"Toxic work culture"? Dem 2020 convention host committee suspends top two officials

When it rains in Des Moines, it pours in Milwaukee, it seems. As Democrats try to slog their way through the disaster at the start of their nomination voting process, another disaster now looms at the other end of it. The host committee for their convention in Milwaukee has suspended its top two officials over allegations of a “toxic work culture.”

What precisely does that mean? Nothing good, most assuredly:

The two top officials overseeing Milwaukee’s host committee for the 2020 Democratic National Convention were sidelined Monday amid allegations of a toxic work culture.

In a letter to staff obtained by the Journal Sentinel, the board said it had retained an attorney to investigate “concerns about the work environment” for the Milwaukee 2020 Host Committee.

During the investigation, Liz Gilbert, president of the host committee, will not be in the office and “will not have direct contact with staff,” the letter says. Adam Alonso, the chief of staff for the group, has been placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the probe.

The two officials are former “top advisers” to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, which is where this gets even more curious. During his 2017 campaign, former Murphy aide Julie Roginsky abruptly quit and took a position with the Democratic Governors Association. No one was quite sure at the time why Roginsky would have left suddenly less that four months before the election. Observer reporter Salvador Rizzo noted at the time that the move “came as a bit of a surprise,” as her new position meant she was now at “some distance from the nerve center of the election.”

Last week, Roginsky explained why she left, the day after Murphy waived a gag order under some pressure from Roginsky. Another high-ranking advisor — neither Gilbert nor Alonso but Brendan Gill — verbally abused her repeatedly, including calling her the “C-word.” The catalyst for this treatment, Roginsky told NJ.com editor Tom Moran, was her attempt to inform Murphy that Alonso was exploiting his campaign position to benefit his private interests:

There are more layers to this, which no doubt will be combed over in the weeks ahead. Roginsky claims that four lobbyists complained to her during the campaign that Gill and a man he hired on the campaign staff, Adam Alonso, were using their proximity to Murphy to press the lobbyists for private business, a claim the governor’s campaign says it investigated.

She’s not accusing them of corruption, but said she forwarded the complaints to campaign attorneys, and that helps explain Gill’s animosity towards her. Gill denies any wrongdoing, and Alonso didn’t respond to questions sent by e-mail. …

This is about men on his staff shouting, throwing chairs, cutting women out of meetings, and retaliating against those who object. Roginsky is describing behavior that’s bad, even a bit sickening, but this is not a Harvey Weinstein scandal.

Still, add Roginsky to the list of women who claim they were mistreated by men during this campaign, the transition, and the early days of the administration. Julia Fahl, now the mayor of Lambertville, complained of “toxic” behavior by Joe Kelley, a senior campaign aide and now a deputy chief of staff, who lost his temper and threw a chair against a wall in her presence. Allison Kopicki criticized Kelley in the press, and later quit her state job after claiming she faced “discrimination and hostility” from Murphy’s team. [Katie] Brennan was wildly mistreated after reporting her alleged rape [by a senior campaign employee], forced to watch as Murphy’s crew broke a promise to fire the man she accused, and instead promoted him and gave him a fat raise.

This news broke on Monday of last week. Roginsky’s testimony to Moran doesn’t include Gilbert at all, or at least not that Moran mentions in his report on his interview with Roginsky. Still, both worked on the same campaign, which means that both may well be involved in the “toxic” issues from 2017, or close enough to them to count in terms of PR. The DNC and/or the host committee might have decided that discretion would be the better part of valor in keeping this from infecting the 2020 process.

It’s possible that Roginsky’s public airing of the 2017 issues connected to the Murphy campaign prompted employees at the DNC convention organization to come forward with fresh complaints about Alonso and Gilbert. It might also be that some employees, having read Roginsky’s interview, didn’t want to wait for things to get toxic and made pre-emptive complaints. Either way, it seems pretty unlikely that Alonso will get invited back after Roginsky’s allegations, and the DNC might keep Gilbert out just to cut ties with those who were in high-ranking positions on Murphy’s 2017 campaign.

Or was there something more recent that prompted this move? The Associated Press report makes it sound as though the host committee was concerned about the present work environment in Milwaukee rather than the 2017 environment on the Murphy campaign:

The two leaders of Milwaukee’s host committee for the 2020 Democratic National Convention have been placed on leave pending an investigation into allegations that they oversaw a toxic work environment, a letter sent to staff working on planning the event revealed. …

Joe Solmonese, the chief executive of the Democratic National Convention Committee, said in a statement that claims made by employees of the host committee described “an unacceptable and upsetting environment.”

“The Democratic Party is firm in our belief that every person deserves to feel safe and respected at their place of work and we will always take seriously claims of bullying and workplace harassment,” Solmonese said. The host committee board of directors was moving forward with a plan to “restore an office culture that aligns with the values and expectations of our party,” he said.

WISN’s report last night made it sound more acute than historical, too:

“There have been multiple complaints,” reports Caroline Reinwald, “about a toxic work culture — specifically, a sexist work environment.” Oh my. Democrats will rely on a big gender gap in the fall against Donald Trump, so that kind of issue has the potential for big blowback. If, say, those involve misogynistic treatment in some way, shape, or form, it’s going to give Republicans lots of room to pounce. As is their wont, as the media seems to think.


Even without that danger, this move leaves convention planning and organization rudderless with five months to go before it takes place. It puts the Democrats even further behind the 8-ball than Iowa left them last night and today, and potentially puts a cloud over their convention as well. Democrats may end up playing catch-up all year with Trump … and may not succeed at all.