Boulder City Council candidate sends cease and desist letter to community members

·6 min read

Sep. 15—A Boulder City Council candidate has sent a cease and desist letter to a group of community members and threatened a lawsuit against them, arguing that there has been a coordinated campaign against his candidacy.

Steve Rosenblum, who is vying for one of five vacant seats on the council, sent the letter to the Boulder Progressives and about 10 individual community members, including Liz Marasco, Claudia Hanson Thiem, Lauren Groth and SarahDawn Haynes, all of whom are involved with other candidates' campaigns or local community groups. The Camera is not naming those who did not speak on the record because official legal action has not yet been taken.

Among other things, the lawsuit threatened in the letter alleges that some community members have worked to prevent Rosenblum from receiving campaign endorsements. It also alleges that websites and social media accounts have been set up with Rosenblum's likeness without his permission.

In the letter, Rosenblum and his lawyer, former Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett, ask that all sites and accounts be deleted and that those who received the letter issue an apology and retraction through Garnett by 5 p.m. Thursday. If not, a formal complaint will be filed in district court.

"This misappropriation and outright malicious untruths are, frankly, a new type of political discourse in Boulder that I haven't seen before," Garnett said in an interview. "I think Steve's decision was the right thing to do to protect himself."

Rosenblum said, "We hope not to proceed with a legal case. We hope to turn down the temperature and get back to discussing the issues."

Most of Rosenblum's complaint concerns Safer Boulder Leaks, an anonymous blog whose contents the Camera has not been able to independently verify, that shares screenshots of a private Slack channel hosted by Safer Boulder, a "grassroots community organization," according to the yet-to-be-filed complaint. Rosenblum provided a copy of the cease-and-desist letter and the draft complaint to the Camera.

In the screenshots, many of which are included in the complaint, members of the Safer Boulder Slack channel make disparaging comments about people experiencing homelessness, including some that recommend violence against them.

At one point the Safer Leaks blog shared Reddit posts attributed to Rosenblum that were later determined to be from another user, the complaint states. The blog ultimately posted an update, retracting this original assertion and noting it could not prove a connection between Rosenblum and the Reddit account.

In the complaint, Rosenblum also specifically called out a blog post published by the Boulder Progressives. The post argues in opposition to Rosenblum's candidacy and it shares some of the statements allegedly made by various members of the Slack channel, including one specifically shared by Rosenblum.

Though just one of the Slack posts was linked to Rosenblum's name, he argues the post shared by the Progressives attributes it all to him.

"These are things that represent Safer Boulder and Steve represents Safer Boulder," Rosenblum said, explaining his understanding of the post's verbiage.

He did not deny that he has been involved with Safer Boulder, nor did he say the Slack conversations had been fabricated. However, Rosenblum said that he was not a moderator of the channel and that many of the conversations had been shared out of context.

"First of all, I'm not a founder of Safer Boulder. I joined a year or two after it was established," he said. "It was never my responsibility to moderate (the Slack conversation), even though I attempted.

"(The Boulder Progressives) took other people's comments, some of which were abhorrent, and attempted to attribute them to me," Rosenblum said.

The Camera reached out to all the people who received the cease and desist letter. Many wanted to speak to a lawyer ahead of commenting publicly, but nearly all said they were surprised when the letter arrived at their home on Friday.

"I do not understand why I am named in this (threatened) lawsuit," Claudia Hanson Thiem said in a statement, noting that she is on leave from Boulder Progressives. "... the only complaint against me as an individual is that I retweeted (with a heart-eyes emoji) a third party's appreciation of Boulder Progressives' election graphic and 2021 candidate endorsements."

Hanson Thiem, who has written guest opinions for the Camera, also is named in the draft complaint for her role on the steering committee of Boulder Progressives, which published the disputed blog post. She is on leave with the political group while managing City Council candidate Nicole Speer's campaign and is one of the people who received the cease and desist letter.

Similarly, Lauren Groth, another member of Speer's campaign committee, was included for reposting the Boulder Progressives' blog post on Twitter. She stood by that decision.

"Candidate Steven Rosenblum is threatening to sue me for the statement that 'transphobia, racism and violent rhetoric have no place on city council,'" Groth said in a statement. "These are words that I stand by."

Civil conspiracy and defamation are the two claims Rosenblum and Garnett have threatened to bring against all those named if a public apology isn't issued.

"I knew politics was a dirty business," Rosenblum said. "I didn't anticipate it to be this dirty, especially in a place like Boulder."

However, SarahDawn Haynes, one of those sent a cease and desist letter, questioned whether a civil conspiracy or defamation claim would stick, given the protection of the First Amendment. The complaint argues that Haynes shared a post on Twitter about Rosenblum and used that information to block a potential endorsement from the Sierra Club Indian Peaks Group, where Haynes is an executive committee member.

"It feels like a blatant attack on the integrity of the people on the side of housing justice and racial justice," Haynes said.

Liz Marasco echoed those thoughts. She was included for sharing the Boulder Progressives' blog post on Twitter.

"I do think the goal of this was intimidation and censorship," she said. "That makes me really sad because this is my community. I care enough about it to put myself out there on a nearly daily basis."

"I know that Boulder feels unwelcoming to a lot of people, and that matters a lot to me," Marasco added. "I want my community to be safe and diverse and that starts with changing our culture of silencing the people who are fighting for justice."

Since Marasco is City Council candidate Dan Williams' campaign manager, Williams issued a statement, calling the threat of a complaint an attempt to "suppress robust conversation about (Rosenblum's) prior conduct."

"If you're going to run for office you need to own your prior statements and actions," Williams said in the statement. "Steve's decision to use a high-priced lawyer to threaten my campaign volunteers and to try to shut down debate is reprehensible."

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