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After bruising scandal, King County Democrats gear up for election year

King County Democrats say they’ve been torn this year between resolving a workplace scandal in their own ranks, and supporting candidates in this much-anticipated election year. Now they say they’re ready to move forward.

The resignation of King County Democrats Chair Bailey Stober took effect Saturday, April 14. He stepped down at the end of a marathon meeting the week before, over allegations of harassment and creating a hostile work environment. Stober said many of the allegations were untrue but that “some of them are true.”

Board member Bevin McLeod said it was exhausting for everyone. “I was there for over 14 hours. It felt like we were trying to reenact a courtroom trial,” she said.

McLeod filed the initial complaint against Stober over his treatment of Natalia Koss Vallejo, the group’s executive director.

“I feel very strongly that if we’re going to change the culture around us, we have to take steps to address situations as they arise, and call them out for not acceptable,” she said.

But McLeod said the investigation revealed shortcomings in the local Democrats' process – and workplace. Meanwhile volunteer board members weren’t always sure how to proceed.

Seattle attorney Cecilia Jeong chairs the King County Young Democrats. She was elected in January.

“We really got thrown into the midst of it,” Jeong said. “Things were already bubbling by the time I started participating in the King County Democrats.”

She said the process was divisive. There have been some raised voices and resignations.

“There was definitely some stumbling,” she said. “There were a lot of differing opinions. I think sometimes progress got stunted by process. And there were a lot of late evenings.”

The Young Democrats ultimately called on Stober to resign. Jeong said Stober is a member of their group and it was a hard decision.

There was also a sense of urgency. McLeod said people were torn between investigating the complaint, and getting focused on the current election.

“Because we need to get these policies in place and we need to get Democrats elected,” she said. “I mean, this is such an important year.”

The King County Democrats chose longtime Democratic National Committee member Sharon Mast to serve as the group’s acting chair. According to ​Julie Ann Kempf, 46th Legislative District chair, they expect to choose a permanent replacement in May. Kempf said many in the party hope Mast will consider seeking the post.

McLeod said what sticks with her is the thanks she received from an older woman at the meeting who said, “You have no idea what we’ve had to endure.”

In February, Stober told KUOW he's proud of the work he's done to help elect people of color and women. He said he has worked in politics for nearly a decade and never had accusations of this sort against him.

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