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The Denver Post
The Denver Post
Seth Klamann

National group promoting women of color in politics wants reboot in Emerge Colorado

The national affiliate of a Colorado group that’s trained several prominent Colorado Democratic women has moved to effectively dissolve its Colorado chapter amid dueling accusations of mismanagement and power grabs.

In June, officials from Emerge America told their Denver-based affiliate, Emerge Colorado, that they were dissolving the affiliation agreement effective Aug. 19, signaling the end of the group as it exists now. In a Wednesday letter sent to alumni, Emerge America’s president wrote that the national group had made the decision after launching an investigation into “multiple complaints about the management of Emerge Colorado.”

The investigation, Emerge America president A’shanti Gholar wrote, “identified several areas that not only were inconsistent with our values and creating a supportive environment for all, but unquestionably violated our affiliate agreements and principles.” The letter does not describe what those allegations or findings were.

Gholar wrote that Emerge’s work would continue in Colorado after the current version of the group ceased to exist in mid-August.

On its website, Emerge Colorado writes that its goal is to “increase the number of Democratic women leaders from diverse backgrounds in public office across Colorado through recruitment, training, and providing a powerful network.” It counts a number of prominent Democratic officials among its alumni, such as Secretary of State Jena Griswold, several councilmembers from metro cities, and several state legislators, including House Majority Leader Monica Duran, Assistant Majority Leader Jennifer Bacon and House co-whip Rep. Iman Jodeh. Rep. Leslie Herod, who ran for Denver mayor earlier this year, is also an alum.

In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Emerge Colorado’s executive director, former Denver mayoral candidate Lisa Calderón, said that national officials told local leaders that the allegations were related to two campaign finance complaints filed earlier this year, plus an allegation that an Emerge Colorado staffer had made disparaging remarks about a sexual assault victim.

She also said that the national group mentioned a complaint involving sexual harassment, though Calderón said no such allegation had been brought to local leaders.

The local chapter hired a third-party firm to investigate the allegation about disparaging remarks, she said, and the investigator could not substantiate the claim.

The two finance complaints were dismissed, Calderón said.

In March, Calderón and several other progressive candidates for Denver offices were the subject of a campaign finance complaint accusing them of violating the Fair Election Fund and city code. Calderón was accused of illegally coordinating with and receiving nonmonetary support from Emerge Colorado and the Democratic Socialists of America, and the complaint included a recording purportedly of Calderón describing polling data.

The complaint was dismissed in April because it didn’t include enough specificity and because it wasn’t clear if the complaint had been submitted within a necessary time period.

In a statement to the Post, Gholar wrote that the allegations investigated by the national group included “multiple complaints in addition” to what Calderón described. On June 20, Gholar sent a letter to Emerge Colorado officials announcing the national group’s intent to dissolve the affiliation agreement. The letter does not provide an explanation.

Kayla Frawley, the sexual assault victim who said an Emerge Colorado staffer had mocked her, said in a statement that she’d told Emerge Colorado about a staff member and multiple Emerge alumni making fun of her. She was part of Emerge’s class of 2020, according to the group’s website. She tweeted Wednesday she was grateful that the group’s affiliation was being terminated and that the chapter would restart.

Gholar wrote that national officials had attempted to work with their Colorado counterparts “to address internal and external challenges.”

“Ultimately and unfortunately, their leadership team made an amicable resolution impossible,” she wrote.

Calderón said no one from Emerge Colorado was contacted as part of the national group’s inquiry. She said the finance complaints and the investigation into disparaging remarks were being used as pretexts by Emerge America to install new leadership over its Colorado chapter. She accused the national group of attempting to centralize power over its constellation of independent affiliates scattered across several states, particularly in bluer strongholds like Colorado.

“While they’re publicly saying ‘We stand with black women in these races,’ they are quietly shuttering their offices, and they can come into more blue states, where there are more donors, and start reaping the money from those states while (they) are advertising for trainings,” Calderón said.

The local and national groups had been negotiating an extension of their affiliation agreement for months, according to a letter sent by Emerge Colorado’s lawyers to their counterparts from the parent organization. Calderón said local officials had concerns about the agreement, particularly the power it gave the national group, and had been working to revise it. Colorado had more autonomy than some other state affiliates, Calderón said, and officials here wanted to preserve it.

Calderón said Emerge Colorado leaders were “blindsided” when they were told that the national group planned to dissolve the group. In their letter, Emerge Colorado’s lawyers accused the national group of accepting “baseless and since-dismissed allegations” and said the move to terminate the affiliation agreement violated California law, which has power over the contract.

Calderón said she wanted to preserve the Emerge name and structure, given its influence in state politics. Her group’s lawyers directed their national counterparts to preserve records, an indication that Emerge Colorado may pursue legal action. Emerge Colorado attorney Martha Tierney told the Post that the group was considering all options to fight the termination.

Emerge Colorado has already announced its 10-year anniversary event, with Griswold serving as keynote speaker. It’s scheduled for Aug. 10, nine days before its affiliation agreement is set to expire.


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