I hate making calls like this.
“Is this Denise Passinetti?” I asked the woman at the other end of the line. “The Denise Passinetti who served as Councilman Irons chief of staff?”
There was a long, awkward pause. “Yes…” she finally replied.
There was another awkward moment of silence, only this time, it came from me. I was calling to ask Passinetti about allegations that she had quit the councilman’s staff due to his abusive and harassing behavior, but since I had few details about the specifics, I was unsure exactly how uncomfortable this subject might be. I introduced myself, and struggled to put my question into words, but before I could finish, she cut me off.
“I think I know why you are calling,” she said.
Another uncomfortable pause. I guess I had hoped she would start offering up details. But she didn’t.
So I tried to reassure her and pressure her at the same time. I told her that she was not alone, that David Irons Jr. had reportedly turned his temper towards other council staffers, leaving angry, abusive voicemail messages, and exploding into screaming fits that sent at least one staffer running from the room in tears. But, I told her, none of the victims whom I had identified were willing to come forward, apparently fearful for their jobs, or concerned that such public allegations would disrupt the council’s unusually collegial work environment.
All I got in return was a long sigh. So I changed my tact. “I’m going to run with something,” I told her “and I don’t want to unfairly smear anybody. If I’m wrong about the reason you left your job, I want you to tell me.”
I had reached Passinetti on her cell phone, and she explained that she was waiting for an appointment, but she did want to talk, and that she would call back the next morning. I told her that I believed other reporters — real reporters — had her name as well. I meant it merely as a heads up, a warning that she might be getting more calls, but I guess she thought I was afraid I might lose my scoop, so she promised she would talk to me first. We hung up. At this point, she had neither specifically confirmed nor denied the allegations.
The next morning I awaited her call. It never came. I left several messages on her home and cell phone voicemail. No reply. Finally, a few days later she left a message on my voicemail. She said that she didn’t really want to talk about her time working for David Irons Jr., but that “my actions sort of speak for me.”
So in response to allegations that she quit her job due to Irons’ abusive behavior, all she would say on the record was this: “I was his chief of staff for a little over two years, and in this election I have maxed out my contributions to Ron Sims, and that’s who I’ll be voting for, for executive. So I’ll just let that speak for itself.”
Interpret our halting conversation as you will, but in context, and coming from a Republican staffer, I understood her refusal to deny the allegations as an unspoken confirmation of the underlying charge. I do not know exactly what kind of behavior caused Passinetti to leave her post, whether there was a specific incident or she merely tired of Irons’ temper. I do not know if he slammed doors or threw objects or screamed and yelled or worse… or if Passinetti may have been overly sensitive to the rude and intimidating tantrums of yet another high-strung, arrogant politician.
What I do know — or at least, reasonably believe to be true — is that Passinetti did indeed quit her job due to what she believed to be abusive and harassing behavior on the part of her boss. This is what she reportedly told others at the time. This is what she refused to deny to me.
And this depiction of a short-tempered, verbally abusive David Irons Jr. is one I’ve heard again and again from county staffers, from former Brigadoon officers and from Irons’ own family.
One of the reasons I found Janet C. Irons account of her own son’s abusive behavior so believable, is that while the details were shocking, they were totally consistent with what I had been hearing for months. As Gregory Roberts, writing in the Seattle P-I gingerly put it, Irons “has developed a reputation in some quarters as a sometimes short-tempered co-worker who’s not good at listening.” Indeed, I would reckon that there is not a single reporter who has closely covered the King County Council who has not heard tales of Irons’ angry and abusive temper… most recently an incident that occurred during the taping of his video voter guide, in which Irons unexpectedly exploded at young, female staffer… a tantrum so shocking in its context that it remained a topic of office scuttlebutt for weeks to follow.
According to multiple sources, Irons was accompanied to the studios of the Seattle Channel by a part-time county elections worker, whose job that day was to assure that the video met the county’s detailed ethical guidelines. County protocol prohibits candidates from displaying emblems of organizational affiliations, and so the elections worker asked Irons to remove his customary Rotary lapel pin… at which point he exploded in an abusive rage.
Those present were stunned by the suddenness and ferocity of the outburst, especially in such an inappropriate setting, and report that the woman who was the target of Irons’ rage was visibly shaken. While sources at the Seattle Channel refused to provide details or go on the record — citing the necessity to remain neutral observers if they are to achieve their primary function — they did confirm that an incident took place. Friends of the woman have also confirmed the general description of the events, but she herself has declined to be interviewed, and so I must honor her desire to remain anonymous.
Indeed, the reason I have sat on such damning charges as long as I have, is that nearly all my sources have insisted on remaining anonymous or off the record entirely, for with the exception of Passinetti’s subtle non-denial, I could not garner permission to use a single accuser’s name. Of course this is not surprising coming from central staff who must fear retribution from Irons should he be elected, and who cannot possibly perform their jobs effectively without maintaining the trust of his Republican colleagues… regardless of who holds the executive office.
Yet the accusations are numerous, explicit, consistent, come from multiple sources… and tell a story of a pattern of abusive behavior — almost exclusively targeted at female staffers — that Irons has displayed throughout his career on the council.
Many of the stories arise from when Irons was Vice-Chairman of the Growth Management and Unincorporated Areas Committee. During last year’s sometimes bitter negotiations over the Critical Areas Ordinance, Irons developed a reputation for leaving abusive voicemail tirades for several female staffers, often recorded during angry, late-night rages. One staffer remarked on the level of anger the councilman displayed, calling it “unpleasant and over the top,” while another described these messages as “scary” and “downright weird.” Yet another staffer reportedly transcribed a particularly harassing voicemail and passed it around the office. (A public records request searching for this and other communications won’t be fulfilled before November 8.)
But the incident most frequently cited involved a female central staffer, who was working alone with the councilman on some CAO related issue, when Irons suddenly became enraged, screaming with such fury that the staffer ran from the room in tears, refusing to return, and eventually sending a male co-worker back to retrieve her papers. According to very reliable sources, the incident prompted Councilman Dow Constantine, the chair of the committee, to intervene on the staffer’s behalf, establishing an unwritten protocol that Irons was never to be alone in a room with that staffer again. I asked Councilman Constantine’s office to confirm or deny the allegation, but he declined to comment through an aide.
When I interviewed Irons’ mother for my original story, she expressed genuine surprise that her son had not shown more of a temper during his tenure on the King County Council. “He sometimes goes bonkers,” she told me. Well, as it turns out, she knows her son very well, for not only are stories of his abusive outbursts rampant amongst council staff, he apparently displayed similar behavior at Brigadoon.com as well. A top Brigadoon executive described Irons as “explosive” and “temperamental”, saying his biggest complaint with his performance as COO was the abusive and angry way he often dealt with people.
Yes, Irons denies that he ever hit his mother (although he’s yet to join her in taking and passing a polygraph), but he’s never refuted the larger pattern of abusive behavior she alleges… a pattern that he apparently repeated during his years at Brigadoon and on the county council… a pattern he would surely repeat as King County executive. It is a lifelong pattern entirely consistent with the character testimony of Irons’ own parents, who consistently argue that their opposition to their son’s candidacy is not based on a single incident, but rather on their sincere conviction that he lacks the integrity, the experience, the intellect and the temperament to run a county government larger than that of thirteen states.
A couple weeks back I shared some tales of Irons’ council outbursts with a prominent local columnist, who questioned what was possibly newsworthy about an arrogant and verbally abusive politician? I agreed that yes, there are many elected officials on both sides of the aisle, who are… well… assholes.
That David Irons Jr. is an asshole, may not be news. But nonetheless, voters have a right to know.