Watergate was a scandal where dirty tricks were used by Republicans against Democrats to win an election. Today, in the case of the horrendous homophobic attacks against Eric Bauman, longtime out chair of the Los Angeles Democratic Party, the attacks are apparently coming from supporters of his Democratic opponent in the race to be the next chair of the California Democratic Party.
Issue attacks are one thing—such as what Bauman calls a blatant “whopper” that his support for the universal healthcare bill, “The Healthy California Act” (SB 562), is less than stellar. Bauman is a registered nurse—following in the footsteps of his late mother, an unmarried lesbian nurse. He met his husband of more than 30 years, Michael Andraychak, in 1983 in the ICU ward during the AIDS crisis. Bauman has worked toward securing a single- payer healthcare law with then-Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, out former State Sens. Sheila Kuehl and Mark Leno, and more recently, SB 562 co-authors Ricardo Lara, and Toni Atkins to make, in his words, California a “healthcare sanctuary” state!
But it is the blatant homophobia used as a bazooka in the politics of personal destruction that has shocked many in the Democratic Party.
When Bauman first heard from volunteer phone bankers about outlandish rumors that he had engaged in “inappropriate behavior with 14- and 16-year-old boys,” he “blew it off” as an “old saw” used against gay or lesbian candidates.
“Right away, when the other side doesn’t feel like they’re running away with it, the next thing you know,” Bauman told the Los Angeles Blade, “the accusations of pedophilia come out; the accusations that we’re promiscuous; the accusations that we have drug problems. I mean, it’s an old saw that plays over and over and over again. I’ve watched it dozens and dozens of times in my political career and it’s despicable!”
Bauman wrestled with how to respond, thinking the false rumors were confined to a small group of people.
But then “a light bulb went off,” he says. “What they’re accusing me of is being a child predator! And I lost it. I started crying uncontrollably. Michael put me on the phone with my uncle. Then he put me on the phone with [his best friend, former Assembly Speaker] John Perez. There was no consoling me. And finally Michael did the proverbial scene from the movie ‘Airplane’ where the nun slaps the guy in the face. He didn’t slap me in the face but he said, ‘Damn it, stop this shit now. Let’s go for a walk and let’s get past this.’ And that worked.”
But it made Bauman think: “how many people are accused of things or are victims of abuse and they hide in shame and so it continues?”—noting how cyber-stalking can become dangerously viral. “So I thought the only way to stop it is to get out in front of it and stop it.”
He decided to send out an email to every delegate entitled “I can no longer stay silent!” The email, Bauman said, fumed: “This is despicable! This is not the Democratic Party! These are Trumpian tactics and it has to stop!”
“I’m a pretty tough guy and I can take the attacks, lies, distortions, and mud that has been slung at me pretty well,” Bauman wrote in the email. “But to accuse me of child abuse, especially of this nature, is beyond the pale and 100% unacceptable.”
Bauman was “heartened” at the massive positive response, including from his opponent’s supporters.
“But there were people—and this happens to rape victims all the time—who accused me of doing it myself,” Bauman says. “There were a good number of people that posted that in Facebook groups. That was disgusting! And then there were other people who said, ‘Well if Bauman won’t expose the person who said it, then why is he hiding it?’ Then you had these people who constructed these triple-straw man arguments: ‘Either Bauman put this out there himself because no one else has seen it or Bauman knows who it is and for some reason, doesn’t want to tell who it is, maybe because they know that it’s true.’ This is on the Internet!”
The tactics then shifted to attacking Bauman as a Jew in a delegate chat room after the campaign posted a loving YouTube tribute from Andraychak called #TheEricIKnow.
“They post this image described as ‘a 16 year old Palestinian girl laying dead in the street with an Israeli flag stuck in her back and the Star of David is replaced with a Swastika,’” Bauman says. “Really? This is an election in the Democratic Party. And as somebody who has fought for 30 years to build and strengthen this party—this is insane!”
Kimberly Ellis, Bauman’s top rival, denounced the tactics. “These rumors are despicable and there’s no place in our politics for such outrageous behavior and I denounce any such type of cruel maligning of someone’s character,” Ellis said in her own email to state Democrats, the L.A. Times reported. “Though there’s certainly a lot of passion on both sides, I’m proud of the mutual respect and courtesy we’ve shown each other in our interactions.”
Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California, is among those disgusted by the dirty tricks. “Just as we are at the precipice of breaking a glass ceiling with the ability to elect a gay man to the highest ranking position ever for any LGBTQ person in the nation in any major party, I am sickened that there still are people in California’s Democratic Party who would resort to these false smears to favor their preferred candidate,” Zbur told the LA Blade. “We call on Democratic Party leaders to investigate who launched and participated in this despicable campaign and assure that anyone who participated is removed from positions of leadership in the party.”
The election for California Democratic Party chair happens on May 21.