Congressional District 2 candidate Yahya Yuksel was never charged over allegations he raped a girl in high school.

The number of local Democrats distancing themselves from Congressional District 2 candidate Yahya Yuksel continues to grow.

The Pima County Democratic Party Executive Board backed a resolution Wednesday night withdrawing support of the controversial 28-year-old candidate and encouraging voters to back any of the six other Democratic candidates in the race.

Party Chair Jo Holt was quick to assure Democrats that while many were upset about the allegations that Yuksel raped an intoxicated teenage girl when he was in high school, the emergency meeting was focused on more recent actions. 

Yuksel was never arrested or charged.

"We are not a court of law, he should be afforded due process," Holt told fellow Democrats.

Instead, Holt asked the Democrats attending the meeting to consider whether Yuksel's campaign was viable after the news of the allegations surfaced and a disastrous press conference that he held on Sunday.

Yuksel angered locals after attempting to leave the two-minute press conference without answering questions and only reluctantly returned after being confronted on the street outside of his campaign headquarters.

Family members and campaign staff at times shouted at those who attended the event, arguing about the allegations, their motives for attending the event and hurling insults at some women.

Videos of the various confrontations were shared widely on social media over the last week.

Holt warned Democratic candidates in Southern Arizona could suffer if the local party does not cut ties to Yuksel.

"I cannot overemphasize, and I know you agree with me on this, how critical this election year is," Holt said. "We have to move forward."

Holt told Democrats she spoke to Yayha Yuksel, along with this his father, in an attempt to convince the candidate to drop out, but they refused.

Yuksel did not attend the roughly 45-minute meeting, nor did anyone representing his campaign.

The discussion focused heavily on the party disavowing Yuskel and sending a signal that it was shifting its priorities to better support sexual assault victims and hold offenders accountable.

A respected elder in the local party, Carmen Prezelski said the saddest aspect was that the party has not evolved on the issue in decades.

She said there are too many similarities in the story about the young woman allegedly assaulted by Yuksel and those shared by Prezelski's college classmates.

"We have not learned anything as a culture," Prezelski said. "The people, when this was reported, said she brought it on herself because she drank too much. It was her fault. And that is an argument that would be used today in a court of law."

She urged her colleagues to vote for the resolution to send a signal that the party would no longer tolerate such behavior.

Democrat Liz Porter cried tears of joy as she explained that she went into the meeting worried that there wouldn't be enough Democrats to meet the three-fourths requirement necessary to pass the resolution.

With several Democrats on the phone, the resolution passed with 29 votes, one more than the minimum necessary. No one voted against the measure.

"I was at the press conference, and it was awful. I am crying now, but we were all crying there because of how he was treating the women in the room," Porter said. "It was complete lack of respect. It was complete vanity. He was only thinking about himself."

The resolution bars Yuksel from participating as a candidate at any party-organized functions.

Additionally, his campaign materials will be stripped from the party's website, and his printed versions are no longer available at party headquarters.

The county party has no power to remove Yuksel from the ballot, which will be sent to voters early next month.

Yuksel has also been uninvited to the next planned Congressional District 2 debate, set for today.

The debate was the latest in a string of debates organized by local Political Action Committee Represent Me AZ.

The group has not endorsed a candidate, but in a public statement, they said that had hoped Yuksel would have announced on Sunday that he was leaving the race.

"Attempting to explain away the damage by citing your youth was, at best, tone-deaf, and at worst, perpetuates a dangerous rape culture in which women who cannot give consent are frightened into silence are victimized further," the group said in a public statement. 

The Democrats of Greater Tucson, a separate group that meets for lunch once a week, revoked Yuksel's invitation to their meeting next week. Yuksel was scheduled to be their guest speaker.

Instead, the group will hold an open forum to discuss steps to ending rape culture.

Local Democrats note the decision Wednesday night is notable, the last time the Pima County Democratic Party passed a similar resolution was in 1994 when the party formally backed an effort to recall Alan Lang, then Pima County's assessor.


Reporter with the Arizona Daily Star. I cover politics as well as the city of Tucson and other municipalities in Southern Arizona.