Protesters urge San Diego Unified Trustee Kevin Beiser to resign from the board. / Photo by Megan Wood

Four young men came forward early in 2019 to tell Voice of San Diego something shocking: Kevin Beiser, a San Diego Unified School Board trustee, had sexually assaulted or sexually harassed them.

Each of the men was either an aspiring politician or a political activist, and they had each met Beiser through the local Democratic political world. Three of them – Patrick MacFarland, Paul Crawford and Luke Pakter – put their names and stories on the record. Another anonymously filed a lawsuit alleging unwanted sexual behavior and workplace harassment while he worked on Beiser’s political campaigns.

Their explosive allegations led to immediate action in the local progressive community in which Beiser had been influential for years. The Democratic Party voted to demand his resignation the day all of the stories became public. The San Diego Unified School District’s labor union quickly voted to do the same. Beiser’s colleagues on the school board – always a united group, and on where Beiser had launched what looked like a promising political career – followed suit.

Beiser ignored those calls to resign. He later settled the lawsuit, dropped his bid for the City Council and was noncommittal on whether he would complete his term on the school board.

But the conversation that ensued after the accusers came forward was not limited to the allegations against him.

The Democratic Party’s former chair, after hearing rumors about the allegations during Beiser’s re-election campaign, confronted one of the accusers. As talk within the party got louder, other activists and officials directed the accusers toward a political consultant who arranged for them to come forward together.

Beiser also caught word that allegations were circulating within the Democratic community, and held a strategy meeting, including the former party chair, to plan a response. Younger Democratic activists had also spoken to one another about the accusations, ultimately directing accusers to a political consultant who organized their decision to come forward together.

The scandal felt familiar in the #MeToo era, in which people have increasingly been willing to come forward to share stories of sexual misconduct by powerful men.

The swift response from Beiser’s former allies was also familiar – as were questions about whether people in a position to do something had known about the allegations beforehand, and whether they could or should have done more.

This is part of our Voice of the Year package, highlighting the people who played a major role in shaping civic discussion in 2019.

Andrew Keatts is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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