GUEST COMMENTARY - Rank political favoritism and cronyism. Public and private berating of delegates who don’t donate to the county Party. Unexplained decision-making regarding the spending of county Party funds– annually-mandated audits left undone, regardless of an embezzlement scandal of the previous Treasurer. Rubber-stamped endorsements. Ignoring, muting, and ejecting elected delegates at undemocratically run Zoom meetings, and preventing elected and alternate members from participating, speaking, asking questions, motioning, or expressing disapproval - unless they toe the Party Line.
And at the head of it all is a Party boss-bully.
The last four years in the Los Angeles Democratic Party (LACDP) have been defined by the authoritarian, anti-democratic reign of LACDP Chair Mark Gonzalez.
Gonzalez is a protegee and handpicked successor of Eric Bauman, who after decades as the prior Party boss-bully, finally resigned in disgrace in 2018 amid the height of the #MeToo movement, when numerous people finally came forward, some suing him saying that he had sexually harassed and sexually assaulted them.
Political cronyism, questionable election practices and a formal complaint
In the months prior to the first meeting with newly elected 2020-2024 members, in his role as acting chair of the Party, Mark Gonzalez had campaigned hard for re-election as LACDP Chair, calling, texting and emailing current and new members of LACDP for their vote. But, when asked on the floor by an LACDP member how he had obtained the contact information of members to solicit their votes, he initially claimed that he had got it as public information via the LA County Registrar’s office. When informed by this member, San Fernando Valley congressional candidate Angelica Dueñas, that he had called her on a private phone number that she hadn’t listed with the Registrar’s office, Gonzalez suddenly did a 180 and claimed to the body that he had bought the LACDP list from the LACDP.
New LACDP members who tried to run in officer elections had been requesting such a list to help them campaign. LACDP Executive Director Drexel Heard would tell them they could only obtain the LACDP contact list if they paid thousands of dollars to LACDP. In spite of the fact that Gonzalez personally insults and regularly scolds LACDP members during monthly meetings for not donating or donating “enough” to LACDP, there is no evidence in campaign finance filings that that he himself, or his personal PAC , had made any donations to the LACDP since at least 2018 when he ran for LACDP Chair the first time in the wake of Eric Bauman’s resignation.
After Gonzalez and his slate won the election, a formal election challenge was filed by the losing slate, alleging it was a neither free nor fair election. A committee of members, having received their appointments from Chair Gonzalez, heard the election challenge and absolved him and Mr. Heard of any wrongdoing, and approved the election results.
Such committee appointments have also earned Gonzalez the ire of many LACDP delegates. The only way to get on a committee is by his appointment. Article VII. Committees, Section B of the LACDP Bylaws says the chair shall appoint two co-chairs and at least one more member to each Committee which “shall constitute the initial membership of each Standing Committee. These initial members shall serve until their successors are appointed.” Even though asked what committees they wanted to volunteer for, the vast majority of LACDP members were not appointed to any committee, whereas a small clique of his most ardent loyalists dominate LACDP committee membership, and who sometimes sit on multiple committees.
Temper-tantrums, public denigration of members, and authoritarian tactics
Temper-tantrums and tongue-lashings by Chair Gonzalez at LACDP meetings are not uncommon.
At the first meeting during his chair nomination speech, in one breath he ranted as newcomers to the Party watched him on Zoom, many of whom were Bernie Sanders activists that had spent the past 5+ years fighting not just for “access” to healthcare but for free care and affordable medicine for all. They listened as he insinuated they just talked the talk about Medicare for All, where he on the other hand, apparently epitomized the struggle of #Healthcare is a Human Right. (“You all out there talk about Healthcare for All/Medicare for all…let me tell you MY story!”; “I had to sell chocolate to be able to see a physician - YOU didn’t have to do that”. “Unless you talk about it [or] be about it, “I” had never had healthcare… until 2009’; “So don’t just talk about it, be about it.” ; “…go ahead and ‘talk’ about Medicare, but you know what, I give back to my community…”; ”“So if you sit back there and ‘talk’ about Medicare for All, get in the streets - I would love to see you there.” )
Mark Gonzalez making his LACDP Chair campaign speech; one member wrote “You don’t know what others had to do, not cool to assume.” Only for the first few meetings did he have the chatbox turned on. That stopped when members used the chat to voice their displeasure or call points of order, since they could not unmute themselves. (Photo from Youtube)
After berating his potential voters, in his next breath he promised to “unite new and experienced activists”, be more ‘inclusive’, and ‘ensure democratic values’ -- campaign promises that he has done the exact opposite of.
Over the last four years under Mark Gonzalez’ ‘leadership’, we members of the LACDP are regularly and publicly denigrated, ignored, ejected (February and March 2021), or barred from entering (December 2023), cut off mid-sentence, kept on mute with no way to unmute ourselves, interrupted when and if we are afforded our right to voice, and prohibited from communicating with each other in the chat box, all the while Chair Mark Gonzalez violates and tramples on Robert’s Rules of Order and the LACDP’s own bylaws.
When a member raises a Zoom hand to attempt to correct a violated procedure or bylaw, because the Parliamentarian fails to do so himself, it is forcibly lowered. When a member holds up a “Point of Order” sign in their video, their video gets forcibly turned off.
Filing complaints to the Party’s apparatchiks unsurprisingly yields a dead end. In March 2021, 37 signers signed a petition demanding to know why Gonzalez ordered members ejected from several meetings. His response was simply denial, despite the Zoom screenshots. In June 2021, new member Rebecca Wolfsberger tried to appeal to other members with an email outlining the numerous examples of LACDP bullying she’d observed from October 2020 to May 2021. While she’s long stopped attending, the bullying continues to this day. In 2022, longtime Democratic Party activist and LACDP member Chris Robson filed a formal “Complaint of Violation of the Code of Conduct, Anti-Harassment and Reprisal Policies of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party by its Chair, Mark Gonzalez.” Gonzalez’s handpicked appointees of the “Anti-Harassment and Incivility” Committee of course rejected it.
When Mark Gonzalez oppresses and suppresses LACDP elected members, he’s doing it to the millions of registered Democrats whom the delegate-members represent.
In the past four years, even after COVID19 was deemed officially over both in California and in the country, he has held only one in-person monthly membership meeting (October 2023). Gonzalez has weaponized Zoom and consistently ignores good governance, democracy and basic decency.
The Upcoming March 5 Primary Election
To my shock and horror, Mark Gonzalez, without stepping away as the politically influential Dem. Party chair, has now decided to run for political office, as the assemblyman for District 54 (approximately Koreatown, Pico Union, Boyle Heights, Montebello, etc.) where if elected, I expect he will run the office through fear and flouting of power – because that’s what he currently does as LACDP chair. He has one Democratic opponent, John Yi.
Some are running for re-election in LACDP because we truly believe in transparency, accountability and democracy within the Democratic Party, hope to continue to hold the entrenched political class accountable, and to support candidates who want money out of politics and clean government without conflicts of interest. Other good Democrats, though, cannot stomach the bullying anymore and are not running again.
We members attend monthly meetings with other members from around the county, vote to endorse politicians, bills or resolutions, and will --hopefully-- hold the political class accountable, without fears of reprisal or retribution or cancellation.
What the Democratic Party of Los Angeles County needs are grassroots Democrats who are not beholden to politicians or have personal political aspirations, who can freely speak truth to power and want reform in the Party. Perhaps then, the LA County Democratic Party will elect an honorable and ethical chairperson who will uphold the values of both the Democratic Party and democracy itself.
(Melissa Michelson is an educator, native of Los Angeles, and an elected member-delegate of the LA County Democratic Partys.)