Democratic convention host committee under investigation over concerns about ‘work environment’: report

The board of directors of the host committee for the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee has retained an attorney to investigate concerns about its “work environment,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

The board said in a letter obtained by the newspaper that Liz Gilbert, who currently serves as the president of the host committee, will not be in the office and “will not have direct contact with staff.”   

The chief of staff for the host group, Adam Alonso, has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, according to the Journal Sentinel, which added that both officials will be paid as the investigation continues.

“We are committed to an inclusive, non-discriminatory, and supportive environment at the host committee and we will work to ensure that all employees live up to these ideals,” the board said in its letter. 

The announcement comes less than six months before the Democratic National Convention’s launch. The host committee, the nonpartisan arm of the convention, is tasked with raising $70 million dollars to stage the July event and recruit approximately 15,000 volunteers, the Journal Sentinel noted. 

Joe Solmonese, the chief executive of the Democratic National Convention Committee, released a statement saying “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.”

“The claims made by employees of the Milwaukee 2020 Host Committee present an unacceptable and upsetting environment. The Milwaukee 2020 Host Committee Board of Directors is moving forward with a plan to restore an office culture that aligns with the values and expectations of our party,” he added.

Two unidentified individuals who have worked with the host committee alleged to the Journal Sentinel that the group has a toxic culture marked by power struggles and mismanagement. They accused Gilbert and Alonso of giving contracts to New Jersey operatives, failing to attend meetings and focusing on power within the group.

For example, a New Jersey firm developed the website for the host committee and manages its email platform, the Journal Sentinel noted, adding that both Gilbert and Alonso have served as Democratic operatives in New Jersey.

“It’s one of the worst — if not the worst — I have worked on,” the first official said of the host committee. 

The second official said they became sick to their stomach while working on the committee.

“The spirit of what it could be for the city might be lost,” the official said.

Alonso said he was proud of the team he created and will cooperate with the investigation, the Journal Sentinel reported. 

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) is a co-chair of the host committee alongside Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.). Barrett’s chief of staff, Paul Vornholt, said in a statement to the Journal Sentinel: “The mayor supports a process to fully investigate the serious concerns that have been brought forward.” 

Moore told the newspaper, “I support the board’s immediate remedial actions and believe they are establishing a process that will result in a fair, impartial outcome. I would expect or tolerate nothing less.”

–Jonathan Easley contributed to this report, which was updated at 1:59 p.m.

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