Party Officials, Activists Say Beiser Scrambled for Months to Keep Misconduct Allegations Under Wraps - Voice of San Diego

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Party Officials, Activists Say Beiser Scrambled for Months to Keep Misconduct Allegations Under Wraps

Multiple activists and Democratic Party officials say San Diego Unified Trustee Kevin Beiser had known since at least December that one or more men were prepared to go public with accusations against him, and that he held meetings and discussions trying to identify the accusers before they went public.

San Diego Unified Trustee Kevin Beiser takes part in a 2017 school board meeting. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

San Diego Unified Trustee Kevin Beiser has said nothing in response to accusations of sexual misconduct made by four men last week, apart from a short statement sent to media outlets, including Voice of San Diego, in which he declared his innocence and said, “We were first made aware of these allegations less than 24 hours ago.”

But even if Beiser didn’t know the specifics of the accusations, multiple activists and Democratic Party officials say Beiser had known since at least December that one or more men were prepared to go public with accusations against him.

They also shared details of a January meeting Beiser held to strategize a response, discussions he had about hiring a lawyer and his effort to identify the accusers before they went public.

The behind-the-scenes maneuvering sheds light on both the way in which the four accusers’ stories became public following discussions among high-profile local Democrats, and the extent to which Beiser worked to prevent the accusations from coming out.

Beiser did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Jess Durfee, the former chairman of the San Diego County Democratic Party and a member of the Democratic National Committee, acknowledged last week that he met with Beiser in January amid persistent rumors that someone was about to come forward and that someone had been organizing accusers.

He said they met to discuss how to respond to the developing situation.

“I think there was some talk at that time of bringing in a lawyer, or at least consulting a lawyer, to develop some sort of game plan for a response if any accusations came forward,” Durfee said.

Beiser had been hearing things since December, Durfee said.

“Nobody knew what, nobody knew who, and Kevin reached out to me and said, ‘What do I do?’ I said, ‘You can’t do anything until you know what is surfacing,’” Durfee said. “I didn’t know anything. We didn’t know if it was one person. We heard there might be more.”

Beiser speculated about who might come forward, Durfee recalled, but he said he didn’t remember any of the names that came up because they were people he didn’t know.

In July 2018, Durfee approached Patrick Macfarland, who later told Voice of San Diego that Beiser groped him after a 2017 political event, to ask him about rumors he had heard involving him and Beiser. When Macfarland told Durfee the particular rumor he asked about wasn’t true, Durfee encouraged him to reassure Beiser that he wouldn’t be coming forward with any misconduct allegations.

Durfee said he was among those on the Democratic Party’s central committee who voted last week urging Beiser’s resignation.

Carol Kim, an alternate on the party’s central committee and political director of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council, said Beiser made a comment to her in January that she thought demonstrated an awareness of pending allegations.

At Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s State of the City address, she said, Beiser was trying to get past her in an aisle. They were close, so she leaned in to give him a hug. Beiser dramatically pulled away.

“He said, ‘Sorry, I can’t hug anymore, I can only shake hands now,’” Kim said. “I knew immediately what he was referring to, because these rumors had been around.”

A former Beiser campaign staffer who is also a Democratic Party central committee member said he had a similar experience around the same time.

Voice of San Diego has agreed to withhold his name because he fears professional repercussions for getting involved in the Beiser scandal. He had volunteered on Beiser’s 2010 campaign and worked as a field organizer on his 2014 re-election campaign.

The former Beiser staffer said he was invited to a Jan. 9 meeting at Beiser’s home with other people Beiser saw as allies to plan a response in the event accusations of misconduct against Beiser became public. The former staffer said he couldn’t make the meeting, but came by Beiser’s house afterward to talk one on one. He shared a screenshot of a text conversation supporting his description of being invited to the meeting.

There, he said he told Beiser that he had also heard about pending accusations, and Beiser became upset at him for not telling him earlier. He said Beiser said only one person could potentially come forward, but did not name anyone. The former staffer said he told Beiser that if there was only one person involved and the transgression was minor, he could probably survive the fallout by seeking treatment or apologizing – but that it all depended on what was being alleged.

Beiser said he was prepared to sue the accuser for defamation, the former campaign staffer said.

“He already had an attorney,” the former campaign staffer said. “It was like he was doing an investigation. I kind of suspected he was just talking to me to get information.”

But the former campaign staffer said Beiser also discussed the possibility of writing a generalized, blanket apology on Facebook to anyone he ever made feel uncomfortable.

The former campaign staffer said Beiser also speculated that Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, a political activist who was in the midst of running to become chairman of the San Diego County Democratic Party, was retaliating against him because Beiser supported his opponent in the chair’s race. Rodriguez-Kennedy later won the position. Beiser also speculated that Eva Posner, the political consultant who organized the accusers to go public as a group, had a grudge against him, the former campaign staffer said.

“He was trying to get it in my head that this was all political,” he said.

A few days later, the former campaign staffer said Beiser asked him to call Liam Barrett, a UCSD student who is active in Democratic politics, to see whether Barrett had ever been harassed or made to feel uncomfortable by anyone in local politics.

“I never followed up with Liam, I never helped him with what he wanted. After that meeting, I kept my distance from him. After that meeting, I sat in my car and just let it set in. There were moments that I was in his house that I was not comfortable being in his house. That meeting was not a positive experience for me,” he said.

Barrett told VOSD he never experienced the kind of behavior from Beiser on the scale of what four men accused Beiser of last week.

“He has aggressively invited me to come to events, political and not,” Barrett said. “That was pretty atypical. I had friends who received similar messages. … He was messaging me into the evening and late at night. Sometimes it was a campaign event, sometimes it was a pool party. … His behavior toward me always struck me as odd and rather discomforting.”

Two of the men who came forward alleging misconduct by Beiser to Voice of San Diego also detailed invitations to pool parties or misconduct that occurred at a pool party at Beiser’s home.

But Barrett said he was surprised Beiser might have thought he was a potential accuser. Instead, Barrett said it’s possible Beiser learned he was asking other young men if they had any negative experiences with Beiser, because Barrett had in fact been doing that.

Barrett said he helped Posner see whether anyone he knew within the local Democratic Party had experienced misconduct from Beiser.

In December, Allan Acevedo, a political consultant and activist who worked on Beiser’s 2018 re-election campaign, had his own conversation with Beiser.

Acevedo was one of the people who came forward with stories about misconduct by Eric Bauman, the chairman of the California Democratic Party, leading to his ouster in late November.

Acevedo said the Bauman experience left him cold. Coming forward had not been pleasant, he said, and though it led to Bauman’s resignation, he felt the systemic forces that allowed the misconduct were still in place.

In late November, he said he received a call from Rodriguez-Kennedy, who’d also gone public with accusations against Bauman, asking him “to help these people come forward with their stories about Kevin.”

In separate interviews, Acevedo and Rodriguez-Kennedy said going through the Bauman scandal was a grueling experience.

“We were burnt out, and we felt like we just couldn’t do this back to back,” Acevedo said.

Rodriguez-Kennedy said it was after the Bauman story came out that men started coming to him with stories about Beiser. And he hoped to help cultivate the kind of network he and Acevedo had been a part of with Bauman, in which accusers came forward together to minimize the negative effects of going public.

San Diego Democratic Party Chair Will Rodriguez-Kennedy / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Two of those people who came to him – Macfarland and Paul Crawford – had already been speaking with Posner. She was running Macfarland’s campaign for the Chula Vista City Council when he told her Beiser had groped him in May 2017. Macfarland connected her with Crawford, who told her about having experienced unwanted touching from Beiser outside an October 2017 Democratic Party event shortly after it happened.

The other person who contacted Rodriguez-Kennedy at that time was John Doe, the unnamed man who last week filed a lawsuit against Beiser alleging years-long workplace harassment, sexual assault and sexual harassment. Doe also shared his story with Voice of San Diego, on the condition of anonymity.

Rodriguez-Kennedy said he gave Doe’s name to Posner, which Posner confirmed.

“She had made a name for herself as someone who is ethical and conscientious,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said of Posner. “I was in my own trauma. I didn’t know the details. I just knew that something happened. I sent them to Posner.”

Posner eventually organized the Feb. 5 meeting in which the four men shared their stories with Voice of San Diego.

After Bauman resigned, Acevedo said he kept thinking about the experience. He decided to call Beiser to see whether this time, there could be a better resolution for the people who’d experienced unwanted behavior or touching.

On Dec. 4, he texted Beiser saying they needed to talk. They spoke 15 minutes later.

“I thought I was in a position of power and influence to talk to him directly,” Acevedo said. “Even though it didn’t end well, I knew he’d take my call.”

Acevedo, who did not know the details of the accusations against Beiser, said he tried to tell Beiser that even if he didn’t know who the accusers were, there was a way he could help them seek resolution. He could send word that he knew he hurt people, that he was sorry and that he was seeking help.

Now, Acevedo thinks of this as a naïve attempt that backfired, he said.

“He didn’t deal with how he could take on that challenge,” Acevedo said. “He said, ‘Now I can’t even hug anybody, people are so sensitive these days.’ Kevin was dismissive of how people felt, and was more in self-preservation mode.”

Beiser told Acevedo that he could lose his house, if the accusations cost him his job on the school board and as a middle school teacher in Chula Vista, Acevedo said.

“It seemed he was trying to guilt me,” he said. “Then he started trying to pressure me for names and details.”

Acevedo told him he should call Rodriguez-Kennedy to ask for advice about what he should do.

“When we got off the phone, he texted me thanking me for my friendship, and then it seemed like he went on a witch hunt to find out who said what about him,” Acevedo said.

Acevedo soon got a call from Rodriguez-Kennedy, asking him why he had reached out to Beiser. Rodriguez-Kennedy told him that Beiser had started making calls, trying to figure out who was talking. Acevedo said Rodriguez-Kennedy questioned his motivations for reaching out to Beiser. Acevedo then apologized for what he said was a naïve attempt to fix things before the men decided to go public.

“I wanted them to define justice for themselves in a place that is nonconfrontational,” he said. “It’s hard to go back now.”

Rodriguez-Kennedy said Beiser tried multiple times to meet with him after his conversation with Acevedo.

“I simply would not meet with him,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said. “I didn’t feel comfortable getting involved because I had already connected the survivors to someone where I thought they would be safe,” he said, referring to Posner.

Rodriguez-Kennedy said Beiser pulled him aside at the annual LGBTQ Victory Fund celebration on March 3 and said that he was sure Rodriguez-Kennedy had heard rumors about him, and that he wanted to talk about the situation.

Rodriguez-Kennedy said that follow-up meeting never occurred.

After Voice of San Diego published the four men’s accounts of their experiences with Beiser, the Democratic Party voted to urge Beiser to resign.

In a statement after the vote, Rodriguez-Kennedy said they’d invited Beiser to attend the meeting or to issue a statement.

Beiser “declined our invitation and instead provided a statement suggesting that he had only heard about these allegations within 24 hours of our meeting. We know that to be false,” he said.

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