Vote for Party Chair Comes Down to the Wire

by Paul Hogarth on July 23, 2008

The SF Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC) will meet at 7:00 p.m. tonight in the State Building at 455 Golden Gate Avenue to elect the party’s new Chair. Spectators are advised to bring popcorn. With Supervisor Aaron Peskin running against Scott Wiener, both sides say they “have the votes” – and regardless of the outcome, it will be close. With 34 members on the DCCC, each side needs at least 18 votes. On his blog, Supervisor Chris Daly claimed that Peskin already has “19 commitments” – which can only be true if (a) David Campos and David Chiu support Peskin and (b) some members of the HOPE slate who publicly backed Wiener have switched. But that scenario may very well happen. On July 21st, anti-progressive group Plan C e-mailed its members – urging them to pressure Assemblywoman Fiona Ma to support Wiener. Given Ma’s politics, if she truly is a “swing” vote then Wiener is in trouble.

In June, the progressive HOPE slate captured 18 of the 24 elected seats on the city’s Democratic Central Committee. While one would think that means Peskin has it in the bag, it’s a lot more complicated.

First, nine elected officials (and a member of the state party’s Executive Board) by virtue of their position have a vote on the Committee as “superdelegates” – bringing the total to 34 members, and thus 18 for a majority. Second, while the HOPE slate endorsed progressive candidates, many were incumbents with prior loyalties to Wiener. One of them – Connie O’Connor – even told the Bay Area Reporter that she was “never asked to join the HOPE slate.”

Right now, three members of the HOPE slate (David Campos, David Chiu and Melanie Nutter) have not made their commitments known – and four (Laura Spanjian, Arlo Smith, Jane Morrison and Connie O’Connor) have been quoted in the media supporting Wiener. So among the HOPE slate members, Peskin starts with only 11 votes as a minimum.

I expect Campos and Chiu to back Peskin – because they’d be crazy not to. Both are running for Supervisor this November in crowded races against other progressives, and can’t afford to alienate support. Both have the endorsement of their district’s outgoing Supervisor, who each have a seat on the DCCC and will be voting for Peskin. As for Nutter, she works for Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi – who is likely to back Wiener – so we can predict how she’ll vote.

Now let’s look at the superdelegates on the Committee: Wiener can probably count on five (U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Congresswomen Nancy Pelosi and Jackie Speier, Assemblyman Mark Leno and CDP E-Board member August Longo.) Peskin can likely count on three (State Senator Carole Migden, State Assembly Democratic nominee Tom Ammiano, and Board of Equalization member Betty Yee.) That brings Peskin’s total up to 16 votes – still two members shy of what he needs to prevail.

According to Chris Daly’s blog, Peskin already has 19 commitments. If that’s true, progressives must have convinced HOPE slate members who backed Wiener – and said so publicly – to switch. Don’t expect it to be Laura Spanjian – based on what she told the Bay Guardian. But Jane Morrison (who was elected Chair with progressive support in prior years), Arlo Smith or Connie O’Connor may have decided to support Peskin. They will be the crucial votes to watch tonight.

Which leaves us with two “swing” superdelegates – State Senator Leland Yee and State Assemblywoman Fiona Ma. Yee’s a moderate on the issues – but has shown a tendency to endorse progressive candidates, so his vote is hard to predict. And given her past conservative politics, I assumed that Ma would be a solid vote for Wiener. But on July 21st, Plan C sent out a mass e-mail to its members – urging them to pressure Ma to back Wiener.

“Scott Wiener, a longtime member of Plan C, is being challenged by Aaron Peskin,” said the Plan C e-mail. “The vote is extremely close and we expect the deciding vote to be cast by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma. The assemblywoman is undecided, and may cast her vote for Aaron Peskin.”

When you’re on the defensive, it’s never good. At the national level, Republicans are screwed this year because the presidential race’s “battleground” will be in normally red states like Colorado, Montana, Nevada and Virginia. And the hot U.S. Senate races are all seats currently held by GOP incumbents. If Wiener needs the support of Fiona Ma to keep his chairmanship, that’s not a good sign for his chances.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Tenants Union sent out an e-mail to its members yesterday supporting Peskin – but did not target a particular member. Instead, it called this election “pretty crucial for tenants and rent control” – and asked its members to come out tonight. “The DCCC members are elected and responsive to public pressure and presence.”

Which is not to say that Aaron Peskin will win. Both sides claim they have the votes, and I think each side believes it. The race for Chair of the SF Democratic Party will be decided by a small number of votes – as the two candidates have some solid support.

I just know I’ll be there tonight – and hope to bring a big bag of popcorn.

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