The bombshell resignation of former state Democratic Party chairman Eric Bauman last week landed like a lead balloon after a virtual congressional clean sweep and increased Democratic numbers in the state Legislature.
In the aftermath of Bauman’s stunning fall from grace, questions have arisen about whether the reported behavior of the former party chairman, which include accusations of sexually harassing staff members and party activists, should have been called out and addressed sooner.
A former Los Angeles County party chairman, Bauman was an influential player in Los Angeles and later California Democratic politics. Once called a “kingmaker” by L.A. Weekly,, he was the first openly gay as well as the first Jewish state Democratic chairman.
When reports of sexual harassment surfaced after last month’s midterm elections, party leaders were caught flatfooted, particularly after electing so many women to the Legislature and Congress in the midterm elections and in the era of the #MeToo movement.
Amid mounting pressure from state party leaders, Governor-elect Gavin Newsom called on Bauman to step down, which he did on Nov. 29.
“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 my position as chair of the California Democratic Party,” Bauman said in a statement after his resignation.
Bauman won the party chairmanship on May 20, 2017, edging the more progressive Kimberly Ellis by 60 votes.
Cynthia Gibson of CKG Communications in Culver City thinks the party can survive the Bauman scandal as long as its leaders are transparent in any potential investigation of the claims against him. “It won’t hurt the party’s brand unless people find out that others knew and didn’t do anything about it,” says Gibson, whose clients include municipal governments and public figures.
Many local Democratic Party chapters declined to comment or did not return calls for comment on Bauman’s resignation.
Prior to Newsom’s intervention, California Democratic Party vice chair Daraka Larimore-Hall called for Bauman to resign after the allegations came to light.
“My responsibility to the party is first and foremost to its principles, values and goals. That includes empowering people to stand up for themselves in terrible situations — no matter the power of the accuser or the accused,” Larimore-Hall wrote. “The fact is, for the [Democratic Party] to stand by the values we hold dear, Eric Bauman must resign. Barring that, I will continue to go through the channels available to have him removed from office. That is what is best for the people he hurt, best for the movement and best for the party.”
Larimore-Hall says that after he learned of the accusations, he discovered that the state party’s protocols to address these types of situations were inadequate. “As a vice chair of the [state Democratic Party], once I was made aware of these specific incidents, I used all the processes within the party’s rules and procedures, and in doing so was made aware of the limitations of party structures. We clearly can and must do more to protect the victims of sexual harassment and assault,” he wrote.
While younger men do engage in the same conduct of which Bauman is accused, Gibson said it is largely men of a certain generation who are still trapped in the belief that what was permissible in the past might still be today. “It’s often generational. I think baby boomer and Generation X women in politics have seen or experienced this more from men of a certain generation, and millennial women are less accepting of it,” she said.
Bauman, a baby boomer, turns 60 on Dec. 10.
Larimore-Hall says he welcomes a probe into whether people in the upper echelons of the party knew about the accusations against Bauman — and if so, when they learned of them. “We also must conduct a truly independent investigation, not only into these specific allegations of harassment and assault but into the structures and culture of the party that allowed this to happen. We must make it clear that sexual harassment will not be tolerated on any level, by anyone,” Larimore-Hall wrote.
Bauman certainly displayed the political skills necessary to lead a state political party in California. He brokered a deal last spring in the 39th District’s open primary between Rep.-elect Gil Cisneros and his fellow Democrat Andrew Thorburn that resulted in both candidates toning down their harsh rhetoric and accusations so that a potential Republican challenger in the general election would not have ammunition against the winner.
“I am pleased to announce that, after many productive and cooperative discussions and good-faith gestures by both candidates, we have reached an extraordinary agreement between candidates Gil Cisneros and Andy Thorburn that will ensure our voters can make an informed choice, free from the corrosive and divisive tactics that have hurt Democratic candidates in the past,” Bauman announced in June.
The deal attracted national attention and Cisneros, who ran second in the primary, eventually beat Republican Assemblywoman Young Kim by a narrow margin in the November election.
Two years ago, an enthusiastic endorsement from Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon was thought by many observers to boost Bauman over the top in his quest to become the state party chairman.
“Ingrained in Eric Bauman’s DNA is grassroots activism, youth empowerment and a philosophy dictated by a deep desire to stand up for the voiceless and be a champion for the most vulnerable in our society. He’s a battle-tested, proven leader for the Democratic Party and a real visionary who will transform our state party in order to expand it and make it more inclusive than ever before,” Rendon said in endorsing Bauman in April 2016.
The current acting chair is Alexandra “Alex” Gallardo-Rooker.