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Kucinich Push for Committee Spot Foiled by Race Issues in His Own Office?

A staffer who complained of race problems was placed on paid leave in May. The staffer is still getting a paycheck, and has not worked since then.

by
Patrick Richardson

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November 24, 2010 - 12:00 am

Reports of racial tension and personnel management issues within his office may have ended Dennis Kucinich’s run for the top Democratic spot on the powerful House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

According to a story on Politico Monday, 14 Democrats have signed a letter backing Edolphus Towns, the current committee chairman, for the ranking member slot in the 112th Congress when Republicans take control of the House.

As PJM reported, tensions exploded in Kucinich’s office between his staff director Jaron Bourke and 35-year staffer Jean Gosa, who is African-American. According to sources familiar with the situation, when word of the dispute got to Towns he stepped in to attempt to mediate the situation.

PJM has learned that Gosa was placed on administrative leave by Towns in May, pending an independent investigation. Her last full day at work was May 20 of this year. Shortly thereafter, Bourke filed a complaint against Gosa. At that point, sources say, the Office of the House Legislative Counsel was called in and advised Gosa remain on paid leave until the independent investigation was complete. It is now November, and Gosa remains on paid leave per their advice.

PJM attempted to contact the Office of the House Legislative Counsel for comment and was told they could not help us, would not help us, and that there was no press contact within the office. The staffer refused to give this reporter her name. Sources conversant with the case say the Office of the House Legislative Counsel generally errs on the side of employees, and that the goal of both the office and Towns was to resolve the situation as fairly as possible.

According to a September 10 story in the Huffington Post, Gosa had complained repeatedly about the atmosphere within the office — using words like “plantation, slave, and overseer.” Her complaints were backed up by former staffer and current Huffington Post blogger Noura Erakat.

PJM attempted to contact Rep. Kucinich’s office for comment and was first told by Kucinich spokesman Nathan White that he would not comment on the story. This reporter was then left a voicemail stating that “all personnel decisions are ultimately the responsibility of the chairman.”

Whether or not Kucinich was aware of the tensions within his office or not — it seems improbable that he could not be aware of them — it is notable that the troubles were not dealt with in-house and had to be referred to the chairman for final disposition. Indeed, according to the Huffington Post piece, the trouble had been going on for two years:

The tension stretches back at least to March 2008, according to an email reviewed by Huffington Post that was written by then-new staff assistant Charisma Williams. She told the staff director of a separate subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO), that “[t]here seem to be some really shady things going on in here and I’m fearful that if I even casually associate with the wrong person, even for a brief moment of time, that I may be sucked into whatever madness is going on over my head.” (Williams declined to comment.)

Whatever the personnel problems within Kucinich’s office, apparently House Democrats are coming into agreement he is not the man to take on the aggressive presumptive chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA).

According to the Politico, Democrat Reps. Carolyn Maloney (NY), Elijah Cummings and Chris Van Hollen (MD), John Tierney (MA), William Lacy Clay (MO), Jim Cooper (TN), Gerry Connolly (VA), Danny Davis (IL), Henry Cuellar (TX), Chris Murphy (CT), Peter Welch (VT), and Jackie Speier and Judy Chu (CA) all signed the letter, as well as Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia.

Reps. Stephen Lynch (MA), Mike Quigley (IL), and Marcy Kaptur (OH) chose not to sign the letter. The Congressional Black Caucus has also backed Towns, as has the White house.

PJM had earlier reported that some Democrats were considering whether or not Towns would be up to the challenge of standing up to Issa when Kucinich threw his hat into the ring, attempting to shoulder aside three more senior representatives for the post.

Kucinich has a reputation for outrageous behavior and for alienating members of both parties. In June 2008, Kucinich filed articles of impeachment against then-President George W. Bush. In a 2007 presidential debate on MSNBC, Kucinich said he saw a UFO. He also introduces, almost yearly, a bill to establish a cabinet-level “Department of Peace.”

Whether or not Kucinich knew about the trouble in his office — again, it had been going on for two years so it seems inconceivable he did not know — someone who wishes to have a powerful oversight position should at least be able to handle his own staff before he asks to oversee the United States.

Patrick Richardson has been a journalist for almost 15 years and an inveterate geek all his life. He blogs regularly at www.otherwheregazette.com, which aims to be like another SF magazine, just not so serious.
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