Rick Cofer, who was the odds-on favorite to be the next leader of the Travis County Democratic Party, has withdrawn from the running, saying that the party would be better served with a woman as the party’s boss.
Cofer’s move comes as the Austin American-Statesman was looking into allegations of Cofer’s unprofessional conduct with women.
The Travis County attorney’s office, where Cofer serves as a prosecutor, released Cofer’s personnel file at the request of the American-Statesman, showing Cofer was counseled by supervisors in back-to-back incidents in 2012 for actions with women that he acknowledges were unprofessional.
In one instance, Cofer slapped a defense attorney on the buttocks with a file folder in open court, according to records. The action prompted a judge to ask, “Did I just see what I thought I saw?” the records show.
In the other, he asked a female colleague to sit at the prosecution table in a trial and to “tap her pen or play with her hair” in an attempt to influence male jurors, the records show.
Cofer said he was friends with both women and remains so, with both supporting his campaign for party chair.
Cofer’s withdraw is a surprise given the tremendous amount of support at his back, such as former Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell and the Austin AFL-CIO Central Labor Council.
The Travis County Democratic Party is a power broker in Austin and Travis County. Its backing can boost candidates into local government seats.
Whoever becomes the party chief will replace Vincent Harding.
Harding became the county party’s youngest chair ever, and the second African-American to hold the post, and won re-election in 2016 without opposition. As chair, he gained support for reinvigorating the party’s public profile, highlighting workers’ rights and immigration issues, and leading the charge against Uber and Lyft’s effort to overturn Austin’s rideshare regulations.
Recently, however, Harding’s leadership had become somewhat untenable after he used procedural tactics to block a no-confidence resolution brought by precinct chairs against Pflugerville Rep. Dawnna Dukes.
Trent Seibert can be reached at [email protected] or at 832-258-6119.