MADISON, Wis. – 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 dramatic shakeup less than six months before the showcase political event in swing state Wisconsin.
The host committee board notified staff in a letter Monday that the group’s president, Liz Gilbert, and its chief of staff, Adam Alonso, were on leave while an attorney looked into the allegations. Gilbert and Alonso did not immediately return messages Tuesday seeking comment. The letter did not describe in any detail about what the alleged behavior entailed.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported on the investigation and obtained an unsigned letter, verified by one of the women who worked on it, sent Jan. 30 from “senior women” of the host committee to the Milwaukee 2020 board of directors. They allege that Alonso “consistently bullied and intimidated staff members,” primarily the women. They said his “mismanagement” was enabled by Gilbert, creating a “toxic and unstable working environment” and fostered “a culture that coddles male senior advisers and consultants” They described a fear of retribution and lack of trust among staff.
The host committee is a civic, nonpartisan group responsible for raising the $70 million, recruiting the 15,000 volunteers and providing the facilities needed to put on the convention in July.
Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said Tuesday he was concerned about the allegations, but not what impact they would have on raising money and other work to prepare for the convention.
“If the allegations are strong, we need to take them seriously,” Evers told reporters. “I don’t believe it’s going to have an impact, the convention is going to happen and we’re going to get it off the ground in a good way. But I’m really happy we’re doing an investigation.”
The investigation is being done by attorney Carmen Decot, but there is no timeline for when it will be done. Decot did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
During the probe, Gilbert will not be in the office or have contact with staff and Alonso has been placed on paid administrative leave, the letter said.
“These are serious concerns that demand a serious investigation,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat. “Everyone working to make this convention a success deserves a leadership team of unquestioned integrity.”
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.
The Democratic National Convention Committee runs the convention and is separate from the host committee.
Alonso was put on leave here less than a week after he was involved with a controversy in his home state of New Jersey, where both he and Gilbert are top-ranking Democratic operatives.
Julie Roginsky, a former consultant to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, said his 2017 campaign was a “hotbed of toxicity” and she experienced “rank misogyny.” She did not specifically name Alonso, who worked on the campaign, but said the campaign manager had used a vulgarity toward her. He denied it but said he had cursed at her and apologized.
The governor’s office disagreed with Roginsky and said her comments stemmed from strategic differences.
Roginsky also alleged that Alonso tried to use his ties to the governor to generate business from lobbyists for his personal consulting firm.
Alonso denied the claims in an email to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Federal election filings show that both Alonso and Gilbert continued getting paid by Democratic clients in New Jersey after they started working for the nonpartisan host committee in Milwaukee last year. Alonso was paid $65,000 through his consulting firm by the New Jersey Democratic Party since late May when he started work for the host committee. Gilbert was paid $5,000 through her consulting firm by the New Jersey Democratic Party since she started working for the host committee in September.
The New Jersey Democratic State Committee said in a statement that it was no longer affiliated with Alonso and his consulting firm the Cratos Group but did not explain why.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.