Progressives Take Over S.F. Democratic Party

by Paul Hogarth on December 29, 2008

First published on August 14, 2008.

This is not Willie Brown’s Democratic County Central Committee anymore – nor is it Gavin Newsom’s. San Francisco Mayors used to control what happens at the DCCC – when the influential body would vote on endorsements. But last night, progressives secured the party’s endorsement for November’s busy election – from Eric Mar, David Chiu, David Campos and John Avalos for Supervisor to the Clean Energy Act, two revenue Measures, the Housing Charter Amendment and opposing JROTC. Even College Board incumbent Rodel Rodis only got five votes – hurting his re-election prospects. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn’t send her proxy – which may have been to avoid voting on the Clean Energy Act. But last night’s “progressive rout” was not without controversy: by a slim majority, the DCCC endorsed a ballot measure to decriminalize prostitution. And after failing to reach a position on Newsom’s Community Justice Center, members did a re-vote – in which a majority voted to endorse “no.”

Last night’s endorsement meeting at the DCCC – a pre-election ritual to determine how the Party endorses in local ballot skirmishes – proved how decisive running a progressive slate in June had been. Supervisors Chris Daly and Aaron Peskin’s decision to run a ticket of DCCC candidates changed the makeup of a body long run by more moderate politicos.

We started to see this change shortly after the June election – when the new DCCC elected Peskin as Chair over incumbent Scott Wiener. But Peskin’s narrow 18-16 victory underestimated the extent at how much the DCCC’s ideological bent had shifted – because Wiener had gotten many votes from progressive members.

But last night, we saw it’s a totally different ballgame. Progressive candidates for Supervisor triumphed – while moderate candidates Sue Lee, Claudine Cheng, Eva Royale and Ahsha Safai failed to even get endorsed as the party’s second (or third) choice in their respective districts. A moderate incumbent on the College Board only got five votes, while newcomers got the party nod. And for the 22 local propositions on the November ballot, generally the progressive position got the DCCC’s stamp of approval.

Progressives Dominate Proposition Endorsements …

At a recent Harvey Milk Club meeting, Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin promised “we will not go beyond Proposition Z” on this November ballot – capping the total number at 26. Peskin lived up to that pledge, but we will still go up to Proposition V – making it a very crowded ballot, and thus an extremely long DCCC meeting. The meeting started at 7:00 p.m., and public comment lasted until 9:15 p.m. – with dozens of speakers ready to pack the room and urging the Committee members to endorse or oppose various measures.

With a very substantive ballot – which includes a hospital bond, two revenue measures, a housing charter amendment and a Clean Energy Act – there was potentially a lot to talk about. But the two measures that elicited the most public comment were both citizen-initiated propositions that dealt with a highly emotional issue: (a) an ordinance to de-criminalize prostitution, and (b) a policy statement supporting JROTC in public schools.

On the Hospital Bond at SF General, the Committee didn’t even take a roll call vote – it was endorsed by acclamation. Aaron Peskin’s Revenue Measures to raise the real estate transfer tax and fix a loophole in the business payroll tax passed 27-3 and 30-1, respectively. Even the Affordable Housing Charter Amendment – which Newsom has vowed to oppose – passed 25-6, with 2 abstentions. The “no” votes were from DCCC members Tom Hsieh, Mary Jung, Matt Tuchow, and Scott Wiener – plus the proxies for Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congresswoman Jackie Speier.

The Clean Energy Act – which has already gotten hit pieces from PG&E – got the endorsement by a vote of 22-6 (with 5 abstentions.) Virtually the same people who opposed the Housing Charter Amendment voted against the Clean Energy Act – while progressives stuck together on vote after vote with lopsided wins. Earlier this week, I called upon House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to support the Clean Energy Act, noting that she could vote at the DCCC to endorse it. Pelosi was the only ex-officio member not to send a proxy to last night’s meeting – so we still don’t know where she stands.

The DCCC voted by wide margins to endorse propositions to (1) require mental health treatment on demand, (2) raise the number of signatures required to recall a Supervisor, (3) hold city elections in even-numbered years, (4) beef up the City’s historic preservation law, (5) make it City policy to defund the War in Iraq, (5) give retirement credit to city employees who took unpaid parental leave, and (6) protect tenants from landlord harassment.

In a blow to Gavin Newsom, the DCCC rejected many of the Mayor’s propositions. By a whopping 26-5 margin, they endorsed a “no” vote on his effort to restructure the County Transportation Authority – which many view as a mayoral power grab. The “no more set-asides” measure (which Newsom proposed shortly after Daly’s Housing Amendment) was rejected by a vote of 13-19. And Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier’s proposal to create a new “independent rate-payer advocate” – which many progressives believe is designed to defeat the Clean Energy Act – got the thumbs down last night by a 19-10 vote.

As for the two emotional propositions, the Committee voted to reject the JROTC policy statement 20-10 (with 3 abstentions) – as many questioned why school leadership skills must rely on a military program. They endorsed the measure to Decriminalize Prostitution by an 18-12 majority (with 3 abstentions) – despite concerns about how poorly written the measure is. DCCC member Michael Bornstein noted that the initiative says it can be modified by a two-thirds vote at the Board of Supervisors.

One endorsement vote was not without controversy. On the Community Justice Center, DCCC member Hene Kelly asked why this measure was still on the ballot – since the Board of Supervisors had already agreed to fund it. Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, who was in the audience at the time, said because Chris Daly had promised to defund it after a new progressive Board comes into office. The Committee then voted – and with many members abstaining, failed to get sufficient votes to take a “yes” or “no” position.

Because the Committee had taken no action, Chris Daly moved for a re-vote at the very end of the meeting – which upset some moderates, because Tom Hsieh and Meagan Levitan (who had voted “yes” earlier) had left for the night. With fewer abstentions, the DCCC endorsed a “no” vote. Aaron Peskin said, however, that the two votes would not have altered the outcome. The DCCC also took no position on renaming the Sewage Treatment Plant after George Bush – but nobody asked for a re-vote later on.

Progressives Dominate College Board Endorsements …

During the meeting’s public comment period, activist Roy Recio urged the DCCC not to endorse longtime College Board incumbent Rodel Rodis – “because he has not expressed good judgment in the past, and the Pilipino community does not support him.” When it came time for the Committee to make endorsements, Rodis only got five votes. Because the Community College Board is such a low-profile position, endorsements – especially the DCCC – matter a great deal. This may doom Rodis’ chances of re-election.

The Committee also endorsed College Board incumbents Natalie Berg and Milton Marks – the latter who has earned much respect from progressives (including an endorsement by the Harvey Milk Club.) Two young candidates for College Board – Chris Jackson and Steve Ngo – also got the DCCC endorsement, which will seriously boost their campaign.

Progressives Dominate Board of Supervisors Endorsements …

Given the progressive composition of the DCCC, there was never much doubt about which candidates for the Board of Supervisors would get the endorsement – at least for first place. But because Ranked Choice Voting decides these elections, the Committee reserved the option of endorsing up to three choices for Supervisor in each District.

If a Democratic candidate for Supervisor failed to get the party’s endorsement for “first choice” in their district, they could still potentially get endorsed as “second” or “third choice.” Therefore, not getting a ranked endorsement is really a reflection that the DCCC effectively doesn’t support that candidate.

After Eric Mar secured the “first-choice” endorsement for District 1, the DCCC debated whether his main opponents – Sue Lee or Alicia Wang – should get a “second choice” or “third choice” endorsement. “Whatever your position is on Ranked Choice Voting,” said Scott Wiener, “the City adopted it. And when you have multiple qualified strong candidates, we’ve typically endorsed them. We need to be as diverse a party as possible.” But Rafael Mandelman argued that there were “significant differences” – especially on tenants’ rights – between Mar and the other candidates.

When it came time to vote for a “second choice” in District 1, No Endorsement got 18 votes, Plan C member Sue Lee got 11 votes and Alicia Wang got 3 votes. Only Eric Mar would get the Democratic Party endorsement.

In District 3, David Chiu easily got the endorsement for “first choice.” Some members then argued that Denise McCarthy should get endorsed for “second choice” because: (a) she’s a progressive with similar views to Chiu, and (b) it’s important for the party to endorse a viable woman candidate. But Chris Daly argued that McCarthy was not a true progressive – citing her record on the Port Commission. Peskin disputed some of the points that Daly raised, and McCarthy won the “second choice” endorsement.

No District 3 candidate got enough votes to earn a “third choice” endorsement – despite efforts by the moderates to push Claudine Cheng.

In District 9, David Campos got the “first choice” endorsement with 22 votes – followed by Eva Royale at 9 votes and Eric Quezada at 8 votes (another candidate, Mark Sanchez, was ineligible for the DCCC endorsement because he’s a Green.) After the vote, Chris Daly urged his colleagues to give Quezada the “second choice” endorsement. “It would be a disappointment to shut him out after all the years he put it on for the community.”

But Quezada failed to get enough votes to earn a “second choice” endorsement. Neither did Royale, and so the DCCC only endorsed Campos for District 9.

In District 11 John Avalos beat Ahsha Safai for the “first choice” endorsement by a 19-13 vote. State Senator Carole Migden’s proxy initially voted for Julio Ramos, but switched their vote to Avalos when it looked close. Safai then failed to get “second choice” endorsement by a 17-15 vote. Aaron Peskin initially voted for Randy Knox, but switched his vote to No Endorsement when it looked like a close outcome.

Supervisors Carmen Chu (District 4) and Sean Elsbernd (District 7) got the DCCC endorsement with little difficulty – in part because most progressives voted for them. In District 5, the Committee voted by acclamation to do No Endorsement in the race – in part because many support Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who as a Green cannot get the Democratic endorsement. Mirkarimi faces no serious opposition.

The DCCC postponed endorsements for the School Board until August 27th, because two additional candidates (both registered Democrats) turned in papers before yesterday’s filing deadline at 5:00 p.m.

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