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California Democratic Party fires top staffers after misconduct allegations involving former Chairman Eric Bauman

California Democratic Party fires top staffers after misconduct allegations involving former Chairman Eric Bauman
Former California Democratic Party Chairman, Eric Bauman, pictured in May 2017 (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

In a leadership shake-up, the California Democratic Party fired seven top staffers Monday and Tuesday as part of the continuing fallout over the misconduct allegations surrounding former party Chairman Eric Bauman.

Alexandra Gallardo Rooker, who took over as acting party leader after Bauman resigned two weeks ago, let go of the senior staffers who came in with Bauman when he was elected chairman in May 2017.

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“This is not unusual when there is a change in leadership,” Roger Salazar, a spokesman for the party, said in a statement. “These moves are not necessarily a reflection upon the work of each of the individuals involved, but are part of a desire by the acting chair to start fresh and keep the party moving in the right direction.”

Among the staffers let go were the party’s communications director, political director and senior strategist. The party also closed its Los Angeles office on Tuesday.

Salazar said Rooker informed aides to Gov-elect Gavin Newsom and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) that the party would be making the personnel moves.

Though Rooker plans to make some hires, the party will probably depend on a smaller core senior staff with 2019 a non-election year.

The staffing upheaval marks the latest twist in a tumultuous stretch for the party following its strong showing in the November elections. Two weeks after the midterms, Bauman was publicly accused of workplace misconduct. In an investigation by The Times, 10 party staffers and political activists alleged that Bauman made inappropriate sexual comments in professional settings and engaged in unwanted touching.

Bauman resigned after the story was published, and Rooker, then the vice chairwoman, assumed control of the party’s day-to-day operations. She said she intends to serve as chair until delegates convene to select a new leader, probably in May. She said she had no intention of seeking election for the post.

John Vigna, the party’s communications director, said Rooker indicated to him that he would stay in his position after Bauman left. He said he was “legitimately stunned” when he was informed on Monday that he was being let go.

Vigna said he was particularly troubled by his firing because he had been involved in a complaint about Bauman’s behavior. Vigna served as supervisor to Kate Earley and Grace Leekley, two young staffers who said they were made deeply uncomfortable by Bauman when he asked them in front of their colleagues if they had a sexual relationship. Vigna conveyed Earley’s complaint to human resources on Nov. 1, hours after the incident occurred. Another colleague who was involved in that complaint was also let go, he said.

“We did our jobs with integrity and we were the first to be fired,” Vigna said. “That sends a horrible signal to the rest of the country about how seriously we take #MeToo.”

Vigna said he has yet to hear from investigators who are looking into the allegations against Bauman.

Salazar said the party would not comment on individual personnel moves, or on the status of the ongoing investigation. In late November, the party hired an independent investigator, Sacramento employment attorney Debra Hinshaw Vierra, to look into the accusations and established a hotline to field information.

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