In early February, an internal investigation by three vice chairs of the King County Democrats found that the chair of that group, Bailey Stober, harassed and intimidated a staff member.
The vice chairs wrote up a memo alleging that Stober called an employee a “stupid bitch” and “stupid cunt” and pressured her to drink alcohol with him. The Seattle Times first reported the memo on February 9.
The vice chairs called on Stober to resign. Stober refused, criticizing the investigation as incomplete and overly vague. Defending himself, Stober told the Times, “The facts are three people that have called for my resignation out of a board of over 70.”
That number has since grown. More than 30 people have signed an open letter calling on Stober to step down, including a district chair and former Washington State Representative Jessyn Farrell.
“Harassment, intimidation, and abuse are completely unacceptable,” the letter says. “As a party and as a matter of state and federal law, claims of harassment cannot be dismissed.”
Natalia Koss Vallejo, the former employee whose experiences with Stober were the subject of the internal investigation, is also now speaking publicly about her allegations, using her name for the first time. Koss Vallejo, who worked under Stober as executive director of the King County Democrats, said in a statement Thursday that he created “a pattern of harassment and abuse, directed at me and many others” and “an environment where harassment and inappropriate behavior was not only accepted, but celebrated.” Stober continues to deny the allegations.
In an interview, Koss Vallejo said Stober “would make fun of women who were larger or women who just don’t fit conventional beauty standards." Koss Vallejo said she heard Stober comment that a woman would “break the chair she’s sitting on or that he could feel the ground moving when she was walking by.”
She also said Stober would pressure her and others during social gatherings to drink alcohol. She also alleges that he would take away her water to encourage her to become more intoxicated.
“He’d say ‘fuck water, water’s for quitters, fuck water,’” Koss Vallejo said.
She also described Stober pulling pranks, like taking her phone while she was in the bathroom and posting “I shit my pants” on her Facebook page or spraying her with silly string while she was driving. (Koss Vallejo provided a screenshot of the Facebook post. Stober posted a video of the silly string to his public Instagram.)
Koss Vallejo said she felt undermined by the name-calling and pranks, though not “specifically victimized because of my gender.”
“I think he would have used the word ‘bitch’ to describe people of any gender,” Koss Vallejo said. “However, the overwhelming majority of the time I saw Bailey putting people down, making negative comments about people’s appearances, or asserting his power over them, most of the time it was women… He liked to hold power over people, he liked making people feel small. He thought of women as easier to do that to.”
In an interview, Stober called that characterization “completely inaccurate, completely made up,” saying nobody has accused him of misbehavior during his 11 years working for the party. He has denied calling Koss Vallejo or other party members derogatory names or pressuring them to drink alcohol.
“That’s not who I am. That’s not how I act. That’s not how I treat other human beings,” Stober said. He claimed to have text messages that would prove some of the allegations are false, but declined to share those messages. He would not comment on the Facebook or silly string incidents.
Stober fired Koss Vallejo in early February, after someone else a filed harassment complaint describing some of this alleged behavior, but did not name Koss Vallejo. That complaint led to the investigation. The vice chairs said in their memo that they planned to conduct another investigation to determine whether the firing was retaliatory in nature. Stober denied retaliation.
He said he fired Koss Vallejo over a separate incident in January at a Bellingham hotel during which she poured coffee on a car that had a hat inside featuring the logo for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Surveillance video of the incident was posted on YouTube. Stober said the manager of the hotel contacted him. Koss Vallejo said she apologized to hotel management.
In her statement, Koss Vallejo addressed the incident, saying she felt “deeply embarrassed about my poor judgement.” But she also claimed that Stober “used it as an excuse to fire me a week later with no discussion of it in the interim.”
Stober has criticized the investigation over his alleged behavior by three vice chairs of the party, Cat Williams, Michael Maddux, and Orchideh Raisdanai. (Williams has since resigned as vice chair.) In addition to the harassment allegations, the vice chairs and Koss Vallejo claim Stober was irresponsible with party money, spending unnecessarily on food and travel. Stober denies those allegations, saying he can’t make financial decisions without approval from the party treasurer. He criticized the vice chairs for not interviewing the party treasurer during their investigation. He is now seeking another investigation and says he will consult executive board members Tuesday about who should conduct that investigation.
Some in the party are skeptical of the vice chairs’ report about Stober. David Ginsberg, chair of the 34th Legislative District Democrats, called it an “unfinished investigation.” Ginsberg called for “due process” and an independent ombudsman without ties to anyone involved in the complaints to complete a new investigation. He said he has not seen Stober treat party members or volunteers in a degrading or mocking way or pressure them to drink alcohol. “He has been an extraordinarily effective chair,” Ginsberg said. “He’s been a champion of standing up for victims. It’s all very difficult to make sense of, frankly.”
Still, several other people involved with the party described seeing the effects of Stober’s alleged treatment of Koss Vallejo or other instances that concerned them.
Bevin McLeod, a member of the 36th District Democrats, said she had a two-hour conversation with Koss Vallejo after a political fundraiser in January. McLeod said Koss Vallejo cried during that conversation and said she would not speak out over fears of retaliation.
McLeod said she did not witness Stober’s treatment of Koss Vallejo directly, but has seen Stober at after-hours events encouraging people to drink alcohol and speaking to people in “degrading” ways.
Melissa Taylor, a party volunteer who mentored Koss Vallejo, said she observed Stober mocking volunteers in the party’s Auburn office because of their weight or because they spent a long time in the restroom. He also commented on volunteers’ relationship statuses and sex lives, Taylor said. “In the spectrum of harassment, it was not the worst I’ve seen,” Taylor said. “However, there was enough of it, it was consistent enough that it was consistently undermining.”
A November email from Koss Vallejo to Taylor, which Taylor provided to the vice chairs during their investigation, shows the two making a plan for how Koss Vallejo would improve her working relationship with Stober. The plan called for Koss Vallejo to “identify and name bullying behavior when it happens” and “if Bailey is drunk, find an excuse to leave.”
Brent Williams-Ruth, the former state committeeman for the 30th District Democrats, said interactions with Stober were “a major factor” in his decision to resign that post. At a party event in Walla Walla in April, Williams-Ruth said he joined a group of party members drinking and talking politics in a hotel bar. There, Stober bragged about responding to emails from Republicans with crude language, Williams-Ruth said. “He told them they could suck his cock. He constantly used the word ‘cunt’ and ‘motherfuckers.’”
Stober denied all of these claims, including name-calling. He called Williams-Ruth’s account “farfetched, inaccurate, and completely made up.”
Summer Stinson, policy director for the 36th District Democrats, said she had not witnessed any behavior she would call harassment but said she saw “dismissal of women or talking about women in terms about their looks.” In a January 4 Facebook post, Stober referred to a former state senate candidate as a “hot date.”
“It’s very, very discouraging to see this within the Democratic party. But if there’s anything I’m hoping we’ve learned is that we need to speak up and not become part of the culture of silence.”
Stober described the former candidate referenced in the Facebook post as a close friend. “There has never been a time when I’ve been intentionally demeaning or dismissive or a misogynist in any sort of way,” Stober said. “Part of our problem in government is that we have a lack of women in positions of power and I’ve been doing my best to try and change that course.”
Koss Vallejo and the open letter both criticize Stober’s alleged handling of party finances. The letter cites “a lack of fiscal responsibility.” Koss Vallejo said Stober took unnecessary trips to Eastern Washington and overspent on supplies and travel.
Stober defended trips to Eastern Washington, saying he campaigned for chair of the King County party in part of sharing resources and training with smaller Democratic organizations across the state. He said the organization has “had some slow months” recently, but that Koss Vallejo and the bills were paid. A January report filed with the Public Disclosure Commission shows the King County Democrats spent $7,382 on rent, utilities, Koss-Vallejo's salary, food, and other supplies in January and ended the month with $17,391 in the bank.
Another financial report handed out during the party board's January 23 meeting shows that the PDC report does not account for outstanding checks and fees totaling early $16,000. The report gives an adjusted balance of $1,419.
Rachael Ludwick, 37th Legislative District Committeewoman, sent a photo of the report to The Stranger.
The King County Democrats will meet Tuesday. If Stober does not resign, those who’ve signed the open letter say they are seeking an executive board vote to remove him.