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It’s been a terrible, turbulent week for nonprofit executive Dianne Morales and her mayoral campaign in New York City. With less than a month left until the crucial Democratic primary on June 22, Morales has suffered multiple high-level staff departures and internal disputes over alleged staff misconduct, and a lack of transparency. But this isn’t the first time Morales was allegedly in charge of a big mess.
In June 2017, a woman named Hilda Suarez Osorio filed a lawsuit against Morales in Kings County Supreme Court. Osorio’s complaint alleged that she seriously injured herself the prior year while living as a tenant in a Brooklyn building owned by Morales due to “defective, dangerous, and hazardous conditions.”
According to the complaint, Osorio fell down a staircase on February 9, 2016. It said she was “cause to fall” (the typo was in the complaint) by “dangerous, broken, defective, and hazardous conditions” that included “obstructions of trash, cat litter, debris, and/or otherwise objects that a reasonable individual would not expect to be found on or near a staircase.” The complaint also said the staircase had an “improperly constructed, maintained, repaired, and arranged handrails/bannisters, which caused [Osorio’s] accident.”
In a brief conversation with The Uprising, Morales strongly denied the accusations in the suit and said Osorio was “just visiting” the home.
“That was not a tenant that was someone who was in my home,” Morales said. “It was a slip and fall down the stairs and, unfortunately, she decided to sue.”
Osorio’s complaint described her as “a tenant” who was leasing in the multifamily building. Morales also denied the alleged dangerous conditions on the steps.
“I wholeheartedly deny that,” she said. “It was the stairs that i go up and down every day.”
According to the complaint, Osorio “sustained severe and permanent injuries” during the fall. Court records indicate Osorio and Morales reached a settlement on May 9, 2019.
The complaint specified that Morales “owned the property,” was responsible for its maintenance, and served as the “property manager” on the date of the fall. City records show Morales still owns the multifamily brownstone in Bedford Stuyvesant.
Osorio could not be reached for comment. The attorney who represented her in the lawsuit, Robert Abruzzino, did not immediately respond to an email from The Uprising.
The allegations of “negligent” landlord behavior are starkly at odds with Morales’ staunchly progressive brand. However, out on the campaign trail, the nonprofit executive has also faced allegations of mismanagement.
In the days since the initial reports of trouble brewing behind the scenes of Morales’ campaign, there has been continuing turmoil. On Thursday night, one of her senior organizers, Farudh Emiel Majid, urged her to drop out of the race with a statement accusing her of having created “a hostile work environment towards Black and Brown staffers.” Later that evening, the New York Times published a report that included details from a meeting the campaign had on Tuesday evening as news of the issues was initially spilling into public video. According to the paper, staffers complained about “harassment, race-based mistreatment, and exploitation” in a “toxic” work environment. Morales missed multiple mayoral forums as she dealt with the campaign crises.
Throughout the day Thursday, volunteers and staffers in the Morales campaign’s Slack channel complained about a lack of information from the candidate. The Uprising is withholding the names of campaign volunteers and lower level staff.
“I volunteered to phone bank on Monday and I am signed up to do so again next week.” one volunteer wrote in the Slack. “In order to have transparency and give an honest endorsement of this wonderful campaign, can anyone clarify if the staffers were asked to leave because they were part of the problems being addressed? Or did they leave on their own volition because they were dissatisfied with their experience.”
Another person suggested “it might be helpful to have an all hands gathering on this.”
“I think it might be encouraging (at least to me) to hear directly from Dianne Morales - a sort of rallying of the troops,” they wrote.
A third person noted how the situation didn’t fit with Morales’ progressive values.
“One thing I’d like to add about requests for greater transparency and information: from the beginning, this campaign has prided itself on (and marketed itself as) being rooted in grassroots strategy and relational organizing,” they wrote, adding, “W’ere now receiving a lot of questions not just of what we knew and when but also why we would offer assurances that this campaign best represented people’s values when a deluge of reports are seeming to show the opposite “
Some of the volunteers also pointed out they were having trouble defending Morales’ past support for charter schools, particularly after an article from Barkan, the reporter who broke news on the staff departures.
“I’ve postered, canvassed … attended meetings, etc., etc., etc. I’m also trying to defend against Barkan attacks of the charter school,” one volunteer wrote. “This silence for two days is too much, especially for those of us who have done so much work as volunteers. Not sure what to do at this point.”
At one point on Thursday, Morales posted a Slack message of her own to address the concerns.
“Thanks for your patience all. Personnel matters are sensitive and we have been working to determine how best to share. Please stay tuned for updates soon!” Morales said.
Amid all the unrest on her team, some members of Morales staff formed a union and began a work stoppage on Thursday. Morales addressed the situation in an interview with NY1 host Errol Louis on Thursday evening. She expressed support for the union and cast it as a reflection of the campaign’s progressive values.
“In terms of the … unionization efforts, it’s a beautiful and messy thing that they’re doing this,” Morales said. “I think it’s a reflection actually of the very transformative campaign that we have been running.”
However, Morales also said her backing of the union is “separate and apart from me making executive management decisions.”
“That’s also a reflection of a mayors job,” Morales said, stumbling over her words. “To make difficult decisions and - and lead in a moment of crisis. And that’s exactly what I’m doing.”
Additional reporting contributed by Luppe B. Luppen, author of the excellent newsletter, Pawprints. This post was updated at 12:41 p.m. with Morales’ comments about the case.