NPC Statement on its Censure of Danny Fetonte and Its Decision to Retain Him on the National Political Committee
August 28, 2017
On Sunday evening, the National Political Committee of the Democratic Socialists of America voted to censure Danny Fetonte, a member of the NPC, for uncomradely and misleading behaviour inconsistent with what is expected of a leader of our movement. In addition, the NPC voted against removing Fetonte from the NPC by a vote of 8.5 against his removal to 7.5 votes for his removal (the half vote result from the YDSA co-chairs splitting their one vote). This fell short of the 11 votes needed to remove Fetonte from the NPC.
These decisions follow a robust discussion on the appropriate response to Fetonte’s omittance of important information during the most recent national elections. In reaching this decision, NPC gratefully accepted comments from numerous DSA Chapters and Working Groups and sought an amicable resolution by engaging in mediation with Fetonte, which broke down this weekend.
Many local chapters, working groups, and individuals have written emails and submitted resolutions demanding Fetonte’s removal from the NPC due to his omittance of his past employment history during the recent NPC election. While Fetonte is not, and never has been, a police officer, these members have raised concerns that his prior work as a trainer on union matters for an association which organizes police officers is incompatible with our organization’s commitment to the abolition of prisons and the racist police state, as affirmed by the vote on the consent agenda at convention. Additionally, many members expressed concern over the impact that Fetonte’s membership on the NPC has had on our racial justice organizing work, especially in the aftermath of the horrible events in Charlottesville.
At the same time, other members have expressed concerns that Fetonte’s removal from the NPC would set a terrible precedent for due process and minority rights in a “Big Tent” political organization seeking to build a mass movement. They have additionally cited mitigating factors, such as the several years of Fetonte’s employment by CLEAT, the complicated nature of police union affiliations with large unions, his long history of support for the rights of immigrants and LGBTQI people, and his well demonstrated commitment to principles of equality and anti-racism in keeping with the finest traditions of our movement.
In the last week an NPC-appointed mediation team spent over 20 hours attempting to come to a mutually agreeable solution with Fetonte, but said efforts failed to reach a satisfactory resolution. The NPC was then faced with taking action and wanted to do so in a democratic way. In doing so, the NPC was cognizant of both its responsibility to the organization’s Constitution and Bylaws, and to the organization’s political position and work.
There can be no doubt that Fetonte’s behavior during the national elections prevented delegates from receiving all the information necessary to make an informed decision on who to vote for. The outcry which the revelation of Fetonte’s past work history sparked is ample evidence that it would have been relevant information to many delegates when choosing how to vote. Whether Fetonte’s behavior was worthy of condemnation was never in question.
We want to stress the unprecedented nature of these proceedings. There was very little in DSA’s Constitution and Bylaws to establish a clear process or procedure for dealing with this issue, and there was not any historical precedent we could draw on to guide our actions. In the majority’s view, malfeasance only applies to actions as a DSA officer – not before and not as a Co-Chair of his local. In addition, there existed no guidance, in precedent or letter, for not just what constitutes malfeasance but how to fairly reach a determination of malfeasance.
Article VIII of the Constitution, ‘National Political Committee’ reads, in part,
Section 7. An NPC member may be removed for malfeasance or nonfeasance by a two-thirds vote of the NPC, with nonfeasance defined to include unexcused absences from two or more consecutive meetings.
Beyond that the Constitution and Bylaws are silent on the removal of a member of the NPC.
The same article also states,
Section 1. The National Political Committee (NPC) shall be the collective leadership and the highest decision-making body of the organization between meetings of the Convention. It shall meet at least four times a year.
This gives the NPC the power to lead the organization between conventions.
A resolution was made to remove Fetonte from NPC, which did not pass. Under the constitution, 2/3rds of NPC members must vote yes to remove a member from the body. We have published the votes of the members of NPC in the interest of transparency. They were:
In Favor of Removal
Allie Cohn, Christian Bowe, Delé Balogun, Leslie Driskill, Ravi Ahmad , R.L. Stephens, Zac Echola, Ajmal Alani (one-half of YDS vote)
Catherine Hoffman, Chris Maisano, Chris Riddiough, Ella Mahony, Jeremy Gong, Joseph Schwartz, Natalie Midiri, Theresa Alt, Michelle Fisher (one-half of YDS vote)
The majority of NPC felt there is no support in DSA’s constitution and by-laws for removing Fetonte from the NPC. The actions or inactions he took in running for the NPC do not constitute nonfeasance or malfeasance. We recognize that the omissions by Fetonte in his campaign materials did not violate any of DSA’s existing rules or standards. Overturning the results of a democratic election is something that our rules make intentionally difficult. Given that, the NPC could not remove Fetonte from office.
The NPC also defeated by a vote of 9 no and 7 yes, a subsequent motion to set a date for a hearing on the Fetonte issue and to select a team to draw up charges for a future hearing. The vote here was:
Against the Motion for a future hearing
Christian Bowe; Jeremy Gong; Catherine Hoffman; Ella Mahony; Chris Maisano; Natalie Midiri; Chris Riddiough; Joseph Schwartz; Ajmal Alami and Michelle Fisher (casting one vote as YDS co-chairs)
For a future hearing
Ravi Ahmad; Theresa Alt; Dele Balogun; Allie Cohn; Leslie Driskill; Zac Echola; R.L. Stephens
The NPC also considered organizing a re-vote of all delegates who had voted, on the grounds that the current situation is harmful to DSA and it is the NPC’s job to solve such problems. In the end, we felt it would establish too dramatic a precedent for removing an NPC member from office, without time to think it through, and in a fashion directed by leadership instead of sanctioned by the organization’s rules or our members gathered in convention. It is also not clear whether a re-vote of all delegates is compatible with a ranked choice voting system designed to allow less-voted, ideologically minority candidates onto the NPC.
We recognize that there are members who will not be happy with this outcome. We fully respect the views of these comrades, and share in many of them. Fetonte’s conduct during this controversy has been uncomradely and we understand the frustration of many delegates who say they would not have voted for Fetonte if they had been aware of his employment history as a CLEAT trainer and organizer. There were no good answers here, but we believe that we have come to the best decision, in keeping with the rules of the organization and the principles underlying our movement.
Roughly 2,400 new members have joined DSA since our convention, which concluded only three weeks ago. Only last week, new members from small cities, towns, and rural areas joined our national pre-organizing committee chapter training call to plan and strategize the creation of even more new DSA groups across the country.
The “Big Tent” of DSA allows for differing views on issues and requires comradely and respectful interaction among members. It is one of the main reasons why our organization has been so attractive to so many people. Solidarity is more than a word used to sign emails and put on posters. It is a concept that we must work toward as we struggle for the common good of humanity. No matter where we fell on the question of how to respond to one would-be leader of our movement, we must remain committed to building a stronger DSA in which we can work together, regardless of differences of geography, political tradition, age, and social ties.
The terrible violence in Charlottesville reminds us of the historic mission incumbent to our movement. Our nation faces a decision: socialism or barbarism. We will all need to stand together if we are to win.
Addendum: Resolution Passed on Censure and Explanation of Majority Actions (by vote of 10-0-6)
Voting for: Theresa Alt; Christian Bowe; Jeremy Gong; Catherine Hoffmann; Ella Mahony; Chris Maisano; Natalie Midiri; Chris Riddiough; Joseph Schwartz; Ajmal Alami and Michelle Fisher (YDS reps having one vote total)
Abstaining or Absent (at end of call): Ravi Ahmad; Dele Balogun; Allie Cohn; Leslie Driskill; Zac Echola; R.L. Stephens
To rebuild trust in the organization and to guide our work moving forward, the NPC adopts the following actions, perspectives, and principles:
The NPC censures Mr. Fetonte for omitting what would likely have been relevant information in his campaign materials. We call on Mr. Fetonte to apologize for his failure to disclose such relevant information. Mr. Fetonte has not once acknowledged that, even if his omission was unintentional, some people have felt mislead, or that if it was unintentional, it showed bad judgement.
We consider police departments, police associations, and police unions as currently constituted to be opponents in the struggle for racial justice and universal human emancipation. We also recognize that CLEAT, the police association that formerly employed Mr. Fetonte, has taken many positions that are clearly at odds with the values of our organization. Our decision should not in any way be viewed as an endorsement of police unions in general or CLEAT in particular. We remain fully committed to the struggles for racial justice and the dismantling of the carceral state, and pledge to deepen DSA’s already substantial participation in them during our term in office. We note that the status of police unions in general is controversial in the labor movement.The NPC will move forward to work together to operationalize the decisions made during the convention and respond to new developments such as Charlottesville and Hurricane Harvey, and to continue to address racial justice as a central front in the struggle for democratic socialism.
We recognize that the national organization did not develop a sufficiently robust NPC election process for the new much larger DSA prior to the convention, nor did it outline clear rules about what information should be disclosed. It also did not provide in-depth, in-person candidate forums where candidates could field questions from members. In order to avoid similar problems in the future, the current NPC will use its term in office to strengthen our internal governance mechanisms, establish a clear system of accountability and transparency, and develop protocols to ensure due process for national officers accused of wrongdoing, as well as develop new policies for effectively structuring competitive elections to the NPC.
While recognizing the deep concerns that many members have raised, we must also express our concern with the way in which too many members raised them. Immediately after a convention where delegates pledged to “call in, not call out” fellow members to solve issue and problems, a convention where a new grievance/harassment procedure was voted in, a member posted a petition on Facebook demanding the removal of an NPC member. Members who engaged in on-line discussion notified neither the national office nor new leadership, and no investigation was made into the validity of the claims. Subsequently, other individuals, DSA members and non-members alike, repeated these accusations in social media, listservs, and other arenas. The comments online escalated despite the fact that the central and oft repeated claim, that Mr. Fetonte was or is a police officer, are simply not true. DSA leaders in Texas were harassed based on this untruth, and the NPC condemns such behavior in the strongest possible terms and encourages members to refrain from jumping to conclusions and relying on social media as the only source of information.
We recognize that part of the problem is that the national organization has failed to provide, proactively, constructive spaces for debate that feel accessible to members. If there were more and better forums for DSA internal debate, moderated appropriately, this situation could have been prevented. We commit to establishing robust mechanisms for internal debate that allow members to communicate nationally without having to turn to forums like New Members, which is not designed for debate, or Twitter, which sometimes encourages toxic approaches to such debate.
The NPC will schedule a series of Stakeholder calls in the coming days for chapter leaders and calls with national constituency groups to discuss lessons learned and listen to member concerns and ideas. As usual, these will be communicated to chapter and working group leaders directly.