California Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman resigned Thursday amid mounting political pressure over claims that he sexually assaulted and harassed multiple people.
“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,” he said in a meandering, somewhat self-aggrandizing statement to reporters.
Bauman’s decision came just hours after Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom joined state Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins and a chorus of other prominent Democrats urging him to step down. It was a swift downfall for Cal Dem’s first openly gay chair, a veteran party functionary who won the position 18 months ago after a contentious race against the more left-leaning Kimberly Ellis. Per party bylaws, Vice Chair Alexandra Gallardo-Rooker will take Bauman’s place until the executive board elects a successor, likely at the state Democratic convention next spring.
Misconduct claims against Bauman, 59, went public at the end of last week with a memo from Cal Dem second-Vice Chair Daracka Larimore-Hall announcing how he initiated the process to remove the chairman after hearing from multiple accusers. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont) tweeted a copy of the memo on Nov. 23, calling the charges “shocking” and exhorting Bauman to resign. The congressman also suggested replacing Bauman with Stanford University law professor Michele Dauber, who in June led the successful recall of Judge Aaron Persky over his light sentencing of a sexual assailant.
The next morning, Larimore-Hall sent a letter to party delegates confirming his effort to oust Bauman. Though he disclosed no details about the nature of the allegations, he called them “credible, corroborated and utterly heartbreaking.” By Monday, Bauman agreed to go on leave to ensure the independence of an investigation into the claims.
Things escalated quickly from there. A couple days later, the Los Angeles Times published an exposé based on accounts from 10 victims, who described in previously undisclosed detail how Bauman made sexually explicit remarks to both men and women and touched them inappropriately. The Bay Area Reporter, a local newspaper serving the LGBTQ community, identified even more accusers.
The explosive media reports intensified calls for Bauman’s departure, which came a day after the chairman announced he would undergo counseling and treatment for his alcohol use. Meanwhile, additional accounts of misbehavior surfaced on social media. Spencer Dayton, a 21-year-old Democratic delegate from Lodi posted an open letter on Facebook saying that Bauman groped him two times at political events.
“I feel it is important to come forward at this time and fight through the emotional stresses and triggers that this brings, on top of normal daily life,” Dayton wrote. “This was not the first time I have experienced sexual assault. My first full sexual encounter in adult life, was assault. Only one person has known that, until now. I will face backlash possible repercussions, but I must stand.”
I was a 21 year old candidate for State Assembly when Eric Bauman first began sexually harassing and demeaning me. It was a pattern of grooming young gay activists for abuse using power and alcohol. I hope the healing can begin for others too.
— Michael Esswein (@michaelesswein) November 30, 2018
Many Democrats who said they’d wait for the investigation to conclude before deciding whether Bauman should resign changed their minds as the increasingly detailed allegations piled up and accusers began putting their names to the claims.
Omar Torres, an openly gay policy aide for San Jose Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco and delegate for Region 7 on the state party committee, said he had heard many accounts over the years about Bauman’s improprieties. After learning more specifics about the behavior on social media, in the news and directly from some of the victims this past week, Torres said he was “shocked and saddened by the disturbing allegations,” and realized that the best course would be for Bauman to bow out.
“Now that Bauman has resigned,” he said, “the California Democratic Party has the opportunity to move forward and address this problem head on.”
He added: “Sexual assault and domestic violence affects everyone, especially and including the LGBTQ+ community. We must do better and ensure our leaders are held to a higher standard of conduct.”
Assemblyman Evan Low, who chairs the California Legislative LGBT Caucus, echoed that sentiment, saying Bauman was right to step down.
“I was disheartened to read about the brave survivors who have come forward—especially the stories of LGBTQ staff and activists,” Low said in a statement to San Jose Inside. “We must support those who were harmed, provide victims with appropriate support services and demand leadership that reflects the Democratic Party’s values. I expect the Democratic Party to take steps that ensure justice for the victims and create a safe and accountable work environment for all employees, volunteers, and activists.”
While leaders of Democratic central committees in San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, Orange and other counties throughout the state issued public statements on news of Bauman’s alleged wrongdoing, the Santa Clara County Democratic Party had yet to address the subject on its official Facebook and Twitter accounts nearly a week after the story broke. In response to San Jose Inside’s request for comment, Bill James, who helms the local party, emailed a statement Thursday night calling the allegations against Bauman “a cause of great concern” and a violation of Democratic Party values.
“We support and stand with victims of harassment and abuse, and we hope for healing and recovery for all involved,” he wrote. “We hope the ongoing investigation will enable our party to provide stronger protections against harassment and abuse of employees and activists and more effective procedures to investigate and address allegations of harassment or abuse by party leaders.”
Dauber—who founded the Enough is Enough Voter Project to promote candidates committed to ending sexual violence—agreed that the party as a whole needs to work on organizational reforms. In a series of tweets, she noted how the Bauman scandal has exposed institutional failures in the way the party responds to these kinds of claims.
Next Steps for @CA_Dem
1. protection, resources and support for whistle-blowers and survivors;
2. Organizational accountability for those leaders who knew but failed to act appropriately;
3. Procedures that make it easier to remove a leader for serious misconduct@JeremyBWhite
— Michele Dauber (@mldauber) November 29, 2018
A handful of Democratic activists have told San Jose Inside that the state party not only failed to take seriously sexual misconduct claims against Bauman—including one in 2017 that former 76th District Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña brought to Larimore-Hall’s attention—but that it’s been dismissive of complaints about other officials as well.
Glad I voted for you! Thanks for speaking up and not putting such serious allegations under the rug. It makes sense now why he ignored our please to take action against an Irvine Dem Club harasser. It is not ok to ignore or dismiss allegations by two women.
— Anila Ali (@anilaali) November 29, 2018
Silicon Valley Democrats have faced similar criticism for, at times, responding dismissively or ineffectually to sexual misconduct allegations against political allies. When San Jose Inside in 2016 reported on claims that a local delegate harassed women verbally and with revenge porn, several members of the Santa Clara County Democratic Party, including some women, defended the accused and cast doubt on the victims.
And though former Santa Clara County supervisor candidate and longtime city of Santa Clara Councilman Dominic Caserta had a reputation for being sexually suggestive, handsy and otherwise inappropriate toward women, people looked the other way until one outspoken accuser, Lydia Jungkind, made the problem impossible to ignore.
This article has been updated.