Bailey Stober resigned in scandal. Now his return to politics is dividing King County Democrats
Local Democratic groups have split over whether to support two candidates with ties to the former party chair, who was accused of mistreating staff.
In local Democratic circles, many people think Bailey Stober has no business working in politics. Last year, the party leader resigned his position as chair of the King County Democrats amid allegations he harassed staff, made derogatory comments about women and overspent the party’s money. Stober also left his job working for King County after an independent investigation found he had behaved inappropriately as party chair.
Now, a little over a year later, Stober has reappeared, albeit in a smaller role: He has been working as a political consultant for two Kent City Council candidates.
Stober’s reemergence has caused fresh rifts within the local Democratic Party and among left-leaning groups. While some party members think it is unfair to hold Stober’s past behavior against the candidates he is working for, others have shied away from supporting them because of Stober’s involvement in their campaigns.
“There was a pretty strong sentiment that Bailey was canceled,” said Olgy Diaz, a vice president of the National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington. “As a women’s organization, we’re not interested in anything that has to do with a man that is known to be terrible to women, and staff, and his colleagues. … We’re not going to give someone money to give it to a guy who does this.”
The National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington and the King County Democrats each declined to issue endorsements in the two Kent City Council races that involve candidates who hired Stober. Both of the candidates who didn't receive the groups' endorsements are Democratic women.
Yet other Democratic insiders argue that those candidates, Marli Larimer and Sara Franklin, shouldn’t be punished because of Stober’s past actions.
“Marli didn’t do any of those things,” said Aaron Schuler, chair of the 47th Legislative District Democrats, a group that endorsed both Larimer and Franklin.
Some Democratic leaders question whether Stober’s offenses were severe enough to warrant blacklisting him from local politics. While the state attorney general at one point took Stober to court as part of a civil campaign finance case, criminal charges were never filed against him — neither for financial offenses, nor for harassing behavior.
“He’s not a murderer, he’s not a rapist, he’s never been convicted of anything,” said Allison Fine Taylor, chair of the 30th Legislative District Democrats. “The fact that these women would be treated in any kind of negative way because of who they use as a consultant is insane.”
For candidates, losing out on endorsements can mean losing access to campaign support, such as voter lists, volunteers, training — and, in some cases, donations.
On Friday, Taylor sent an email to leaders of the King County Democrats with the subject line, “Make this right, now.”
However, Shasti Conrad, the current chair of the King County Democrats, said she thinks it is important to make it clear that behavior like Stober’s won’t be tolerated. She said that is especially true today, after the #MeToo movement highlighted many organizations’ failures to address patterns of harassment and sexual misconduct in the workplace.
“It’s bigger than one person,” Conrad said. “With the #MeToo movement and #TimesUp, we have to make sure we’re really being thoughtful about creating the best environment possible.”
Conrad said she and another party leader relayed their concerns about Stober to both Larimer and Franklin. She said they told the candidates that “we were really trying to build an organization that has a stronger set of principles around these issues.”
After those conversations, neither candidate submitted a questionnaire to formally seek the county party’s endorsement, Conrad said.
Larimer said she got the message that there wasn’t a point in even trying, unless she dumped Stober from her campaign team.
Franklin said she had the same impression.
“My qualifications to run for office, my acknowledged years of active involvement in the community and in the Party was not enough to overcome this barrier,” Franklin wrote in an email Monday. “... I will say I am deeply disappointed.”
Franklin said she hired Stober to help her launch her campaign, but stopped working with him about two weeks ago, after that initial start-up work was completed. She said she was undecided about whether she might still seek endorsements from the groups that had previously expressed reservations about Stober’s role in her campaign.
Others had voiced concerns, too. State Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, rescinded her endorsement of Larimer’s campaign after learning Larimer was working with Stober, Larimer and two other people told Crosscut. Das did not respond to several requests for comment.
Larimer, a first-time candidate who was appointed to the Kent City Council in 2018, said she would feel differently about working with Stober if police reports or court records showed he had a documented history of assault or criminal harassment.
She described Stober as a personal friend who “is well aware that he did not conduct himself in the best manner.”
“But where does redemption come in?" Larimer asked Sunday. “When is enough enough?”
What happened in 2018
The King County Department of Assessments, where Stober worked at the time as communications director, commissioned an independent investigation into Stober's actions as party chair, which Crosscut obtained through a public records request.
The investigation found that Stober “exercised extremely poor judgment, at best, and in certain circumstances, engaged in wholly inappropriate and immature behavior.” For instance, the report upheld allegations that Stober called the party’s former executive director, Natalia Koss Vallejo, a “bitch” and made her feel pressured to drink alcohol with him.
The investigation also found that Stober used Koss Vallejo's personal device to log onto her Facebook page and post, “I shit my pants” — behavior the report described as “juvenile” and inappropriate for an employer to do to an employee.
In another incident, the report found evidence that Stober sprayed Koss Vallejo with silly string while she was driving her car in a parking lot. Stober later posted a video of the incident to social media, according to the report.
The investigators determined that, at other times, Stober said women were "drama" and used offensive language that was derogatory toward female party members.
Yet the investigation did not find evidence to support the accusation that Stober fired Koss Vallejo as an act of retaliation. Nor was Stober found to have violated county rules in performing his official duties at the assessor's office.
Still, King County officials decided Stober’s conduct as the chair of the King County Democrats “made it so Mr. Stober could not continue in his role at the Department of Assessments,” according to a statement from the department. Under a settlement agreement, Stober resigned from his county job in lieu of termination, receiving $37,700 as a severance payment. He had been making $98,000 per year.
As part of the settlement, Stober agreed he would not seek or accept a job with King County in the future.
Koss Vallejo said Stober's inappropriate behavior extended not just to her, but to other members of the local Democratic Party. In an email to Crosscut, Koss Vallejo said Stober "repeatedly violated the trust of our community through both his financial malfeasance and abusive behavior towards me and many others."
Where things stand now
Schuler, the chair of the 47th District Democrats, said he agrees that Stober engaged in “deeply troubling behaviors that were unacceptable.” At the same time, Schuler said he wonders how long Stober should be punished for past mistakes.
Already, Stober lost his job because of work he was doing for the Democratic Party as an unpaid volunteer, Schuler noted.
“I have to view it from the perspective of somebody who, as a progressive, has spent much of my time in politics dealing with issues of restorative justice,” Schuler said. Part of that has meant grappling with questions about how to help criminal offenders re-enter society, as well as how to avoid “destroying people’s lives through jail,” he said.
When people suggest Stober shouldn't be allowed to work in politics again, Schuler said, “That sounds to me like you’re basically damning someone to a life sentence.”
“That doesn’t seem like a very progressive response to me,” he said.
Other party leaders argue that too little time has passed, and that Stober hasn’t made the personal apologies necessary for people to welcome him back into local politics.
“I believe in a pathway for redemption and all of that, but that starts with accountability,” said Conrad, the chair of the King County Democrats. “That starts with genuine apologies. There were folks that were really deeply impacted by everything that happened last year, and we have to be mindful of that.”
Heather Weiner, a Democratic political consultant, said there are also Stober’s financial problems to consider.
Records kept by the state Public Disclosure Commission show that Stober has yet to pay some of the fines levied against him for failing to properly file campaign finance reports when he ran for the Kent City Council in 2011 and 2013. The penalties have been sent to collections and he still owes $4,459, according to the commission.
The King County Democrats also accused Stober of overspending and spending money without proper approval when he was chair.
“This guy should not be practicing political consulting,” Weiner said.
Furthermore, allowing Stober to return to his chosen field so soon could send a message to others that the consequences for harassing behavior are minimal, she said.
“People watch the first step of the comeback tour of men who have been accused of harassment,” Weiner said. “I think it is incumbent on a candidate, particularly on a woman candidate, to not participate in that rehabilitation.”
Larimer said Stober’s work for her campaign does not involve any contact with volunteers or other staff. Mainly, she said, Stober has helped her set up her campaign website, produce mailers, supply a canvassing list and provide artwork for signs.
Between February and May, Larimer’s campaign paid Stober $3,100 for his services, according to campaign finance reports.
Larimer said she is not letting Stober anywhere near her financial accounts, based on his past history.
For his part, Stober told Crosscut he is splitting his time between Texas and Washington, working as a political consultant for clients in both states. He said he is working with several other candidates in South King County, but declined to name them, saying he doesn’t want them to face the same backlash that Franklin and Larimer have.
Most of his candidates are running small campaigns that don’t require regular filing of campaign finance reports, he said. The lack of public records makes it difficult to determine who he is working for.
Stober, now 28, objected to anyone lumping him in with men whose stories of abuse have emerged in the #MeToo movement. Rather, he said his bad behavior mostly involved being “a 26-year old with a foul mouth.”
“This is about an allegation that I used bad language, and frankly I owned that, and I said I had,” Stober said Monday.
He said he has apologized to some people involved in the events of last year. Koss Vallejo, however, said he has not reached out to her to make amends and "has not demonstrated authentic remorse for his actions."
"It's completely understandable if candidates and volunteer organizations might want to avoid association with someone with his track record," Koss Vallejo wrote in an email.
Stober said all of his candidates are well-qualified women, people of color or LGBT individuals. Those are exactly the kind of people the Democratic Party claims it wants to help elect to public office, he said.
“To not support them because of who is doing their door-belling strategy — I think they’re putting a personality conflict above our shared goals,” Stober said.
Other left-leaning groups have decided to go ahead and support Franklin and Larimer, despite their connection to Stober. The Martin Luther King County Labor Council recently endorsed both candidates, as did the Teamsters Local 763 and Teamsters Local 117.
In an emailed statement, a spokesman for the Teamsters Local 117 said its decision to endorse Larimer was based “not on any staffing decisions she may have made, [but] rather on Marli’s record as the candidate that best represents the needs of working families in the City of Kent.”