The race to become the next Mayor of Denver has been fairly uninteresting to this point — aside from the regular commentary regarding the absurdly-large field of candidates — but with ballots hitting mailboxes next week, things are finally starting to heat up.
State Representative Leslie Herod is widely-considered to be residing within the top tier of Mayoral candidates, a list that includes (in no particular order) Debbie Ortega, Chris Hansen, Mike Johnston, and Kelly Brough. Today, Herod was on the receiving end of attacks in two publications regarding some oft-heard rumors that she tends to treat her staffers poorly.
Axios Denver reports that Herod has been accused of fostering a “toxic workplace culture,” a shorter but similar story published by Denverite with the headline: “Former Leslie Herod aide says her time in the mayoral candidate’s office was ‘degrading’.”
As Axios explains:
More than a dozen current and former lawmakers, lobbyists, political strategists and legislative aides tell Axios Denver that Herod bullied, berated or belittled them when they worked with her…
…In interviews with Axios, Herod’s colleagues and associates shared similar experiences while working with her during her six-plus years at the Capitol. They used the same words to describe a toxic work environment, with some suggesting her behavior amounted to verbal harassment and others calling it inappropriate…
…One veteran Democratic strategist, Sheena Kadi, went public with concerns about Herod, saying she won’t be supporting her campaign for mayor because she is not a good boss.
Axios also reports that “a Latino advocacy organization confirmed it no longer assigns interns to work in Herod’s legislative office after two of its fellows reported experiencing an unhealthy work environment.”
The Denverite story, meanwhile, begins with concerns from a former staffer named Kaylee Browning, who alleges — among other things — that Herod dismissed a medical issue related to her hearing. Browning also says that her job under Herod consisted largely of running personal errands:
“It was rough. It was really rough,” Browning said. “She was very mean. I don’t remember like yelling so much, it’s like ‘you have poor critical thinking skills,’ like degrading to the point of like you just could not do right by this individual.”
Throughout the 2017 session, Browning said Herod alienated her small staff, and on the last day they didn’t celebrate together, like other lawmakers and aides.
Dejected by the experience, Browning left politics for good on the last day of that session.
Axios says that former colleagues spoke out “on condition of anonymity because they feared retribution.” Denverite also claims to have spoken to more than a dozen aides and lawmakers, “all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, for fear of reprisals. Many didn’t want specific incidents published because it would identify who said it.”
While Browning never filed an official complaint about her time as an aide for Herod, Denverite reports that “the general outline of her account was corroborated by other Capitol staffers who knew her, and by friends and family she confided in at the time.”
These accounts are reminiscent of concerns that plagued Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar when she was seeking the Democratic nomination for President in 2020. Klobuchar responded to these concerns by saying that she had “high expectations.” In early 2019, Klobuchar acknowledged being a tough boss during a forum sponsored by CNN:
“Am I a tough boss sometimes? Yes. Have I pushed people too hard? Yes.”
Herod took a different approach when confronted with these accusations from former staffers. Axios Denver says that Herod did not respond to messages seeking comment, and that her Mayoral campaign declined to make her available for an interview. Herod did speak to Denverite, but her rebuttal was unconvincing:
Herod told Denverite she was taken aback to hear of the negative experience staffers had.
“This is the first time I’ve ever heard of it,” she said. “I have never received any complaint at all from any of my aides or staffers.” [Pols emphasis]
This is virtually impossible to believe. Rumors about Herod’s treatment of staffers have circulated for years; there’s simply no way that Herod is just now hearing these complaints for the first time. If Herod was truly surprised by the accusations, why would she go out of her way to avoid responding to Axios Denver? And if she wants voters to believe that she was unaware of the concerns, what does that say about her level of self-awareness as a politician?
And then there’s this from Denverite:
Herod’s campaign provided contacts to Denverite for about a dozen lawmakers and former and current staff. Some staffers ultimately didn’t want to speak on the record, but two former staffers did. [Pols emphasis]
Herod’s campaign provided a dozen names to Denverite to counteract these claims…but only two of those people would talk on the record? Additionally, one of the former aides who responded to Denverite, Phoebe Blessing, is now the policy director for Herod’s Mayoral campaign; Blessing is not exactly an unbiased source on this topic.
There are two common themes in both the Axios and Denverite stories: 1) The people who are critical of Herod’s treatment of staff are speaking out more loudly than Herod’s supporters, and 2) Herod’s response to these allegations does little to douse the flames — and might have even made things worse.
The allegations reported today by Axios and Denverite should not have been a surprise for Herod…just as her response should not have been to act surprised. All of this could prove devastating for Herod’s Mayoral hopes. In a race with 17 candidates, voters don’t need a lot of reasons to pick someone else.
I don’t live in Denver but if I did, this would probably make me more likely to vote for Herod. She doesn’t tolerate slackers.
I remember when they said the same kind of shit about Amy Klobuchar in 2020. I ended sending her a check.
One could apply that same logic to Donald Trump's treatment of staff and the treatment of "slackers". Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
I've heard from two other state-level senior staffers that Herod is absolutely awful to work for/with. Great public engagement, horrible personal engagement.
Agreed, LBPOS. I don’t have a dog in this fight but I have had nothing but positive experiences with Leslie and sent her some $$.
No interaction, not even second hand experiences with tales being told.
I will say my one experience that went pretty far into "hostile environment" showed an astonishing distinction of relationships between the person's approach to those above, those seen as peers, and those "less-than" who were working for or had to deliver something to the person.
Two media stories emerging nearly simultaneously made me wonder who is pushing the story.
Strange how tales of a politician being mean to staff only surface against politicians of the female persuasion.
Is it because guys are assumed to be jerks to their staff?
Which is precisely why I cut Leslie Herod and Amy Klobuchar some slack when they're trashed for being mean to staff.
Assumed, or not, I think most folks would agree that Lamborn is a dick
I have multiple first hand accounts of Herod’s toxic behavior to staff and even fellow legislators. Sometimes there really is a fire behind the smoke.