Daraka Larimore-Hall, Santa Barbaraâ€™s most prominent unelected Democrat, faces a sudden, surprising test in his campaign to be elected chair of the state party.
Locked in a three-way political race for the powerful job, Daraka last week absorbed accusations of â€œshady, illegal behaviorâ€ from one of a trio of Dem staffers who sued the party amid a messy sexual harassment scandal â€” who now alleges he pressured her to withdraw litigation claims aimed at him.
There is political irony here, because Larimore-Hall was the person who last fall blew the whistle about sexual misconduct allegations swirling against then-chair Eric Bauman. The charges of rampant loathsome behavior that Daraka aired led to Baumanâ€™s resignation â€” and the ongoing, fierce campaign to replace him.
The latest twist came via the online platform Medium, where Kate Earley, the partyâ€™s digital director, posted a piece titled, â€œI dropped my lawsuit against the California Democratic Party so I could write this.â€
One of the three plaintiffs who sued in January in Los Angeles Superior Court, Earley said in a 1,627-word post that she dropped out primarily so she could name a previously unidentified â€œsenior officialâ€ whom she had accused of â€œretaliation and witness tampering.â€
That would be Daraka â€” who firmly denies any such thing.
SUBTLETIES OF RECKONING: At a time when Democrats across the nation engage in a painful reckoning over male conduct and comments toward and about women, Earleyâ€™s post, and Darakaâ€™s 607-word written response, offer a social media case study of conflicting perspective in the #MeToo era.
Importantly, the issue here is not an accusation of improper physical behavior per se, but a more subtle, next-level dispute: What expectations for an appropriate and permissible verbal response are due one who makes such an allegation?
In her piece, Earley claimed that Larimore-Hall failed to help when she pleaded that the party not hire a certain Sacramento law firm to look into the mess: She felt intimidated and panicked, Earley wrote, because her college employed the same firm to investigate after she was â€œraped and assaulted on an ongoing basisâ€ as a student by a university official; the law firmâ€™s actions during that process humiliated her, she wrote.
In the Democratic lawsuit, she listed as a complaint the alleged indifference of Daraka, aka â€œsenior official,â€ to her concern about the law firm. Further, she wrote, he communicated via another person that he was â€œdispleasedâ€ and â€œhurtâ€ that she did so, and he also made â€œthreatening commentsâ€ about it to another plaintiff.
â€œThink about that,â€ she wrote, â€œthe potential next leader of the majority ruling party of the fifth largest economy in the world engaged in witness intimidation against survivors who brought up a complaint.â€
WALKING A FINE LINE: Daraka is traveling around the state to meet with local delegates to the Demsâ€™ spring convention, where the election for chair will go down. When we reached out about Earleyâ€™s charges, he referred us to his campaign Facebook page:
â€œWhen I saw allegations in the original lawsuit saying that I had been dismissive of one of the victimâ€™s concerns and that I had not informed the victims before filing charges against Bauman, I was stunned, as this did not match my recollection of our discussions,â€ he wrote.
He stipulated speaking to a second plaintiff about Earley describing his actions as â€œretaliation and witness tampering.â€ Because that person agreed with him, Daraka wrote, he asked for help:
â€œI asked this person to see what they could do to correct the record, and to avoid their lawsuit being used as a political tool (which, unfortunately, has now happened).â€
He flatly denies threatening or intimidating anyone.
â€œTo be clear, I never encouraged anybody to drop their lawsuit, I never threatened anybody, and I never sent â€˜surrogatesâ€™ to threaten or intimidate anyone. In retrospect, some of those conversations may have been taken out of contextâ€¦â€
BOTTOM LINE: It is unclear whether the controversy will hurt Daraka in the high-cost, high-stakes political brawl to lead state Dems. It canâ€™t help.