Democrats divided

Pub date August 17, 2010
WriterSarah Phelan

Update:This online article contains a correction concerning the DCCC’s vote on Sup. Sean Elsbernd’s Muni pay guarantees (Prop. G). In the print version of this article, the Guardian reported that the DCCC had voted “to recommend a no vote” on Prop. G. This is incorrect. The DCCC voted “not to endorse” Prop. G. As Elsbernd points out, “This is a key distinction.”

With fewer than 10 weeks to go until a pivotal November election, the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC) approved a package of endorsements at its Aug. 11 meeting, giving the nod to mostly progressive candidates and rejecting Mayor Gavin Newsom’s most divisive ballot measures.

This crucial election could alter the balance of power on a Board of Supervisors that is currently dominated by progressives, and that new board would be seated just as it potentially gets the chance to appoint an interim mayor.

That’s what will happen if Newsom wins his race for lieutenant governor. The latest campaign finance reports show that Newsom has raised twice as much money as the Republican incumbent, former state Sen. Abel Maldonado. But the two candidates are still neck-and-neck in the polls.

Although the DCCC supports Newsom in the race, it is resisting his agenda for San Francisco, voting to oppose his polarizing sit-lie legislation (Prop. L), a hotel tax loophole closure (Prop. K) that would invalidate the hotel tax increase that labor unions placed on the ballot, and his hypocritical ban on local elected officials serving on the DCCC (Prop. H).

Shortly after the vote, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Newsom called an emergency closed-door meeting with some of his downtown allies to discuss the upcoming election. “We just wanted to get on the same page on what’s going on locally, what’s going with the ballot initiatives, where people are on the candidates for supervisor,” Newsom told the newspaper.

DCCC Chair Aaron Peskin, who regularly battled with Newsom during his tenure as president of the Board of Supervisors, voted with the progressive bloc against Newsom’s three controversial measures. But he told us that he was glad to see the mayor finally engage in the local political process.

Sup. David Campos kicked off the DCCC meeting by rebuffing newly elected DCCC member Carole Migden’s unsuccessful attempt to rescind the body’s endorsement of Michael Nava for Superior Court Judge, part of a push by the legal community to rally behind Richard Ulmer and other sitting judges.

Things got even messier when the DCCC endorsed the candidates for supervisor. In District 2, the DCCC gave the nod to Janet Reilly, snubbing incumbent Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier, who is running now that Superior Court Judge Peter Busch has ruled that she is not termed out (a ruling on City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s appeal of Busch’s ruling is expected soon).

In District 6, where candidates include DCCC member Debra Walker, School Board President Jane Kim, Human Rights Commission Executive Director Theresa Sparks, neighborhood activist Jim Meko, and drag queen Glendon Hyde (a.k.a. Anna Conda), the club endorsed only Walker, denying Kim the second-place endorsement she was lobbying for.

But in District 8, where candidates include progressive DCCC member Rafael Mandelman, moderate DCCC member Scott Wiener, and moderate Rebecca Prozan, the politics got really squirrelly. As expected, Mandelman got the first-place nod with 18 votes: the progressive’s bare 17-vote majority on the 33-member body plus Assembly Member Leland Yee.

Yet because Yee supports Prozan and David Chiu, the Board of Supervisors president who was also part of the DCCC progressive slate, had offered less than his full support for Mandelman, a deal was cut to give Prozan a second-place endorsement.

That move caused some public and private grumbling from Jane Kim’s supporters, who noted that Kim is way more progressive than Prozan and said she should have been given the second-place slot in D6.

A proxy for John Avalos even tried to get the DCCC to give Walker and Kim a dual first-place endorsement, but Peskin ruled that such a move was not permitted by the group’s bylaws. Then DCCC members Eric Mar and Eric Quezada argued that Kim should get the club’s second-choice endorsement.

But Walker’s supporters argued that Kim only recently moved into the district and changed her party affiliation from the Green Party to the Democratic Party, and Kim’s supporters failed to find the 17 votes they needed.

“District 6 has an amazing wealth of candidates and I look forward to supporting many of them in future races,” Gabriel Haaland told his DCCC colleagues. “I will just not be supporting them tonight.”

Wiener told the group he would not seek its endorsement for anything below the top slot. “I’m running for first place and I intend to win,” Wiener said, shortly before Prozan secured the club’s second-choice endorsement.

In District 4, the DCCC endorsed incumbent Carmen Chu, who is running virtually unopposed. The DCCC also endorsed Bert Hill’s run for the BART Board of Directors, where he hopes to unseat James Fang, San Francisco’s only elected Republican.

The body had already decided to delay its school board endorsements until September and ended up pushing its District 10 supervisorial endorsement back until then as well because nobody had secured majority support.

“I think it’s because they want to give members of the DCCC a chance to learn more about some of the candidates,” District 10 candidate Dewitt Lacy told the Guardian. “I don’t think folks have spent enough time to make an informed decision.”

D10 candidate Chris Jackson agreed, adding, “The progressives in this race have brought our issues to the forefront.”

“I think it’s appropriate,” concurred D10 candidate Isaac Bowers. “D10 is a complicated district. It’s wise to wait and see how it settles out.”

The main thing that needs to be resolved is which candidate in the crowded field will emerge as the progressive alternative to Lynette Sweet, who has the support of downtown groups and mega-developer Lennar Corp.

After the meeting, Walker said different races require different political strategies. “I think it’s hard in the progressive community, where so many of us know each other and even our supporters know the other candidates and are their supporters in other scenarios,” Walker said.

“But the Democratic Party makes decisions not just based on politics,” she continued. “So the endorsement is about being viable and successfully involved in Democratic issues. And even though I want to encourage everyone to run, and we have that ability with ranked choice voting and public financing, when it comes to straight-on politics, the goal is winning.”

Walker said the vote on D8 reflected the reality that Mandelman was having trouble getting the necessary number of votes. “I know Rebecca and I know Rafael, and Rafael was my clear first choice,” Walker said.” Rafael asked me to consider voting for Rebecca—and I voted for her as my second choice.”

Walker predicts she’ll have union support behind her campaign, while Kim, who leads in fundraising, will have independent expenditure committees that will support her campaign.

“My consultant says it’s a $250,000 race, and unfortunately the viability is based on that reality, the funds, the money,” Walker observed.

On the fall ballot measures, the DCCC voted to recommend a no vote on Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s measure to make city employees pay more for the pension and healthcare costs (Prop. B), Sup. Sean Elsbernd’s Health Service Board Elections (Prop. F,) and Newsom’s three controversial measures. And they voted “no endorsement” on Elsbernd’s measure to remove from the charter Muni pay guarantees (Prop. G). 

But the DCCC did vote to endorse a local vehicle registration fee surcharge (Prop. AA), Newsom’s earthquake retrofit bond (Prop. A), Sup. Chris Daly’s proposed legislation to require mayoral appearances at board meetings (Prop. C), Chiu’s measure to allow noncitizen voting in school board elections (Prop. D), Sup. Ross Mirkarimi’s Election Day voter registration (Prop. E), former Newsom campaign manager Alex Tourk’s Saturday voting proposal (Prop. I) Labor’s hotel tax (Prop. J ), Mirkarimi’s foot patrols measure (Prop. M) and Avalos’ real estate transfer tax (Prop. N).

With just about everybody opposed to Adachi’s measure going after public employee unions, Walker observed that Adachi probably wishes he had done it differently now. But looking into the future, Walker sees opportunities for the party to come back together.

“There’s an opportunity to start a dialogue because everyone is hurting,” Walker said. “The more we don’t have a proactive solution, the more we get caught at the bottom.”

And in a feel-good vote for the frequently divided body, the DCCC also voted overwhelmingly to endorse the statewide initiative to legalize and tax marijuana (Prop. 19). Normally local party committees don’t take a position on state initiatives, but because the California Democratic Party took no position on Prop. 19, the DCCC had permission to weigh in.

As Peskin put it before the enthusiastic marijuana vote, “Raise your hands — high.”