Peskin for DCCC chair

Pub date July 1, 2008
SectionEditorialSectionNews & Opinion

EDITORIAL The San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee was the sleeper election in June: The Mark Leno–Carole Migden–Joe Nation contest for state Senate got a lot of attention, and the Bayview–Hunters Point redevelopment project got a huge amount of money, but only a small percentage of the voters got to the bottom of the ticket and chose the 24 people who will set policy for the local Democratic Party for the next two years. But a progressive slate won a significant number of seats. Now the DCCC has become a heated political battleground, with two candidates vying to become party chair.

The incumbent, Scott Wiener, leans toward the more moderate wing of the party, although he’s taken progressive stands on some issues. The challenger, Sup. Aaron Peskin, has the strong backing of many progressives.

The race has gotten a bit nasty: Sup. Chris Daly, a Peskin supporter, has sent out e-mail threatening the political future of committee members who don’t vote the right way. Both sides are lobbying furiously, with Leno helping Wiener and progressive leaders pushing Peskin. Right now it’s too close to call the election, which takes place later this month.

We’re not happy with the level of animosity here. We recognize that this isn’t the presidency of the United States, and that, thanks to the influence of the reform slate, the DCCC chair is no longer as powerful a position as it was in the days when the late Phil Burton and former Mayor Willie Brown controlled the party with an iron hand. And with the committee this closely split, neither candidate will be able to run an effective party operation this fall without working with both sides. So this shouldn’t be a political bloodbath.

We also recognize that neither candidate is perfect. We’ve disagreed with Peskin on a number of key issues, including Home Depot, and frankly, it’s not ideal to have the president of the Board of Supervisors also running the local Democratic Party.

But like any political contest, this ought to be decided on the issues — and on the future of the San Francisco Democratic Party. And Peskin is the clear choice.

If the DCCC did nothing but raise money, register voters, and push Democratic candidates, this wouldn’t be such an important fight. Weiner has done a perfectly fine job of keeping the party well funded and, under his tenure, 15,000 new Democratic voters have joined the ranks. But the party also endorses candidates and takes stands on ballot measures, and in close races — as some of the key battles will be this fall — the party’s support (which includes party money) can be significant.

And while the chair has only one vote, and can’t decide endorsements unilaterally, the person who runs the local party has a fair amount of influence over how money will be spent and how DCCC slate cards are managed; if the job didn’t matter, these two people (and their powerful allies) wouldn’t be fighting over it.

Peskin is on the right side of all the key fall contests. He’s backing progressive candidates for supervisor in the swing districts (John Avalos in District 11, Eric Mar in District 1, and David Chiu in District 3). He supports the housing justice initiative, is the cosponsor of the public power charter amendment, and the sponsor of two progressive tax measures. Wiener supports Ahsha Safai, the candidate of downtown and Mayor Gavin Newsom, in District 11. He hasn’t taken a position on public power, and told us he has "significant concerns" about the cost of the affordable housing measure, although he supports both of Peskin’s revenue proposals.

Wiener has been a reasonable and fair person as chair. But the issues matter. And if the San Francisco party is going to become a center for progressive activism, if the DCCC is going to be willing to challenge the state and national party and its leaders when necessary, take in the mayor when he’s wrong, and push the party to the left, putting a more activist progressive in the top slot is crucial.

It’s still possible a third candidate could come along. But for now the choices are Peskin and Wiener, and we urge progressives on the panel to support Aaron Peskin.

PS: As Amanda Witherell reports on page 14, PG&E is madly, desperately fighting to keep public power off the November ballot and is using every misleading figure and dirty trick possible. So the DCCC chair has to be willing to stand up to PG&E without hesitation or doubt.