rep. Maxine Waters was not present at the meeting. It was Rep. Diane Watson, I know, I brought her there.