Durkan’s Proposed Budget Adds Funding for Cops, Congestion Pricing, and Buses, But Not for Safe Consumption or New Spending on Homelessness

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s $5.9 billion budget proposes hiring 40 net new police officers, funds shelter and rental-assistance programs that had been at risk of being cut while keeping overall homeless funding basically flat, and dramatically increases transportation spending, at least on paper—the $130 million in new funding consists primarily of unspent funds from the Move Seattle levy, which is currently undergoing a “reset” because the city can’t pay for everything it promised when voters passed the levy in 2015. The new transportation funding includes funding 100,000 new Metro service hours, including “microtransit” shuttles to bring riders to the ends of the existing RapidRide lines and to the water taxi in West Seattle. Those additional hours will require Metro to  work overtime to add buses, drivers, and bus parking capacity, but Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer says the 100,000 hours were also included in the King County budget that County Executive Dow Constantine transmitted yesterday, as part of a total increase of 177,000 hours of bus service over the next two years.

City budget director Ben Noble said that if the city wanted to significantly increase spending on homelessness, “that is going to have to happen through reprioritizing [funding] or some as-yet-unidentified source of revenues.” Alison Eisinger, director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, says that, given the ongoing homelessness crisis, “it is unconscionable to put forward a biennial budget … without additional resources for housing.”

The budget would also eliminate about 150 mostly vacant positions, eliminate funding for 217 basic shelter beds provided by the group SHARE after June of next year, fund a new city “ombud” independent from the Human Resources Department, to help employees in city department navigate the process of filing harassment or discrimination claims, and pay police officers $65 million in retroactive pay and benefits from the four years when they were working without a union contract. Officers, Durkan said, have “gone without even a raise but also [without] a [cost of living adjustment]. There hasn’t been pay raise since the beginning of 2014, so that’s four years of pay increases. …  You can get to seemingly large sums really quickly.”

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In contrast, the budget proposes making an “inflationary increase adjustment” to what it pays front-line homeless service providers of just 2 percent—less than the actual inflation rate.. Earlier this year, the Downtown Emergency Center sought more than $6 million for salaries and benefits—enough to raise an entry-level counselor’s wages from $15.45 an hour to $19.53 and to boost case managers’ salaries from a high of about $38,000 to $44,550 a year. (Currently, the lowest-paying job listed on DESC’s job board pays $16.32 an hour.) “Even a non-police officer, just a clerical position in a city department, is earning more money in salary—let alone salary plus benefits—than somebody whom we are asking to go out under bridges and work with people who have had years of being brutalized in this world,” Eisinger says.

I’ll have a lot more to say about specific budget proposals over the coming weeks as the city council digs into the details in a series of budget briefings that start on Wednesday, but for now, here are a few more highlights from the mayor’s proposal:

• Durkan’s proposed budget does not include any additional funding for a supervised consumption site (mobile or permanent); instead, it simply pushes $1.3 million that was supposed to fund a place for users to consume their drug of choice under medical supervision, with access to wound care, treatment, and case management forward into this year’s budget. Durkan said Monday that the city would not move forward with supervised consumption site until Durkan is “sure [that King County is] still willing to step up and fund the treatment portion of” a supervised consumption site. Activists, including at least one mother who had lost her son to a heroin overdose, stood outside the Pioneer Square fire station, where Durkan delivered her budget speech, protesting the fact that Durkan’s budget calls for continued inaction on safe consumption sites. It has been more than two years now since a King County task force unanimously recommended supervised consumption as part of a holistic strategy for tackling addiction to heroin and other drugs, the rest of which is slowly being implemented and funded. 

Marlys McConnell, whose son Andrew died of an accidental heroin overdose in January 2015, was wearing a “Silence=Death” t-shirt and holding up the right side of a large banner that read, “Overdose is killing a generation. Is it time to act yet, Mayor Durkan?” She said a safe consumption site could have helped diminish the shame her son felt about his own addiction, which he tried to hide from his family. “Had there been a space available for him, I would very much hope that he could have gone and taken advantage of it and been treated with love and respect and dignity. That could have been a bridge to treatment and other services early on.” McConnell is aware of the argument that safe consumption sites enable drug users to continue in their active addiction, but says, “You don’t get [recovery] ’til you get it.”

• Durkan said she would not support selling off more public land to pay for city budget priorities, as the city has done in the past. (The sale of land in South Lake Union funded new shelter beds and “tiny house village” encampments, as well as a rental-assistance program—all part of the nearly $20 million in services that this year’s budget proposal makes permanent.) The city has put its largest remaining property in South Lake Union, the so-called “Mercer Megablock,” on the market, but Durkan said the city would strongly prefer leasing the property long-term under a master lease to selling it outright. Affordable housing advocates have suggested that the city hang on to the property and use it to build high-rise affordable housing. Noble told me that nothing technically bars the city from using at least some of the land for affordable housing (either city-owned or built by a nonprofit housing provider); however, he noted that because the Seattle Department of Transportation used restricted gas-tax funds to pay for some of the Mercer Corridor Project, which used part of the megablock for construction staging, the city has to pay back SDOT (a cost that could account for about 40 percent of the proceeds from the property) before it can start building anything or funding other projects on the property. The city also has taken out significant debt on the future proceeds from the sale of the megablock site, which would also have to be repaid. Finally, high-rise housing is generally much more expensive (and therefore less appropriate for affordable housing) than low-rise, because it involves glass and steel, although advances in technology are slowly making high-rise affordable housing more feasible.

• Durkan’s budget is mostly silent on the question of the over-budget Center City Streetcar (currently stalled so city consultants can determine whether the city should finish building the downtown connector or cut its losses), but it does include about $9 million in funds over two years to help operate the existing South Lake Union and First Hill streetcars. Previously, the city had backfilled streetcar revenue shortfalls periodically as revenues consistently fell short of projections. The new budget pays for those anticipated shortfalls up front. “We’re trying to be more upfront and honest about what it’s costing for the streetcar so that we won’t continue to run in the red and having to incur the debts that we’ve seen” in the past, Durkan said.

• The transportation budget is otherwise a mixed bag for transit proponents. It includes $1 million to pay for an expanded study of congestion pricing (as currently conceived, a toll for people who want to drive into the center city during certain hours); funds new investments in adaptive signal technology, which Durkan touted as a solution for slow and delayed buses but which the National Association of City Transportation Officials says “can result in a longer cycle length that degrades multi-modal conditions” and is best for moving cars in suburban areas; and proposes asking the legislature to change state law barring the city from using traffic cameras to enforce rules against blocking bike and bus lanes. “Right now, you have to have an actual officer come over and pull them over,” Durkan said—an expensive proposition. The budget also eliminates funding for the “Play Streets” pilot program, which permanently activated some street right-of-way for active (non-car) use, and cuts funding for any new “Pavement to Parks” projects, “takes underused streets and creates public spaces for community use on a year-round, daily basis,” according to the budget.

• The proposed budget moves almost half a million dollars from parks department spending on the city’s four golf courses into the separate capital budget as a “bridge solution” for an ongoing revenue shortfall. Although the city recently invested in improvements to its golf courses—hoping that better facilities, along with higher fees, would bring in more revenue—that hasn’t panned out, and the city has hired a consultant to evaluate the program. Asked why the golf courses aren’t penciling out the way the city had hoped, Noble said that it may be that “golf just isn’t as popular as it used to be.” Affordable-housing proponents have suggested closing down at least some of the city’s golf courses and using them as sites for affordable housing.

The city council begins hearings on the mayor’s budget this week; a full schedule of budget meetings is available on the city’s website.

The Gender Gap at the City’s Largest Departments Hasn’t Improved. If Anything, It’s Wider than Ever

The latest annual analysis of racial and gender equity in city employment concludes, unsurprisingly, that the city still has a long way to go before achieving racial and gender pay equity and equal representation in employment, as measured by the number of women and people of color who are in top-tier, and top-paying, positions at the city. Meanwhile, a detailed look at the numbers reveals that one of the biggest problems identified in a workplace equity report three years ago—the lack of women employees at all levels in the three largest city departments (police, fire, and City Light)—has gotten slightly worse even as racial equity has begun to improve.

Using baseline race and gender numbers from King County as a whole (on the grounds that the city’s workforce lives all over the county), the report found that people of color, particularly Latinx people, are underrepresented at the top pay and supervisory levels across all city departments, and that women are underrepresented “at all but the bottom levels of supervisory authority and wages”—not surprising, given that women remain underrepresented in City employment overall. (The chart above shows exactly how each group identified is under- or overrepresented at the top and bottom quarters of the pay scale. A more detailed breakdown is available in the report itself.) The report did not break down pay by titles or pay bands beyond the quartile level or by department, so there’s no way to know, based on the report, what sort of pay gaps exist in each individual department, or whether the pay gap between white men and everybody else widens, for example, among city employees with salaries at the very top of the pay scale.

Taken together, the three largest city departments are just 25 percent female, and all have a lower percentage of female workers than they did back in 2015.

 

“By gender, the City of Seattle workforce is very imbalanced: overall, just 38.6 percent of City employees are female as compared to 50.1 percent in the county population,” according to the report. “Given this overall imbalance, it is not surprising that women are underrepresented at many levels of the workforce relative to the general population. Among supervisors, women are underrepresented in all but the bottom level (first quartile). In the top level, they make up 35.4 percent of supervisors. Across the pay scale, women are again underrepresented in all but the bottom level. In the top level of wage earners, they make up 33.8 percent of employees.” The situation is, of course, even worse for women of color, who “are most underrepresented at the top levels of City employment. This group makes up 19.0 percent of the county population but just 11.3 percent of the top level of supervisors and just 10.0 percent of the top level of wage earners.”

The report notes that in the five largest city departments (Police, Seattle City Light, Parks, Seattle Public Utilities, and Fire) women make up just 30.7 percent of the workforce. “Removing the top five departments, the remainder of the City reaches near gender parity (that is, while many of the smaller departments also have significant gender imbalances, these collectively offset each other),” the report concludes.

This language is remarkably similar to language in a more detailed workforce equity report released in 2015, which found that “after removing [Police, Fire, and City Light] from the citywide analysis, the City found that the percentage of females in the rest of the City workforce jumps from 37% to 46% and the unadjusted pay gap narrows from 89.7 to 98.2 %.”

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But of course, eliminating the very largest departments in the city, which account for nearly four in ten city workers, doesn’t actually cause the percentage of female employees at the city to “jump,” nor does it narrow the pay gap. It does, however, highlight where the biggest problem lies: In traditionally male-dominated departments that remain male-dominated despite a longstanding awareness of the problem and what to do about it: Recruit and hire more women.

This year’s report includes another sleight of hand which, intentionally or not, has the effect of downplaying the lack of women in the largest city departments. This year, the city added two departments to the list of the largest city departments in the 2015 report—parks and SPU, which, when their workforces are combined and averaged, actually have a higher percentage of women employees (39.6 percent) than the city as a whole. Taking these two more (relatively) gender-balanced departments back out of the equation and looking only at the three departments the city identified as particularly inequitable three years ago, it’s clear that the gender imbalance at City Light, Fire, and Police hasn’t improved—in fact, it’s gotten worse.

Taken together, the three largest city departments are just 25 percent female, and all have a lower percentage of female workers than they did back in 2015. The Seattle Police Department has gone from 29.0 percent female to 28.1 percent; City Light has gone from 32.1 percent female to 30.3 percent; and the Seattle Fire Department (already the least gender-equitable department of the three) has declined from 13.1 percent female to 12.3 percent.

When large departments make a concerted effort to recruit and hire a specific demographic group, it works, as evidenced by the data in this year’s report about the Seattle Police Department’s efforts to hire more people of color. Since 2014, which was the baseline for the 2015 report, only 22 percent of SPD’s hires were people of color; thanks to concerted effort and recruiting changes implemented by the department, that has risen steadily to 45 percent in 2018.

According to the report:

The city also identified several strategies in the past that could have helped attract and retain women as well as men of color, but did not pursue them, according to the report. These include flexible scheduling; step wage increases for part-time workers, who are more likely to be women; and seniority rules that don’t penalize people for accepting promotions. We know, from the city’s efforts to make race and social justice an integral part of hiring and recruitment decisions, that it takes targeted effort over a sustained period to address historical race and social justice inequities—and that it pays off. Why not invest a similar amount of time and effort into closing the city’s gaping gender gap?

Morning Crank: “Crime-Infused Shack Encampments”

“URGENT…tell them NO!”—the message of every call to action by anti-homeless groups in Seattle

1. A new group calling itself Unified Seattle has paid for Facebook ads urging people to turn up in force to oppose a new tiny house encampment in South Lake Union. The ads include the line “SOLUTIONS NOT SHACKS,” a reference to the fact that the encampments are made up of small wooden structures rather than tents. The encampment, which was funded as part of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s “bridge housing” strategy, will include 54 “tiny houses” and house up to 65 people; it may or may not be “low-barrier,” meaning that it would people with active mental illness or addiction would be allowed to stay there. A low-barrier encampment at Licton Springs, near Aurora Avenue in North Seattle, has been blamed for increased crime in the area, although a recent review of tiny house villages across Seattle, including Licton Springs, found that the crime rate typically goes down, not up, after such encampments open.

“URGENT community meeting on NEW Shack Encampment this Thursday, June 28!” the ad says. “The City Council is trying to put a new shack encampment in our neighborhood. Join us to tell them NO!” Despite the reference to “our neighborhood,” the ads appear to directed at anyone who lives “near Seattle.” Another indication that Unified Seattle is not a homegrown South Lake Union group? Their website indicates that the group is sponsored by the Neighborhood Safety Alliance, Safe Seattle, and Speak Out Seattle, all citywide groups in existence long before the South Lake Union tiny house village was ever announced.

“The city has imposed an unconstitutional income tax on residents which was ultimately struck down by the courts,” the website claims. “It passed a job-killing head-tax that was embarrassingly repealed. Now, it has undertaken a campaign to seize valuable land and build crime-infused shack encampments to house city homeless. All this in the course of six months.”  The income tax, which actually passed a year ago and was struck down by a court, was never implemented. The head tax was never implemented, either. And no land is being “seized” to build the encampment; the land is owned by the city of Seattle.

The meeting is on Thursday night at 6pm, at 415 Westlake Avenue N.

2. Overshadowed by yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling upholding Trump’s Muslim Ban 3.0 was another ruling that could have significant implications for pregnant women in King County. The Court’s ruling in NIFLA v. California struck down a state law requiring that so-called “crisis pregnancy centers”—fake clinics run by anti-choice religious organizations that provide false and misleading information to pregnant women in an effort to talk them out of having abortions—post signs saying what services they do and don’t provide. In its 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that the California law violated the center’s First Amendment rights (to lie to women).

Earlier this year, the King County Board of Health adopted a rule requiring so-called crisis pregnancy centers to post signs that say “This facility is not a health care facility” in 10 different languages. Crisis pregnancy centers typically offer sonograms, anti-abortion “counseling,” and misinformation about the risks associated with abortion, including (false) claims that abortion is linked to breast cancer and a higher risk of suicide.

In a statement, Board of Health director and King County Council member Rod Dembowski said that he and the county’s legal team were mindful of the California challenge when drafting the rule. “We intentionally crafted King County’s rule to be less broad than the California … requirements, while still ensuring that women who are or may be pregnant understand that limited service pregnancy centers are not health care facilities,” Dembowski said. “If we need to fine tune the particulars of the form of the disclosure, we will do so.  Regardless, I am optimistic that the County’s more narrow regulation that was supported with a strong factual record is constitutional and will remain in place.”

3. A presentation by the city’s Human Services Department on how well its programs are performing supported the narrative that the Pathways Home approach to getting people off the streets, which emphasizes rapid rehousing and diversion programs over temporary shelter and transitional housing, is working. But it continued to raise a question the city has yet to answer directly: What does the city mean by “permanent housing,” and how does they know that people who get vouchers for private-market apartments through rapid rehousing programs remain in their apartments once their voucher funding runs out?

According to HSD’s first-quarter performance report, which department staffers presented to the council’s housing committee on Tuesday, 83 percent of people in rapid rehousing ended up in “permanent housing” after their vouchers ran out. Meanwhile, according to HSD director Jason Johnson, aggregated data suggests that 95 percent of the people enrolled in rapid rehousing were still housed after six months. In contrast, the department found that just 59 percent of people in transitional housing moved directly into permanent housing, and that just 3.8 percent of people in basic shelter did so, compared to more than 20 percent of people in “enhanced” shelter with 24/7 capacity and case management. Ninety-eight percent of people in permanent supportive housing were counted as “exiting” to permanent housing, giving permanent supportive housing the best success rate of any type of program.

However, there are a few factors that make those numbers somewhat less definitive than they sound. First of all, “permanent housing” is not defined as “housing that a person is able to afford for the long term after his or her voucher runs out”; rather, the term encompasses any housing that isn’t transitional housing or shelter, no matter how long a person actually lives in it. If your voucher runs out and you get evicted after paying the rent for one month, then wind up sleeping on a cousin’s couch for a while, that still counts as an exit to permanent housing, and a rapid rehousing success.

Second, the six-month data is aggregated data on how many people reenter King County’s formal homelessness system; the fact that a person gets a voucher and is not back in a shelter within six months does not automatically mean that they were able to afford market rent on their apartment after their voucher ran out (which, after all, is the promise of rapid rehousing.)

Third, the fact that permanent supportive housing received a 98 percent “success” rate highlights the difficulty of basing performance ratings on “exits to permanent housing”; success, in the case of a program that consists entirely of permanent housing, means people simply stayed in the program. To give an even odder example, HSD notes an 89 percent rate of “exits to permanent housing” from diversion programs, which are by definition targeted at people who are already housed but at risk of slipping into homelessness. “Prevention is successful when people maintain housing and don’t become homeless,” the presentation says. It’s unclear how the city counts “exits to permanent housing” among a population that is, by definition, not homeless to begin with. I’ll update if and when I get more information from HSD about how people who are already housed are being counted toward HSD’s “exits to permanent housing” rate.

4 .Last week, after months of inaction from One Table—a regional task force that was charged with coming up with regional solutions to the homelessness crisis—King County Executive Dow Constantine announced plans to issue $100 million in bonds to pay for housing for people earning up to 80 percent of the Seattle-area median income (AMI), calling the move an “immediate ste[p] to tackle the region’s homelessness crisis.”

That sounds like an impressive amount of money, and it is, with a few major caveats: First, the money isn’t new. Constantine is just bumping up the timeline for issuing bonds that will be paid back with future proceeds from the existing tax on hotel and motel stays in King County. Second, the $100 million—like an earlier bond issuance estimated at $87 million—won’t be available until 2021, when the debt on CenturyLink Field (for which the hotel/motel tax was originally intended) is paid off. King County has been providing some funds to housing developers since 2016 by borrowing from itself now and promising to pay itself back later. Both the $87 million figure and the new $100 million figure are based on county forecasts of future tourism revenue. And third, the amount of hotel/motel tax revenue dedicated to affordable housing could, under state law, be much higher—two-thirds more than what Constantine proposed last week—if the county weren’t planning to spend up to $190 million on improvements at Safeco Field that include luxury suite upgrades and improvements to the concession stands. That’s because although state law dictates that at least 37.5 percent of the hotel/motel tax be spent on arts and affordable housing, and that whatever money remains be spent on tourism, it does not limit the amount that can be spent on either arts or housing. Theoretically, the county could dedicate 37.5 percent of its revenues to arts spending and the remaining 62.5 percent to housing.

The fact  that Constantine is describing the new bonds as a solution to homelessness is itself a matter of some debate. Under state law, the hotel/motel tax can only be used to build “workforce housing” near transit stops, which the county interprets to mean housing for people making between 30 and 80 percent of AMI. Homeless people generally don’t earn anywhere close to that. Alison Eisinger, director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, says that although “taking steps that will help to address the critical need for affordable housing for low-wage workers and people who can afford housing at 30 to 80 percent is a good  thing, unless there’s a plan to prioritize those units for people experiencing homelessness, along with resources to help buy down some of the rents for people for whom 30 to 80 percent is out of reach, I’m not sure how that helps address homelessness.”

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Morning Crank: “Why Is the Mayor Allowed To Dictate the Law?”

1. On Tuesday, May 15, the Consumer Protection Division of Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s found itself suddenly inundated with Consumer Protection Act complaints against the Seattle City Council, claiming that the council had violated citizens’ consumer rights by, among other things, allowing the city’s “public areas, streets, sidewalks, parks and cemeteries” to be “destroyed by unsanctioned homeless people and drug addicts.”  The written complaints—more than a dozen in one day—had a couple things in common. They all came from residents of Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood. And they all used strikingly similar language, replicated here from one of the complaints, which I obtained through a public records request:

Dear Attorney General: I am writing to you because our public areas, streets, sidewalks, parks and cemeteries and currently being destroyed by unsanctioned homeless people and drug addicts. You cannot drive anywhere in Seattle and surrounding neighborhoods without seeing a homeless tent, evidence of where a homeless tent once was, trash and drug needles, bottles of urine, human feces, etc. in any open space around the city. The homeless are destroying public property by cutting down trees and shrubs to make their encampments. They are littering, urinating and depositing used needles around their encampments. They are harassing pedestrians for money. Often these camps are elaborate, built of shipping pallets, plywood, and other building materials stolen from neighbors or construction sites. Some are built using Yellow Bikes with tarps draped over them. RV’s equipped with generators and BBQ grills are being setup alongside public roads as if it were a camp ground! On occasion, they have stolen power from neighboring houses or businesses. This has gotten way out of control. These camps are dangerous to both the homeless and residents using the public spaces, as they are often setup right next to a busy road with trash and debris spilling into the road and sidewalk areas. Needles can be picked up by children or accidently stepped on by children or pets. The trash attracts rodents. The urine and human feces is a health concern. We report these encampments when they spring up, but we are told by the police that there is nothing that they can do ??? that they have been instructed by the Chief of Police and Mayor to not do anything unless a felony crime has taken place. Currently there are laws against camping along side public roadways and on sidewalks. There are laws against littering. There are laws against camping out of your vehicle along a public road. There are laws against public urination. There are laws against illegal drug use. There are laws against loitering. There are laws against illegal parking. There are laws against vagrancy. Why are the laws not being enforced? Why is the Mayor allowed to dictate the law? I see this no differently than if the Mayor asked the Chief of Police not to arrest her brother for drunk driving and felony hit and run. She should not be able to dictate which laws are enforced and which laws are overlooked. As Attorney General, I would like to know what you can do to ensure that these laws are enforced? Laws were created for the protection and safety of everyone in the community. The homeless is not a protective class. They should not be exempt from following the laws that we all must follow simply because of their income status. Please advise as to what can to be done to enforce our laws! Thank you.
Curious how so many people in Magnolia came to file essentially the same complaint (sometimes shortened or dolled up with a few personal details) at the exact same time, I checked out what seemed to me the most likely suspect: The Magnolia NextDoor page. (NextDoor is a semi-private social network for people who live in the same area of the city.) Sure enough, a little over a week ago, there it was: A post from a Magnolia resident, titled “Homeless Encampments – Letter to the Attorney General,” that encouraged people concerned about the issue of “tents that are springing up all over the city” to “file a complaint with the Attorney General” using his letter as a template.
The complaints are all listed as “closed” in the state’s consumer complaint database, and the division referred all the complaints back to the Seattle City Council “to process in accordance with your agency’s procedures.” The consumer protection division deals only with complaints against businesses, not government agencies or officials, and according to its website, “is authorized to bring legal action only in the name of the State of Washington, and is prohibited from serving as an attorney for individual consumers.”  You can almost hear the deep, bureaucratic sigh as another pile of frivolous complaints land on the AG’s virtual desk.

2. Tonight at 6, the Seattle LGBTQ Commission will host a screening of “Pinkwashing Exposed: Seattle Fights Back!,” a film that argues Israel has enlisted unwitting LGBTQ people in service to so-called “Israeli apartheid” by “promoting [Israel] as ‘gay friendly’ to divert attention from terrible human rights violations.” The term “Israeli apartheid,” which likens Israel’s control of the West Bank and its policies toward Palestinians to the racist policies of the former South African government, is common in far-left circles but is considered anti-Semitic by many Jews. On Wednesday, the Jewish Federation Seattle created a petition to stop the event, which the group says “promotes lies about Israel, alienates and discriminates against the tens of thousands of Jews and Israelis living here, and is likely at the very least to stir up increased anti-Semitism.” In 2006, a gunman went on an anti-Israel tirade while he shot six people, killing one, at the Jewish Federation’s headquarters in downtown Seattle.

According to the event page for the screening, which is being co-hosted by the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities and socialist city council member Kshama Sawant the 10-member, city council-appointed commission is “standing in solidarity with Palestinians who face daily persecution from the occupying forces of the Israeli government. We are critiquing the Israeli governmental use of force, not individual Jewish people nor or we suggesting limiting human rights of Jewish people.”

But individual Jewish people in Seattle, and groups that work to combat anti-Semitism in the city, see the event differently. Maxima Patashnik, a spokeswoman for the Jewish Federation, says the documentary “presents a really one-sided view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and is really a detriment to the LGBTQ activists in Israel who have worked hard to gain equality and human rights and lumps them in with this Israeli propaganda campaign.” She says that while the film (like the event itself) does include the perspectives of a handful of Jewish people, “The events in the film as they are presented are extremely exclusionary, unwelcoming, and alienating to the vast majority Jews and Israelis here in Seattle.”

Patashnik also questions whether a city-funded commission whose mission does not include weighing in on international affairs should be sponsoring an event at City Hall that promotes the idea that (according to the website for the film) “Israel is the country most famous for” pretending to be LGBTQ-friendly to cover up human rights violations. “If this film was just being sponsored by Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, they would be well within their rights to do that. Where it crosses the line is that this is city-sponsored,” she says.

In a statement, the Seattle LGBTQ Commission said it was “hosting the film screening as an opportunity to encourage learning and civil discourse” and notes that the film was “made by a Jewish filmmaker and features Jewish and Palestinian activists working together.” The panel discussing the film will also include a Jewish member, the commission says. (LGBTQ Commission co-chair Julia Ricciardi did not respond to a followup question about whether any of the commission members who signed off on the event are themselves Jewish.)

“The Seattle LGBTQ Commission is committed to highlighting and centering experiences of individuals who are often marginalized, underrepresented or erased from public discourse,” the statement continues. “This film screening is an opportunity to invite all individuals from the Seattle community to engage in learning and discussion around information that may not be widely known, as well as provide valuable space for people to engage in dialogue about governmental practices, whether those practices be local, federal, or international.”

Patashnik says the Jewish Federation does not have any plans to formally protest the event.

 

3. Earlier this month, a woman was the victim of a brutal rape by a stranger in the restroom of a car dealership in Ballard. (Most rapes occur in people’s homes and are committed by men who are known to their victims.) Much of the media, and certainly many members of the public, have fixated on the fact that the man was homeless, suggesting that women are at particular risk of being raped by homeless strangers in Seattle due to policies the city council has adopted. And over the last few weeks, they have expressed their feelings
Many of the emails were directed at District 6 council member Mike O’Brien, whose district includes Ballard, where the rape occurred. Some, by the standards of anti-homeless social media screeds, are fairly mundane—a woman claims that she and her children are now “forced to stay in our homes and no longer feel safe to interact in the community we once loved”—but others are darker.
You probably know where this is going.

“Hey Mike,” one man writes. “Heard one of you Ballard BUMS raped someone today? Care to comment? The blame for this is COMPLETELY on your head due to your coddling of the BUM herds in Ballard.

“I sincerely, SINCERELY, hope that your wife is the next rape victim. Please do the world in general a favor and kill yourself.”

Another letter, from a woman, says that if council members like the “unsafe dump” Seattle has turned into, they should invite “these people” into their homes, where “They can rape your friends and do drugs in your backyard.”

A letter from a couple suggests that council members may “wake up” once  “your mother, wife, daughter, son [is] the next victim brutally raped by some mentally deranged homeless person from God knows where!!! … It takes city workers days to clean up after these PIGS!!,” the letter continues. “That’s appreciation isn’t it??  Wake up!!!  Who is in charge here??  Seems like the homeless are.  If they don’t want help, screw them, lock them up.”

A real estate broker, who helpfully includes the name of her employer, her personal website, and the signature line, “Realtor since 1990. Real Property. Real Expertise,” suggests that council members should “make every square foot of the floor space in Your yard, Your home Your children’s rooms available for the outlaws you seem to care for so much. Between Yourselves and all Your staffers You can get a true taste of what the policies you have wrought mean.

The vagrants have No rules

They could …Rape and assault, immolate, stab, kidnap you and your neighbors.

And don’t call the police they shouldn’t respond, you have instructed them not to.

You have already given the vagrants all the permission they need to do all of the above.”

Finally, to end on a (slightly) lighter note, there is this slightly deranged email, with the subject line “Rape of Seattle,” from a man who believes that city council members are accompanied at all times by security details and never “openly walk on the street.”

“If indeed you were running a safe city, then why do you require personal security?,” the writer asks. “Seattle’s political women like you Jenny, Sally, Kshama, Lisa, Debora, Lorena, Teresa, should be able to walk or bike the streets you are responsible for. At least bring your vehicle in for work without security.”

City council members do not have security details, and can regularly be seen on buses, walking on city sidewalks, riding their bikes along Fourth Avenue, and even at the downtown YMCA.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Crisis of Confidence at the King County Democrats

Update: As Jim Brunner at the Seattle Times reported this evening, Bailey Stober  now says he is running for the 47th District state house seat currently held by Republican Mark Hargrove. The announcement came just days after Stober lost his job at King County (receiving a $37,700 payout in exchange for an agreement not to sue) after an investigation concluded he had harassed and behaved inappropriately toward a female employee in his separate position as chair of the King County Democrats, a position from which he was also forced to resign. Stober told Brunner he will run as an “independent Democrat” and has the backing of two local officials, Kent Mayor Dana Ralph and Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus.

Over the past two days, I contacted more than a dozen local officials and Party activists, including Stober, about the rumor that he was running; unsurprisingly, Stober did not respond to my request for comment. Many people in Stober’s circle have advised him against running for office and suggested that he spend at least a few months out of the spotlight before attempting a comeback, given the gravity of the charges that forced him to resign from both positions. His announcement to the Times came just two days before a woman of color was expected to announce her candidacy for the same position.

This story originally ran in the South Seattle Emerald.

Earlier this month—after multiple investigations, a vote of no confidence, and a lengthy internal trial that found him guilty on five counts of workplace misconduct, financial malfeasance, and “conduct unbecoming an officer,” King County Democratic Party chairman Bailey Stober resigned from both his position as chair of the county party and his $98,000-a-year job as communications director for King County Assessor John Arthur Wilson. The announcements capped a months-long process that turned into a referendum on not just Stober but the culture and future of the local Democratic Party.

Even after losing his position at the party and his paying job at the county, Stober remained defiant and mostly unapologetic. In a letter to Party members announcing his resignation, Stober took credit for numerous successes, including a fundraising campaign that began before his tenure. Then, he offered a vague apology, “to those I have let down and disappointed.” He did not mention the sexual harassment and financial misconduct charges that led to his ouster or the fact that after one year under his leadership, the county party had almost no money in the bank.

His resignation letter to Wilson went even further. After taking credit for a long list of successes at the assessor’s office, Stober suggested he was the real reason “longshot” Wilson managed to win his election in 2015 when Stober was 23. Furthermore, he claimed people were telling him Wilson “didn’t stand a chance to succeed.” Stober did not apologize for, or even mention, the investigation, which concluded that Stober had behaved inappropriately toward his employee, Natalia Koss Vallejo by, among other things, calling her a “cunt” and a “bitch.”

In exchange for agreeing not to sue or seek employment at the county in the future, Stober received a $37,700 payout from the jurisdiction, on top of unemployment benefits that could, over six months, total nearly $20,000. Combined with the full pay Stober received during the one month in 2018 when he was on the job at the assessor’s office and the nearly three months when he was on fully paid leave, Stober could make more than $87,000 in 2018 even if he does not work another day. The investigation itself cost taxpayers another $25,360.

To the end, Stober’s supporters have insisted that the investigation into his behavior was a witchhunt by a group of politically motivated fabulists who resented his success. Several allies even resigned their positions at the King County Democrats after the trial, saying that they no longer felt “safe” in the organization. Even after three separate investigations concluded he had committed many of the actionsof which he was accused, Stober professed his innocence and insisted that his accusers had “made up [or] exaggerated” most of their claims.

“If I have to be the first one to go through this process to open our eyes to the flaws that we have … so be it,” Stober said after the trial, noting how hard it had been for him personally to sit in the room throughout the proceedings and listen to people “debate whether or not I’m a horrible person.”

Stober’s opponents, including Koss Vallejo, said their goal was to hold Stober accountable for his actions and ensure future leaders accused of misconduct will not be able to manipulate party rules to hold on to power to the bitter end.

Who won? Strictly speaking, of course, the group of Democrats who accused Stober of misconduct prevailed. The former Chairman is no longer in power, and his ambition to become state Democratic Party Chair has been dashed for now. In a larger sense, though, the jury is still out on that question. The bruising debate over Stober’s guilt or innocence has split the local Democratic Party into factions, and the King County Democrats have been left with no permanent leader, no money in the bank, and no consensus on whether justice was served.

To understand the implications of Stober’s resignation, and the arguments that were made by his supporters and detractors, it is important to know a little about the charges brought against him. They included:

  • Spending thousands of dollars in Party funds without the approval of the group’s treasurer, Nancy Podscwhit, or its governing board.

The expenditures in question included a $1,826 stay at a house on Vashon Island for Stober and a few Party officials; an office in Auburn that cost more than twice the amount Stober was authorized to spend; a $500-a-month Internet package with enough bandwidth to power a mid-size e-commerce firm; and thousands of dollars in brand-new office equipment for Stober and Koss Vallejo. By the end of Stober’s term, according to treasurer Nancy Podschwit, the group was “broke.” (Stober defended his financial decisions in a lengthy open letter).

  • Firing his lone employee, Natalia Koss Vallejo, on shaky grounds and without board approval.

Stober said he dismissed Koss Vallejo after she “vandalized” a car in a parking lot because it had a hat with the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement logo displayed in the back window. A security-camera video of the incident, obtained by Stober and posted anonymously to Youtube by a new account called “DemsAre BadPeople,” shows Vallejo tossing the contents of a cup on the hood of the car. (Koss Vallejo said the cup contained the dregs of an iced coffee.)

  • “Conduct unbecoming an officer,” including frequent “excessive public intoxication,” sexual harassment, incidents of pushing drinks on party volunteers and subordinates, and bullying Koss Vallejo and other Party members.

Among other accusations, Stober allegedly grabbed Koss Vallejo’s phone and posted “I shit my pants” on her Facebook wall, mocked her appearance in front of other people, called her a “bitch” and a “lying sack of shit,” and made sexist jokesincluding one about a party member who was accused of raping an underage volunteer at a state Party event in Walla Walla last year.

Stober spent nearly two months pleading his own case—on Facebook, his personal blog, at party meetings, and in emails to party members—but the trial was Koss Vallejo’s first formal opportunity to speak on her own behalf. During and after Koss Vallejo’s testimony, Stober’s supporters aggressively questioned her credibility and even accused her of having a drug problem, witnesses recounted—a claim for which they reportedly provided no evidence, which Koss Vallejo denies, and which is irrelevant to the question of whether Stober was guilty of misconduct.

“It was absolutely humiliating and degrading,” Koss Vallejo said afterward. “I wasn’t the person on trial. He was on trial for misconduct, and he was able to waste several hours focusing on my character and maligning me.”

After the trial ended, Koss Vallejo said, she didn’t feel like she had “won.” “It was never my goal to get Bailey Stober to resign; it gives me no pleasure,” she said. “No one should have to spend this much time on an internal process to remove someone who is guilty of malfeasance. All of those volunteer hours should have gone toward knocking on doors and strategizing about the real work that we’re supposed to be doing”—promoting and electing Democratic Party candidates, Koss Vallejo said.

In King County, electing Democrats might seem like an easy lift. Last year, as Stober himself noted in his farewell message to members, Democrats prevailed in three out of four partisan elections in King County. Currently, they also hold the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature. However, the way King County Democrats have handled allegations of workplace and financial misconduct could have ripple effects across the state.

Will donors, including elected officials, put their funds and efforts into building a party that seems to care more about protecting its own than building power? Will young women considering careers in politics think twice before joining a party that has a reputation of disbelieving women? Will people who do not fit in with the prevailing “party culture”—a culture that, according to many party members, has long revolved around drinking—feel unwelcome?

Stober, who blamed some of his behavior on a “combination of volunteering 30 to 40 hours a week, working a full-time job … stress, alcohol, and immaturity,” was an enthusiastic participant in, and proponent of, the kind of party culture that state Party chairwoman Tina Podlodowski has been trying to root out. Indeed, several witnesses have described him and another Party member mocking Podlodowski for banning alcohol at Party functions and trying to tamp down the drinking culture in the organization. Such effort that was thrown into high relief when an underage Party member said she was sexually assaulted after a state Party event in Walla Walla, where she says she was given alcohol by, among others, Bailey Stober.

More recently, Jin-Ah Kim, a recovering addict who is active in the 32nd District Democrats, said Stober repeatedly pressured her to drink with him, despite knowing she is in recovery. While drinking alcohol neither causes nor excuses misconduct, it undoubtedly contributes to bad decision making and excludes people who, for whatever reason, prefer not to do business at bars or after hours.

Many of the women who supported Koss Vallejo have said they are enthusiastic to get back to the work of promoting Democratic candidates for the 2018 elections and rebuilding the party. This task will require not just changes to the group’s code of conduct and its process for removing officers but a period of reconciliation between party members on both sides of the Stober divide.

Two weeks after the trial, Stober’s most stalwart allies were still lashing out at Koss Vallejo’s supporters online, accusing them of misrepresenting her experience as a part of the MeToo movement and chastising them for deciding Stober was guilty before the 14-hour trial had concluded. With Stober himself out of the picture, though, many on both sides of the debate over his behavior hope the group can start to heal itself and rebuild—starting with the adoption of an HR and a revised code of conduct that gives victims who are not part of the formal party structure an opportunity to speak on their own behalf.

One person who will not be involved in that rebuilding process is Koss Vallejo. “I still care deeply about the Party,” Vallejo says. “I’m deeply invested in helping Democrats win and helping women win. But it’s not my place to fix these problems. I’m hoping that the people who are still involved, and the new people who have come into the party through this process, will be able to correct the problems that have taken place over the course of this investigation,” so that the next person who believes she has been harassed, bullied, or mistreated by someone in the Party will feel safe coming forward.

King County Democrats Chair Bailey Stober Resigns After 13-Hour Trial Finds Him Guilty of Workplace Misconduct

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, including and especially extended coverage of ongoing stories like this one that get short shrift in the mainstream press, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers like you. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Bailey Stober, the chairman of the King County Democrats, resigned last night after a 13-hour internal trial that ultimately found him guilty on five counts relating to workplace misconduct and sexual harassment of a former employee, Natalia Koss Vallejo, whom he fired shortly after a third party filed a complaint against him on Koss Vallejo’s behalf (and, she says, without her knowledge). Stober’s resignation, which will take effect next Saturday, comes after more than two months of internal and external debate about his actions as party chair, including three separate internal investigations into both the workplace misconduct allegations and charges of financial misconduct.

Koss Vallejo, who has been barred from speaking on her own behalf because the entire process, including the trial, has been held under Robert’s Rules of Order, which only gives “voice” to voting members of the group, says she’s relieved by the outcome but does not feel victorious. “This does not feel like a win to me. I am grateful that he did finally step down, because, as everyone knows, his grandstanding and drawing this process out was only hurting Democrats,” she says. “However the fact that I and many other nameless people who were involved had to give their time and their emotional and mental energy to this process for over nine weeks means that the process is still flawed, and we have a lot of work to do to correct this so that this never happens again.” Specifically, Koss Vallejo points to the fact that the King County Democrats do not have a formal HR policy or any policy for dealing with allegations against a Party member by someone who is not within the formal party structure, such as an employee.

Stober has said he fired Koss Vallejo after she “vandalized” a car in a parking lot because it had a hat with the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement logo displayed in the back window; a video of the incident, obtained by Stober and posted to Youtube by an anonymous account called “DemsAre BadPeople,” shows her tossing the contents of a cup on the hood of the car, which she says were the dregs of an iced coffee. The firing Stober has also claimed that he had consent from his then-vice chairwoman, Cat Williams, and his treasurer, Nancy Podschwit, to fire Koss Vallejo, which both Williams and Podschwit have denied.

Yesterday’s trial addressed only the workplace misconduct allegations (I’ve covered the financial charges before, including here and here), which included the following claims:

– That Stober repeatedly pressured Koss Vallejo to drink to excess;

–  That Koss Vallejo had told numerous people that she was afraid Stober would retaliate against her if she brought up her concerns;

– That Stober fired Koss Vallejo without consulting with the board’s vice chairwoman or the treasurer of the group;

– That Stober called her a “bitch” and a “cunt” while they were out drinking;

– That Stober sprayed Koss Vallejo with Silly String while she was driving; and

– That Stober had grabbed Koss Vallejo’s phone while she was in the restroom and posted “I shit my pants” on her Facebook timeline without her knowledge.

Last night, Stober was apologetic but defiant when he emerged from the closed-door trial shortly after 11pm to announce his resignation “after 11 years of Party leadership.” (Stober is 26 and has been chair of the group for a little over one year). “If I have to be the first one to go through this process to open our eyes to the flaws that we have … so be it,” Stober said, adding that it was especially difficult for him to sit through his own trial for 13 hours and listen to people “debate whether or not I’m a horrible person.” Some of Stober’s supporters have insinuated that his opponents are engaging in a racially biased witch hunt against him, even though several of Koss Vallejo’s most vocal supporters, and Koss Vallejo herself, are women of color.

Stober sat in the room throughout the trial as witnesses, including his alleged victim and her supporters, gave testimony and were cross-examined by representatives from both the “prosecution” and the “defense,” much as they would in a legal trial. Yesterday, witnesses described the process as intimidating and re-traumatizing, and said at times it seemed as though Koss Vallejo and other people who agreed to testify on her behalf were the ones on trial. At one point, an executive board member reportedly asked a witness at length about whether Koss Vallejo used illegal substances. Witnesses said the line of questioning seemed intended to imply she had a drug problem and was therefore an unreliable witness—the kind of off-point question that is often used in legal trials to discredit victims and refocus attention away from the person accused of misconduct or worse.

Oddly, given how many statements Stober has made on his own behalf on his own website, on Facebook, in meetings, and in emails to the Party members who would have been voting on his fate next weekend if he had not stepped down last night, yesterday’s trial was Koss Vallejo’s first official opportunity to speak on her own behalf. After the meeting, Koss Vallejo said that the process that led up to the trial has treated her as if “I didn’t exist”; for example, while Stober was given a chance to review all the evidence against him nearly a week in advance of the trial, Koss Vallejo says she still has not seen any of the evidence, and only found out when and where the trial would be held through word of mouth from friends, since she is not on any official Party email list. “The whole process treated me like I literally wasn’t a person, and that was one of the most frustrating things about it,” she says.

Prior to Stober’s resignation, two-thirds of his executive board signed a petition calling for his resignation, which triggered the scheduling of a vote by all the precinct committee officers (low-ranking party officials) in the county; if two-thirds of the PCOs at that meeting had voted to remove him, Stober would have lost his position involuntarily. (Prior to that, district Democratic groups across King County passed resolutions calling for his resignation, and several voted to withhold funds from the organization until Stober stepped down. More than 200 Democratic Party members, including several elected officials, also signed a letter calling for his resignation.) At the moment, the organization is basically insolvent; as of late last month, according to recent a financial report from King County Democrats chair Nancy Podschwit, the group had just $3,200 in the bank, with thousands of dollars of outstanding obligations and a potential fine from the state over campaign finance violations from 2016, before Stober was chair, that could total tens of thousands of dollars.

Separately, a court just ordered Stober to pay more than $5,000 in attorney’s fees in an investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office into campaign finance violations Stober allegedly committed in his capacity as both a candidate for Kent City Council and as King County Democrats chair—a case that has not been resolved, in part, because Stober has refused to turn over documents to the state—and several other campaign finance allegations against him remain pending. And his employer, the King County Assessor’s Office, is spending up to $10,000 on a separate investigation to determine whether his workplace behavior as the Democrats’ chair has any bearing on his ability to perform his job as communications director for the office. He is currently on paid leave from that position, which pays more than $90,000.

 

Investigation Into King County Democrats Chair Stober Finds Some Allegations Substantiated, Others Harder to Prove

Instagram screen shot.

An investigation into allegations of sexual harassment, financial misconduct, and bullying by King County Democratic Party chairman Bailey Stober has found several of the charges to be “substantiated,” while others remain “inconclusive,” according to the a report summarizing the conclusions of an investigation that went out to members of the organization’s executive board on Tuesday.

The report, by labor negotiator and executive board member Afton Larsen, is based on interviews with 14 witnesses, plus Stober and Natalia Koss Vallejo, the former King County Democrats executive director who says Stober harassed her, pressured her to drink, put her in physical danger, and required her to make expenditures that were not approved by the executive board or the party treasurer. (Koss Vallejo did not file the initial complaint against Stober and has said she had no intention of filing a complaint herself; she was fired by Stober, supposedly for throwing a cup of ice on the hood of a car, shortly after the complaint was filed by a third-party witness to Stober’s alleged behavior.)

Larsen’s report will be among the materials the executive board will consider at a “trial” on the workplace misconduct and harassment charges this coming weekend. The trial, at which both representatives for Stober and Koss Vallejo will present evidence,  will be the prelude to an April 15 vote by the county party’s precinct committee officers on whether to remove Stober from his position.

In her report. Larsen restricted her findings to the allegations about workplace misconduct; in a separate investigation, the group’s five-member finance committee  found Stober guilty of misspending party funds and called for his removal.

The workplace misconduct allegations against Stober included:

1. Violation of KCDCC Code of Conduct anti-harassment policy as follows. i) Offensive verbal or written comments related to gender and physical appearance. ii) Sexist or otherwise discriminatory jokes and language. iii) Posting without permission [on social media], without permission from that individual, other people’s personally identifying information (also known as “doxing”) in any public forum. 2. Additional allegations, not relevant to the KCDCC code of conduct, set forth by KCDCC Vice Chairs recommendations and findings report of January 8, 2018. i) Pressuring staff to drink alcohol. ii) Creating a hostile work environment of fear of retaliation. iii) Creating a dangerous work environment. iv) Evidence of physical assault.   

Among other allegations, the original complaint against Stober claimed:

– That Stober had pressured Koss Vallejo constantly “to engage in excessive drinking”;

– That Koss Vallejo had told numerous people that she was afraid Stober would retaliate against her if she brought up her concerns, and showed them screen shots and text messages confirming some of her allegations;

– That Stober fired Koss Vallejo without consulting with the board’s vice chairwoman or the treasurer of the group;

– That Stober statement alleged that Stober made derogatory comments about someone’s, perhaps Koss Vallejo’s, physical appearance and relationship status;

– That Stober called her a “bitch” and a “cunt” while they were out drinking;

– That Stober sprayed Koss Vallejo with Silly String while she was driving; and

– That Stober had grabbed Koss Vallejo’s phone while she was in the restroom and posted “I shit my pants” on her Facebook timeline without her knowledge.

Ultimately, Larsen only found the allegations that could be directly verified through physical evidence such as videos and text to be “substantiated.” That included the allegation that Stober made derogatory comments about Koss Vallejo’s appearance, the allegation that he made sexist comments, the allegation that he used her Facebook account to post an embarrassing update without her knowledge or consent, and the allegation that he had created a dangerous work environment by spraying her with Silly String while she was driving, an incident that Stober himself filmed and posted to Instagram.

The allegations that couldn’t be verified by documentary evidence, or which Larsen determined took place in murky circumstances (e.g., when both Stober and Koss Vallejo had been drinking “and were at varying degrees of sobriety”) were all deemed “inconclusive.” No one directly witnessed Stober calling Koss Vallejo a “bitch” in a derogatory manner, for example, and Koss Vallejo herself said Stober was using the term in a gender-neutral way when he called her a “bitch” in multiple texts. (Theoretically, certain language is always considered inappropriate in certain contexts, such as a boss calling a subordinate a “bitch” and a “lying sack of shit” in late-night texts. In practice, a victim’s statement that an inappropriate behavior didn’t really bother her that much can be used to weaken her larger case.) Similarly, although four people said Koss Vallejo approached them about her fear of retaliation, “no direct threats were ever observed or witnessed”—and Stober “received [the allegations] with surprise.” (In a video posted back in February, and in 8,800-word self-defense posted to his website, Stober made a similar claim. “Nobody was as shocked as I was,” he said in February.) In any case, Larsen apparently weighed testimony by multiple women against Stober’s denial and called it a tie.

Texts and photos and video proof are obviously rock-solid evidence compared to  witness testimony after the fact. But the flip side of this approach is that it draws no distinction between the motivation of an accused harasser to deny he did anything wrong and the motivation of a victim and multiple witnesses to lie. Believing women, in this case, means listening to the testimony from all the women who say they witnessed Stober harassing, bullying, and pressuring Koss Vallejo and others and considering that testimony in the context of the evidence that is irrefutable—the texts, the Facebook “prank,” the video showing a terrified Koss Vallejo behind the wheel, screaming as Stober covers her in Silly String. Not believing women means choosing to dismiss all that evidence, the testimony of multiple witnesses, and statements from the reluctant accuser herself, and taking the accused man at his word. Either Stober is lying, or all the people who have given statements against him, including the organization’s longtime treasurer and a former vice-chairwoman who is no longer associated with the group, are. Given that Stober is the one who is on record mocking Koss Vallejo’s appearance, joking about crowning the man who allegedly sexually assaulted an underage volunteer at a Democratic Party function “party rapist of the year,” and pressuring Koss Vallejo to come out for drinks even after she demurred again and  again, I’d say the former scenario is more plausible.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: “Sound Transit Is Not Felt To Be a Safe Workplace”

1. Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff escaped serious reprimand on Wednesday for alleged behavior toward agency employees that included looking women up and down and giving them “elevator eyes,” using racially insensitive language, swearing at employees, and using an abrasive style that both the public memo on the investigation into his behavior and King County Executive Dow Constantine described as “East Coast” (whatever that’s supposed to mean). With only Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Seattle City Council member Rob Johnson dissenting (because they believed Rogoff’s punishment was insufficient), the board voted to require Rogoff to create a “leadership development plan” to improve his listening, self-awareness, and relationship building” skills and to  assign a three-member panel, made up of Sound Transit board members, to monitor his progress on the plan for six months.

Durkan skipped the launch of an NHL season ticket drive and the raising of the NHL flag over the Space Needle to be at today’s board meeting, an indication of how seriously she took the charges. Before voting, Durkan read the following statement:

“The issues raised and on which we were briefed led me to believe the conclusion that these [performance] factors cannot be met, and so I will be voting against this motion. I think the facts that we have been briefed on and the conclusions reached by our Counsel demonstrate that Sound Transit is not felt to be a safe workplace for all employees, that they do not feel that they can act without repercussions, and that there are many who feel that their work is not valued. I am also concerned that the statements that were alleged to have been made by the CEO, and the actions that were raised – raised the issue of racial bias and insensitivity, as well as other workplace harassment issues. I do not believe that these issues have been resolved as completely as indicated by Counsel, and that having three Board Members oversee the daily work of this CEO is not the resolution, and so I will be voting against this motion.”

Neither Durkan nor Johnson had any further comment after the meeting.

The memo on the investigation lays out a few specific examples of behaviors that the investigation deemed inappropriate, including a Black History Month event in 2016 at which Rogoff “reportedly made comments condescending toward persons of color” and a 2017 incident in which he dismissively told a female employee, “Honey, that ain’t ever going to happen” in response to a question. But the memo, and most of the Sound Transit board, is also quick to chalk much of Rogoff’s reported behavior up to difficulty navigating the politeness of Pacific Northwest culture and the fact that the previous CEO, Joni Earl, was so beloved that Rogoff faced built-in challenges from the time he was hired, in late 2015. To wit:

In the meeting, King County Executive Dow Constantine, who was chair of the Sound Transit board when Rogoff was hired, said he talked to Rogoff when he applied for the position and “cautioned him that his directness was going to run up against a very different way of interacting  to which we are accustomed here in the Pacific Northwest, and that he was going to have to modify his manner and understand the local culture if we were going to be successful.” Constantine also described Rogoff as “bracingly direct” before praising his effectiveness.

Rogoff echoed Constantine’s complimentary assessment of his style in his own memo responding to the allegations. In the memo, Rogoff acknowledges (using language that reads a bit like a job applicant saying that his worst flaw is his “relentless attention to detail”) that his “directness and unvarnished clarity did not sit well with some staff” and that he was, at times, “overly intense in articulating my expectations for performance.” Rogoff goes on to explicitly deny some of the allegations,” calling some of the claims made during the investigation “misquoted, misunderstood, mischaracterized or false. I don’t yell at people.  I don’t disparage small city mayors and I don’t shove chairs to make a point,” two incidents that were detailed in the documents released today. “I was shocked to read some of the characterizations on this list.”

A document labeled “Peter Rogoff, CEO ST: Note to file” describes some of those alleged incidents. They include: Directing a staffer to tell Seattle Times reporter Mike Lindblom to “go fuck himself”; yelling over the phone at a staffer in a conversation that lasted from 11pm to 1am; standing up at a meeting and saying “When I give direction, it’s for action, not rumination” and shoving a chair; saying that he “couldn’t give a flying fuck about how things were when Joni [Earl] was here, because she’s not here anymore”; using the term “flying fuck” constantly “to everyone”; and the aforementioned incidents in which he allegedly looked women up and down and gave them “elevator eyes.”

King County Council member and Sound Transit board member Claudia Balducci said after the meeting that she has “seen a lot of improvement” in Rogoff’s behavior. “I think that at least shows that it’s possible, and therefore that we could have a successful CEO. If he can manage people with respect and dignity then I felt he deserves the opportunity.” Balducci disagreed that Rogoff’s management style could be explained away by “regional” differences. “I’m from New York,” she said, and “I think everybody, no matter where they’re from, knows how to be respectful. The things that we were talking about were more than just style.”

Although Rogoff did not receive a bonus this year, he did receive a five percent cost of living adjustment, which puts his salary at just over $328,000.

2. The city’s progressive revenue task force held its final meeting on Wednesday morning, adopting a report (final version to come) that recommends new taxes that could bring in as much as $150 million a year for housing and services for homeless and low-income people in Seattle. Half of that total, $75 million, would come from some version of an employee hours tax; the variables include what size business will pay the tax ($8 million vs. $10 million in gross revenues), the tax rate and whether it will be a flat per-employee fee or a percentage of revenues; and whether businesses that don’t hit the threshold for the tax will have to pay a so-called “skin in the game” fee for doing business in the city. The task force also talked about making the tax graduated based on employer size, but noted that such a tax may not be legal and would almost certainly be subject to immediate legal challenges.

The original memo on the head tax proposals suggests that the “skin in the game” fee should be $200 and that the fee would kick in once a business makes gross revenues—not net profits—of $500,000. During the conversation Wednesday morning, some task force members floated the idea of lowering that threshold to just $100,000, a level that would require many small businesses, such as street-level retailers, to pay the fee, regardless of what their actual profit margins are. However, after council member and task force chair Lorena Gonzalez pointed out that the city has not done a racial equity analysis to see how any of the head tax proposals would impact minority business owners, the group decided to keep the trigger at $500,000 in gross revenues. Additionally, they decided to raise the recommended fee to $395—a number that was thrown out, seemingly at random, by a task force member who called it “psychological pricing” (on the theory that $395 feels like significantly less than $400).

The other $75 million would come, in theory, from a combination of other taxes, some of them untested in Seattle and likely to face legal challenges, including a local excise tax, an excess compensation tax, a tax on “speculative real estate investment activity,” and an increase in the real estate excise tax. Legal challenges could delay implementation of new taxes months or years, and—although no one brought it up at yesterday’s meeting—REET revenues always take a nosedive during economic downturns, making them a fairly volatile revenue source.

3. The Teamsters Local 174 confirmed yesterday that they will no longer allow the King County Democrats to hold meetings at their building in Tukwila, after a contentious meeting Tuesday night that lasted until nearly midnight. My report on that meeting, at which the group decided to extend and expand the investigation into sexual harassment and financial misconduct claims against the group’s chairman, Bailey Stober, is here.

According to Teamsters senior business agent Tim Allen, the decision wasn’t directly related to the allegations against Stober, but had to do with the behavior of some of the group’s members and their treatment of a custodial worker who had to clean up after the group, who may have been drinking alcohol on the premises. “We have standards of conduct that people are supposed to live up to” around how guests treat the building and whether they “treat our [staffers] properly,” Allen said. “They had the whole building to clean, and usually we expect [groups that use the building] to clean up after themselves. Stober, contacted by email, said “I’ve heard varying degrees of that story” (that people were drinking, continued to do so after they were asked to stop, and left a mess), “but I can’t confirm that because I was sitting in the front of the room and have no knowledge of what was happening outside of the room.” Many other local progressive groups, including some legislative Democratic groups, have alcohol at their meetings (many provide beer or wine for a suggested donation), but some venues do not allow alcohol without a banquet license.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Defiant King County Democratic Chair, Under Pressure Over Misconduct Allegations, Says He Won’t Resign

Democratic Party elected officials, staffers, and volunteers are calling for the resignation of the 26-year-old chairman of the King County Democratic Party, Bailey Stober, after allegations (first reported by the Seattle Times) that Stober harassed and bullied a female staffer, Natalia Koss-Vallejo, before firing her a little over two weeks ago. Stober said he fired Koss-Vallejo after and incident in Bellingham on January 28 in which she tossed the dregs of an iced coffee onto a car that had an ICE cap displayed in its back window. Asked why the firing, which took place on February 2, was so urgent that he couldn’t wait to consult his organization’s board, Stober said, “I’m elected to lead our organization, essentially as the CEO, and sometimes I have to make decisions in a timely manner, and waiting a month to fire someone is not timely.”) Full disclosure: I worked with Koss Vallejo at NARAL Pro-Choice Washington between May 2016 and March 2017. She was a field organizer, and I was a part-time communications director.

Earlier this month, three vice chairs of the group launched an investigation in response to a third-party complaint about Stober’s behavior and concluded that in the months before he fired her, he had called Koss-Vallejo a “cunt” and a “stupid bitch,” pressured her repeatedly to go out drinking with him, created an intimidating workplace environment, and misappropriated Party funds.

A week or so after receiving the complaint  (according to a report signed by all three vice chairs, they received a verbal complaint on January 24, followed by a formal written complaint on February 1), the chairs called for Stober’s resignation or, failing that, limitations on his ability to spend money and hire or fire staff. Since last week, more than 70 people, including former state Rep. Jessyn Farrell and current state Sen. Lisa Wellman, have signed an open letter calling for him to step down. “Numerous members of the organization have witnessed and expressed concerns about his fiscal irresponsibility, his bullying, and his outright harassment over the course of many months,” the letter says.

“This verbal harassment of many individuals included derogatory comments about weight, hair color, relationship status and other sensitive personal topics.”—Campaign volunteer Melissa Taylor

In a statement, a campaign volunteer who shared the office in Auburn with Stober and Koss-Vallejo, Melissa Taylor, said she had witnessed “a significant amount of verbal harassment by Bailey of Natalia and other volunteers” and had been approached by two other unidentified woman about Stober’s inappropriate behavior. “This verbal harassment of many individuals included derogatory comments about weight, hair color, relationship status and other sensitive personal topics,” Taylor wrote.

Taylor, who was on the co-founding committee for an organization called Emerge Washington that recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office, said she approached Stober repeatedly about his behavior. “If Bailey had engaged in any of the conversations that I and others tried to have … if he had shown any ability to be reflective—[like] ‘I may have hurt somebody and maybe I didn’t mean it’—but there was none of that. And so, for me, it’s his behavior after there was an investigation that gets me to the point that I think he has to resign. Contrition and remorse and a resolve to fixing the behavior would go a long way.”

In the course of reporting this story, I spoke with more than a dozen women and men who have worked or interacted with Stober over the years. Many of them describe a pattern of behavior that they say includes bullying, repeated comments on women’s appearances, and pressure to drink alcohol. Two provided a link to a video in which Stober can be seen berating a volunteer for speaking out of order (Editor’s note: I have removed the link to the video at the woman’s request.) “I’m realizing how much stuff I let go because I didn’t realize, ‘Okay, this is unprofessional,” says Rachael Ludwick, committeewoman for the 37th District, speaking in her capacity as an individual. “Some of the less egregious behavior was happening in meetings, like aggressively berating people—can you imagine how is he going to act with someone he has power over?”

Summer Stinson, an employment attorney who serves as policy director for the 36th District Democrats, says she told Stober “he needed to be more aware of his treatment of women”; after that didn’t happen, she says, she helped the woman who originally called one of the vice chairs file a formal complaint about Stober’s alleged behavior toward Koss-Vallejo.

Stober has denied all the allegations. In a defiant video originally posted publicly on Facebook,, Stober called the investigation “farcical and a sloppy disaster” and claimed that he was denied “due process” in what he called a “he said she said” case.

“I’m embarrassed to have to waste your time,” Stober tells the camera. “When you challenge the status quo, when you stand up to power, and you do so apologetically, they come for you. They work to silence you, to discredit you, and to make you go away.”

In an interview, Stober told me he was not given sufficient time to respond to the charges, and that he would cooperate fully with a “fair investigation.” (The complaint was filed on February 1 and the vice-chairs finished their preliminary investigation on February 5.) “It’s impossible to disprove something that didn’t happen and where there’s been no fair investigation,” he said.

In the Facebook post accompanying his video, Stober quotes Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg explaining why people accused in court have a right to due process. “[T]he person who is accused has a right to defend herself or himself,” the post quotes Ginsberg as saying. “I couldn’t agree more,” Stober added. Due process—a term that has come up frequently in response to harassment and assault allegations in the #MeToo era—is a legal term that does not necessarily apply to the removal of volunteer officers of political parties. Stober’s post concludes with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.” “The Negros’ great stumbling block in the drive toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice.” In a post on the 36th District  Democrats’ Facebook page denouncing Stober and calling for his resignation, Sophia Danenberg, a state party commiteewoman for the district, said that “seeing a harasser use an MLK quote today to defend his irresponsible, bullying, dangerous behaviors made me want to vomit.” (I have quoted Danenberg’s post with her permission.)

“Sexual harassment? It didn’t occur, period. … I’m gay. I’m not sexually harassing women. It’s impossible.”—King County Democratic Party Chairman Bailey Stober

Stober told me over the weekend that he has no plans to resign. “Sexual harassment? It didn’t occur, period,” he says. “I’m gay. I’m not sexually harassing women. It’s impossible.” (Gay men can sexually harass women. As Taylor notes, harassment “isn’t about sex; it’s about power.”) As for calling Koss Vallejo a “cunt,” Stober says he hasn’t used “the ‘c’ word” since he was 15 and his mom socked him in the mouth for muttering it under his breath, and that he and his friends may say things like “bitch, please” privately, but that he would never call a woman a bitch in a disparaging manner.

In another example of behavior that Koss Vallejo says crossed a line, she and several other women say that Stober grabbed Koss Vallejo’s phone one night at a bar and, using her Facebook account, posted “I shit my pants” on her Facebook wall. Stober said he could not comment on that allegation. In another incident, which Stober filmed and posted on his public Instagram feed, Stober can be seen spraying Koss Vallejo with Silly String while she is driving her car. The caption: “My bad.”

Stober called a special executive session for February 8, at which he discussed his reasons for firing Koss Vallejo with members of the group’s executive board, according to witnesses. He says the incident with the cup of coffee, which was caught on security footage and posted to Youtube by an anonymous account called DemsAre BadPeople that has one follower and one post, was only the latest in a number of “incidents of immaturity that occurred throughout [Koss Vallejo’s] employment.” A source with direct access to the video says Stober is the one who requested it; Stober denies that he did so.

“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Stober told me. “If she were a junior staffer somewhere, we would coach and correct, but you can’t be the executive director and pour coffee all over someone’s car because you disagree with their First Amendment rights.” (Both Koss Vallejo and the treasurer of the King County Democrats say Stober offered Koss Vallejo a raise a few months before she was fired. Stober denies this, saying that he “put a raise in the budget to give to the Executive Director position not because of the incumbent in the role but because when I created the position I promised my Board that I would do my best to increase the salary in the next year to a more adequate cost of living for how expensive King County was.”

“Deals are made over drinks,” Stober said. “Meetings occur in bars. It’s not the 8 to 5 business world where you meet at Starbucks all the time. It’s a different culture, and people need to realize that.”

After the vice chairs announced the results of their investigation, Stober filed his own counterclaim against two of the three vice chairs, Michael Maddux and Orchideh Raisdanai (Cat Williams, the third vice chair, resigned in the midst of the fracas over Stober’s leadership), charging that they had overstepped their authority and were behaving “in a dictator type fashion.” In the four-page memo, Stober also accused Maddux of violating the King County Democrats’ harassment policy by “promoting and sharing uninvestigated ‘offensive written comments’—the contents of the complaint itself, which included the words “bitch” and “cunt”— and said that he is “in consultation with counsel on the libel and defamation that have been done by the named parties and how it has impacted the organization and me personally.”

In her statement, Koss Vallejo describes the atmosphere Stober created at the office as “relentlessly unprofessional, abusive, and sophomoric … Bailey was, at first, exciting to work around—but the novelty of having a boss who liked to ‘party’ wore off quickly. A pattern of harassment and abuse, directed at me and many others, began to become clear.”

Adam Bartz, the executive director of the Washington Senate Democratic Campaign, said he has heard that people in the party are “scared to come out for fear of their future… and that’s really concerning to me.”

Some chalk Stober’s alleged behavior up to a “culture” in the Democratic Party that includes rough language, rude jokes, heavy drinking, and behavior that would be out of bounds in a corporate office. I asked Stober about that—and, specifically, how much drinking played a role in King County Democratic Party business. “Deals are made over drinks,” Stober said. “Meetings occur in bars. It’s not the 8 to 5 business world where you meet at Starbucks all the time. It’s a different culture, and people need to realize that.”

But Brent Williams-Ruth, the former state committeeman for the 30th District Democrats, said he was shocked by his first interaction with Stober, at a bar in Walla Walla during an event for the state Democratic Party last year. (The event was the same one at which a Party official allegedly raped a college-age volunteer, as reported in the Spokane Spokesman-Review last year.)

“I came down to the bar, and he was very animated, [with a] red, flushed face, and he was using all this profane, vulgar language about how a lot of the people on his email list were Republicans and they could suck his cock,” Williams-Ruth says. “We’re in the heart of a red town, in a public place, where any of these bartenders or servers could be pulling out their phones and putting this on Youtube.” Williams-Ruth says he finished his drink and went back to his room to order Pizza Hut—“I have the receipts, literally,” he says—and “after that incident, I felt like this was not someone I wanted to work with. It showed  me how completely inappropriate and unprepared he was for a leadership position, because that’s just not language you use in a professional setting.”

Asked to respond to Williams-Ruth’s statement, Stober said, “I was in the hotel bar for a short period of time but was with dozens of people whom did not seem to hear the statements that Brent did. That is a pretty far stretch from reality.” He noted that he made a joint appearance with King County Republican Party Chair Lori Sotelo to speak in favor of legislation reforming the state’s public disclosure law, which I covered; would  Sotelo have done that, he asked rhetorically, “if I talked that way about Republicans?” He would trust Sotelo “to be a character witness before I trusted someone attempting to verify claims with Pizza Hut receipts,” Stober added.

Williams-Ruth now says  “I no longer have any love for the party, “adding that his interactions with Stober are one reason he decided to leave his position. “I have love for the people and the candidates and the mission, but this party bullshit has driven me away.”

Several people I spoke to who recounted incidents involving Stober told me they are personally afraid of speaking out about him, because he wields considerable power in the party and because he has already threatened, in his letter, to sue the vice chairs for libel and defamation. Adam Bartz, the executive director of the Washington Senate Democratic Campaign, said he has heard that people in the party are “scared to come out for fear of their future… and that’s really concerning to me.” Earlier this month, Bartz sent an email to Democratic Senators informing him that he had advised his staff to have no contact with Stober and advising them to do the same.

“When you look back to your 20s, you think of people [in power] as so old,” Williams-Ruth says. “They think he has the ability to ruin their life forever.”

Somewhat lost in the furor about the sexual harassment allegations is another, less salacious but, the vice chairs say, equally important charge: Misuse of King County party funds, specifically on “hotel rooms … and food when unnecessary,” as the vice chairs’ memo puts it. In their memo, the vice chairs say they determined that charge to be “founded,” along with the allegation that “staff is continuously scared of not being paid because there is not enough money in the bank.”

A look at the county party’s official filings with the state Public Disclosure Commission confirms that spending increased significantly during Stober’s year as chair—from $73,732 in 2016 to $135,378 last year—but that contributions increased as well, from $78,719 to $163,033. However, the group had just over $20,000 in the bank at the end of February—far less than they spent in any single month in 2017 after Koss Vallejo was hired in  August, according to PDC reports.  And that money doesn’t include any funds that were spent after January 31. “We’re broke right now,” King County Democrats treasurer Nancy Podcshwit says bluntly. “The rent is due in March, I have some legal bills I have to pay, and unless we get some money in, we’re in trouble.”

Podschwit says she was stunned by some of the expenditures that would show up on the organization’s bank statements: $7,127 on equipment and furniture to set up a new office last summer; Comcast bills that ran to $700 a month or more; and thousands of dollars in miscellaneous costs for Stober to travel around the state, including a mileage reimbursement—all apparently unusual practices for the chair of a county Democratic Party organization, particularly the mileage reimbursement, which Podschwit says was unprecedented for a King County party chair.

Koss Vallejo says Stober would frequently assure her pressure her to make major purchases, including an iPhone, using party money, assuring her that the spending was allowed under the budget approved by the party organization. “He seems to think that hypothetical budgets translate into actual dollars, which they don’t,” Koss Vallejo says. “You can budget for anything you want—you can budget for a unicorn, a bouncy castle, and a pony, and even if the board approves it, that doesn’t make the dollars manifest in your bank account.”

Stober acknowledges that he “encouraged Natalia to look into a business line for herself rather than giving out her personal number,” but denies that the organization has ever been in financial straits. “These past two months have been slow months for sure, as they are with most political organizations, but we just got a substantial check yesterday, so everything is continuing just fine,” Stober said Monday night. “I am sitting in the Party office with the rent paid, lights on, heat blasting and nothing is suffering here.”

“You can budget for anything you want—you can budget for a unicorn, a bouncy castle, and a pony, and even if the board approves it, that doesn’t make the dollars manifest in your bank account.”—Former King County Democratic Party executive director Natalia Koss Vallejo

Asked about some of his specific expenditures, Stober told me he needed to spend money to raise money, and said that he has raised “more money than the organization has raised in two decades. If I’m going to go ask somebody for $5,000, I’m going cover their lunch at the meeting. That’s how political fundraising has worked for decades.” Expense reports at the PDC include thousands of dollars that were either spent by the party or reimbursed to Stober for everything from candidate interviews and “entertainment” at Collins Pub in downtown Seattle ($134 over two visits), to unspecified “food and entertainment” and “meeting” expenses incurred by Stober (more than $1,700 spread over several expense reports that do not include a precise breakdown of expenditures), to mileage and parking costs totaling nearly $1,900.

The expense reports also include more than $1,700 in unspecified “expenses under $50,” as well as thousands of dollars spent on travel and retreats for Stober and other campaign volunteers, including an $1,826 Airbnb bill last December for a two-day January executive retreat on Vashon Island. Stober posted about the island retreat on Facebook: “The macaroni and cheese and ribs are cooking, the rosé is poured, the hot tub is fired up and the King County Democrats leadership retreat has begun.” Three weeks after that, Stober listed some stops on his travel schedule:

Stinson, the 36th District policy director, says, “I will tell you: It is a hard thing to raise enough money to continuously pay someone. I don’t even take money when I’m driving down to Olympia [on party business or for political advocacy.] So to see that there’s a retreat on a house on an island and that they didn’t get it donated … then you wonder how are you paying a staff member.”

Stober says his cross-state travel involved important party-building activities in parts of the state, like Eastern Washington, where the Democratic Party has few resources. “When I ran for county party chair, one of the things I said is that in King County, we’re lucky because we’re rich in resources. We’re the bluest county in the state, and part of my goal as chair will be to export some of those resources to places that are red.” However, several party members mentioned the widespread rumor that Stober is planning to challenge current Washington State Demorcratic Party chair Tina Podlodowski, and speculated that that ambitious goal is part of the reason for his frequent travel around the state. “Why is the King County Democratic chair going and meeting with people in Chelan and Walla Walla and Spokane? It’s because he was shoring up his votes from people who would vote for him for chair next year,” Williams-Ruth says.

When I asked about this, Stober acknowledged that running for state party chair is “something I’ve considered, and that a lot of folks have asked me to do,” but added, “Seeing the nasty politics of this situation definitely makes me lean in a ‘no’ direction.”

Koss Vallejo says that before he fired her, Stober told her that the group was about to be hit with a $35,000 penalty in a case stemming from a complaint about late filing that was initiated by conservative activist Glen Morgan. Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman Brionna says the case “has not resolved,” and Stober said he couldn’t comment on ongoing litigation except to say that Koss Vallejo’s statement was “not true.”

Regardless of the ultimate size of the penalty, Podscwhit says that “because of [Stober’s] spending, we’re in a pretty precarious financial situation right now. “He certainly wasn’t authorized by the King County Democrats to spend that kind of money.” Under the King County Democrats’ bylaws, Stober didn’t have to ask for Podschwit’s approval to spend money on things like brand-new office equipment and an office space in Auburn that continues to cost the group $1,800 a month, but she says that if he had asked, “I would have told him we didn’t have the money to do it,” or to hire Koss Vallejo in the first place. “We don’t now, and we didn’t then.”

In addition to the complaint against the King County Democrats, Morgan has filed several campaign-finance complaints against Stober himself, including one alleging that Stober did campaign work while on the clock at his day job as spokesman for King County Assessor John Arthur Wilson and others claiming he failed to file timely reports during his three unsuccessful bids for Kent City Council.

In 2015, while Stober was seeking a council seat for the third time, the state Public Disclosure Commission ordered him to pay a fine of $4,000 in two of the cases instigated by Morgan, with $2,000 of that amount suspended as long as he did not commit additional campaign-finance violations. Last June, the Attorney General’s office filed a petition in King County Superior Court charging that Stober had failed to provide records in response to a complaint involving his 2015 campaign and asking the court to compel Stober to provide the documents.

Stober has filed his own complaints against other candidates, including Kent City council member Brenda Fincher (for late reports) and Kent School Board candidate Trisha Sanders (Stober, filing on behalf of one of Sanders’ opponents, claimed that Sanders had falsified her voter registration). Stober was not running against either candidate. In 2013, as an executive assistance for the chairman of the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs, Ed Prince, Stober was quoted on KING 5 claiming that a previous director, Rosalund Jenkins, had spent commission funds improperly on what he called “absolutely crazy expenses” like food, greeting cards, and wine. (A subsequent audit found evidence of improper, but not illegal, expenditures.) And in 2014, Stober received a $125,000 settlement from the state over allegations that the director of the Washington State Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises, to whom he sometimes reported, had sexually harassed him by, among other things, making “vulgar” comments, according to a report on KING 5.

Stober bristles at the notion that controversies follow him around; rather, he suggests, “I think you get a lot of attention and get noticed when you speak what you believe  is your truth and you’re unapologetic about it. I don’t always color within the lines and I speak truth to power, and when I see an injustice I speak up about it.”

The King County Democrats will hold their regularly scheduled monthly meeting from 7 to 9:00 tonight at the Teamsters hall in Tukwila. As of Monday, Stober did not plan to resign. If he does not do so voluntarily, some board members have indicated that they will call for a vote to instigate a process to remove him, which requires approval from two-thirds of the board and a vote by the party’s precinct committee officers in two weeks. Stober says he thinks that outcome is unlikely, and says that “a large contingent of my board think this was not handled properly” and will call for a new investigation into the allegations. “If I step down, there will be no fair investigation to clear my name,” Stober says. “We used to live in a country where a crime could be committed and [people could] point at a person of color and they would be sentenced without any crime being committed. If we’re going to value justice as a party, part of that is due process.”

I pointed out to Stober that many of the men who have been accused of sexual harassment and assault as part of the MeToo movement have also called for “due process,” and asked him if he felt MeToo had gone too far. He paused, then said, “The hell that I’m going through compares not even in the slightest to the trauma that so many women go through every day.” Then he returned to due process. “So many people posted pictures of Martin Luther King [on social media] on Martin Luther King Day, but they no longer believe in due process. Both inside and outside the MeToo movement, there has to be some level of justice.”

This story took many hours of reporting over the last two weeks. If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, including long-form stories based on dozens of hours of interviews, like this one, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Aziz Ansari Isn’t Harvey Weinstein. That Doesn’t Mean We Can’t Talk About Boundaries and Consent.

This post originally ran at the South Seattle Emerald. 

It has been two weeks since a formerly obscure website called Babe.net published a piece describing a troubling sexual encounter between an anonymous 23-year-old woman, “Grace,” and 34-year-old comedian Aziz Ansari.

According to Grace’s account, Ansari pressured her to have sex with him, placed her hand on his crotch a half-dozen times, pointed to his penis and motioned for her to give him oral sex, and repeatedly shoved his fingers down her throat. Grace said she gave Ansari numerous verbal and nonverbal cues that she wanted to stop or slow down—leaving the room, telling him “no,” saying that she didn’t want to feel “forced,” and even going limp and “cold” while he tried to kiss her. Eventually, Grace got up and left, texting Ansari later to say that she had been deeply uncomfortable with their encounter.

For a second, it seemed like we were going to finally have a national conversation about sexual coercion, consent, female pleasure, and male privilege. It seemed inevitable that we would discuss the profoundly disturbing fact that even in the era of #TimesUp #MeToo, a shockingly high percentage of sexual encounters between men and women end with the woman “giving in,” or going numb, or leaving in tears.

 

But then, after a minute or an hour or another drink, he decides to keep pushing, and now he’s pawing at your clothes or pushing your head down into his lap or putting your hand on his crotch, hoping to wear down your resistance. After all, pushing has worked for him so many times—like all men, he’s been taught explicitly or implicitly that sex is a negotiation, in which the man badgers and the woman relents.

 

But that conversation was quickly sidelined by the backlash to Grace’s story—by feminists who said the sloppiness of Babe’s reporting undermined the larger conversation about consent, by left-leaning women who mocked Grace’s experience as a rite of passage that young women must suffer, by anti-feminists who said that even discussing Ansari in the context of “real” offenders like Harvey Weinstein undermined the #MeToo movement, and by other anti-feminists who argued that requiring men to read women’s signals or listen to their words somehow infantilizes women. Ansari, an experienced actor and comedian who wrote a best-selling book about relationships between men and women, was given the benefit of doubt and forbearance one would grant a small child, as someone who couldn’t possibly be expected to read minds, as an “aspirational” Muslim who was being “assassinated” by a vindictive woman, as a young man “in the confused beginning [of his] dating [life].” (Ansari will turn 35 next month).

Fewer people wanted to talk about the central issue the story raised, which is the fact that lack of consent exists on a spectrum, and that encounters where women just give in is part of that continuum, just like violent rape and partner rape and sexual assault against women too drunk to consent. But because our society still requires perfect victims and multiple witnesses and multiple accusations from multiple women to even consider the possibility that a man has committed sexual assault, we rarely get close to discussing the grayer areas of the spectrum, where men who would never consider violently raping a woman think nothing of pushing and pushing until they get their way.

And yet virtually every woman has been in the exact kind of situation Grace describes. You’re alone with a man, fooling around, and at some point, you establish a boundary. Most likely, you do it gently, especially if the man you’re alone with is someone you don’t know well. “Can we just slow down for a minute?” “I don’t feel comfortable doing that right now.” “Let’s go in the other room and talk for a while.” “Can you be a little more gentle?” “I’m not ready for this.”

He may pause for a while, and you think, “Whew. That’s over.” “Of course,” he says, leading you into the next room. But then, after a minute or an hour or another drink, he decides to keep pushing, and now he’s pawing at your clothes or pushing your head down into his lap or putting your hand on his crotch, hoping to wear down your resistance. After all, pushing has worked for him so many times—like all men, he’s been taught explicitly or implicitly that sex is a negotiation, in which the man badgers until the woman relents.

“Bad sex” is sex he takes from you. “Bad sex” is sex where you leave your body and just let it happen. “Bad sex” is any sexual activity that you don’t really want to do, but you do anyway, because it’s the only way to make him stop pestering you. “Bad sex” is sex you give him because it would cost too much to slap him in the face, or tell him to fuck off, or get up and leave.

 

Eventually, you may get up and leave. Or you may go limp. You may stop moving your lips and turn cold, as Grace did. You may take another drink and let the numbness sink into your bones. You may lie back and wait until it’s over or give him whatever it is he wants and sort of float somewhere outside your body while it happens. You may tell yourself, “This will be over in a minute, then I can leave and never see this guy again.” Or you may see him again and offer timidly, “Hey, it was a little weird when….” You may go home with him again and hope it will be better this time.

What you are not too likely to do is slap him, punch him, or run out the door—the solutions many writers have offered up for women trying to escape an uncomfortable situation, usually preceded by “Why didn’t she….” Usually, what makes women stay isn’t a fear of physical violence. It’s the fact that women are socialized, starting practically at birth, never to make things ugly, or hurt a man’s feelings, or give offense. Unlearning those lessons is harder than just walking away from awful sexual encounters, too, because they’re embedded in every facet of women’s lives, from the expectation that we let men talk over us in meetings and present our ideas as their own to the fact that many of us say “I’m sorry” a hundred times a day, not because we are sorry but because we’ve been taught, by instruction and example, that that’s how women get by.

So you sit there, or you lie there, and let him take what he wants, whether it’s oral sex or more nudity than you’re comfortable with or touching you somewhere you don’t want to be touched. One writer described this latter scenario as a game of “touch-roulette … you try to decide the least awful places and ways to let this person touch you because you’re not getting out of the night without letting him touch something in some way.” It is gross and demeaning and dehumanizing. And for straight, sexually active women, it’s a near-universal experience.

We even have a name for it: “Bad sex.”

“Bad sex” is sex he takes from you. “Bad sex” is sex where you leave your body and just let it happen. “Bad sex” is sex where you fake an orgasm to get it over with, because that’s part of the performance he expects. “Bad sex” is any sexual activity that you don’t really want to do, but you do anyway, because it’s the only way to make him stop pestering you. “Bad sex” is sex you give him because it would cost too much to slap him in the face, or tell him to fuck off, or get up and leave.

What “bad sex” isn’t is bad sex. It’s sexual coercion, and it exists on the exact same spectrum as Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose. The existence of a spectrum—and, yes, gray areas—doesn’t mean that we should only discuss one end of that spectrum, the part everyone can agree is unequivocally bad. Despite what you may have heard,  women are more than capable of understanding the difference between violent rape and sexual harassment and sex you said no to but ended up letting him do to you anyway. We should be talking about all of it.

We’re still crossing ten lanes of traffic to find excuses for predatory men’s behavior, and to find reasons to discount women’s stories. We’re still more concerned about the entirely fictional ruination of men like Aziz Ansari than we are about the women they hurt.

 

In fact, the fact that “bad sex” happens so often—and has so many apologists—is a reason to talk about that end of the spectrum of nonconsensual sex more. It’s 2018, and we’re still earnestly debating whether consent has to be enthusiastic, and whether we should put all or just most of the blame on women when men fail to read our mysterious “signals.” We’re still wondering whether men are just too dense or lack the emotional intelligence to perceive whether their sexual partners are actively participating or just acquiescing. We’re still fretting more about whether a report about a sexually coercive encounter was thoroughly reported than the fact that coercive sex is ubiquitous.

We’re still more concerned about the entirely fictional ruination of men like Aziz Ansari than we are about the women they hurt. (See, just this morning, anti-faminist writer Caitlyn Flanagan’s latest concern-trolling piece claiming that society has punished Ansari and Harvey Weinstein equally.) We’re still crossing ten lanes of traffic to find excuses for predatory men’s behavior, and to find reasons to discount women’s stories. (She’s too young to know that what she went through was normal; she just wanted to get famous; she has it in for him; she did something and then regretted it the morning after and now she’s trying to blame the man.) We’re still treating enthusiastic consent, the idea that sex should be pleasurable to both parties, as a new and radical concept, one that men will need a good long time to grasp and put into practice. “Bad sex,” to men, is sex that ends with a slightly suboptimal orgasm. To women, it’s sex that ends with us leaving in tears. Why is that acceptable to anyone?

And yet, there are reasons for optimism. Social change often happens quickly. (Affirmative consent isn’t a new concept anyway—I learned about it in college, and Carole Pateman, among others, was writing a counternarrative about consent back in 1980.) Marijuana, once considered as dangerous as heroin, is now legal in some form in all but a handful of states. Abortion was illegal almost everywhere, then became legal, with restrictions, virtually overnight. Same-sex marriage was unthinkable in mainstream political circles 20 years ago, but now it’s the law across much of the land.

The most optimistic reading of all the #MeToo backlash, including the fevered defenses of Ansari against an imaginary horde of radical feminists out to ruin his career and reputation, is that it’s a sign that women’s sexual autonomy is being normalized. Sometimes, the voices favoring a retrograde status quo are loudest just before an epochal shift. Maybe this backlash is a death rattle.