Wiener Support for Plan C Could Shape Democratic Race

by Paul Hogarth on June 25, 2008

SF Democratic Party Chair Scott Wiener, who faces a challenge for this position from Supervisor Aaron Peskin, has contributed $250 to Plan C – a group that promotes condo conversions, tenant evictions and displacement. Wiener’s support for Plan C, which holds its annual fundraiser tomorrow, raises the stakes in his bid against Peskin – turning the contest into a litmus test for the Democratic Party’s commitment to tenant rights. Wiener’s donation puts him in company with Zephyr Realty, landlord Sarosh Kumana, Jim Lazarus of the Chamber of Commerce, and eviction lawyer Andrew Zacks – all of whom cut checks for the same event. Wiener says his voting record on the DCCC has been pro-tenant, and he does not agree with all of Plan C’s positions. But the group’s “anti-progressive” rhetoric – along with its fundraiser headlining 2 moderate candidates for Supervisor – highlights the danger of associating the Democratic leadership with forces hell-bent on repealing gains that progressives have made over the last eight years.

Plan C was founded in 2001 – in part as a reaction to Jake McGoldrick’s legislation that curtailed tenancy-in-common (TIC) conversions. The Supervisors passed this law to curb a rash of Ellis Act evictions during the dot-com boom – but the real estate interests and homeowners who make up Plan C felt it was an undue burden on property rights. The group has also worked on homelessness measures like Care Not Cash and No Aggressive Panhandling, cleaner streets and better parks, and has strongly opposed every pro-tenant measure in recent years. They endorse various candidates, and consider the upcoming November elections as “critical” to electing a “more moderate” Board of Supervisors.

“Plan C is clearly not reflective of progressive values that San Francisco holds dear,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who is challenging Scott Wiener for DCCC Chair. “They have repeatedly supported reactionary policies that lead to more evictions. They do not support rent control, and I frankly can’t imagine how the Democratic Party Chair would be politically myopic enough to support an organization like that.”

Wiener says he contributed to Plan C because “they have always endorsed and supported me” – and it’s important to offer such support in return. “That doesn’t mean I agree with every organization’s position,” as he cited numerous examples where he has parted ways with Plan C: (a) the Eviction Relocation Measure, (b) the Eviction Disclosure Initiative, (c) the PUC reform measure, (d) the Affordable Housing Bond, (e) Paid Sick Leave, (f) an Increase in the Minimum Wage and (g) Limits on Chain Stores.

But while Plan C presents itself as a “moderate” political group that a coalition-minded politician would want to reach out to, its members exhibit an “anti-progressive” streak that can be just as doctrinaire as the progressives they despise. For example, the group initially invited District 3 Supervisor candidate David Chiu to their February 20th forum – only to disinvite him after learning that he was Supervisor Chris Daly’s candidate in the race.

As for when he agreed with Plan C, Scott Wiener said they were both very supportive of Bevan Dufty, Sean Elsbernd and Fiona Ma when they all ran for Supervisor. “It’s not a black-and-white thing,” said Wiener. “We had a lot of the same concerns about clean streets, and the homelessness issue.” He said he agreed with Plan C in 2002 about Prop R – the Homeownership for Tenants initiative, although he did so “with reservations.”

That latter point could become a problem for Scott Wiener. “It’s inappropriate for a Democratic Party Chair to do this,” said Ted Gullicksen of the San Francisco Tenants Union, “given that Plan C is essentially a Republican organization. Their housing policy, labor policy and economic policies match the Republican agenda, and they would call themselves Republican in any other city.” Gullicksen admitted Wiener has a pro-tenant voting record on the DCCC, but the Tenants Union did not endorse him because he tends to endorse more conservative candidates for Supervisor.

And in fact, Wiener has already endorsed Ahsha Safai for District 11 Supervisor – who is Mayor Newsom’s candidate for that race and will be one of two “moderate” candidates to speak at Plan C’s fundraiser.

Wiener has cultivated close relationships with DCCC progressives that will make the race close, but for some it is simply not personal – just political. “I like Scott an awful lot,” said Hene Kelly, “but progressives really wanted Aaron Peskin to run. And it’s important that progressives stick together.” Some said that they might vote for Wiener if he was running unopposed, but not with Peskin in the race. Others said Wiener may have been a fine Chair when the DCCC was more moderate – but not after the last election results.

“The quarterback holds the ball,” said Peskin. “It rightfully belongs to the progressives.”

And Wiener’s affiliation with Plan C creates problems. “As an organization, I oppose most of what Plan C does,” said Rafael Mandelman. “Politically, their vision of San Francisco is quite different. That’s why it’s hard for a lot of us on the DCCC to support Scott Wiener. Plan C is not the part of the Democratic Party that I was elected to. A lot of their core philosophies are what would lead to mass gentrification and displacement.”

Wiener, however, contends that DCCC members should judge him by his entire record. “I don’t pretend to be the most progressive,” he said, “but there are a lot of votes I have cast as a real progressive.” In a letter to the Bay Guardian, Wiener added that he strongly supports rent control – and publicly campaigned against Proposition 98.

But Wiener’s $250 contribution to a group that promotes speculator evictions appears to undermine his progressive credentials. Unlike other moderate political clubs like the Alice B Toklas LGBT Club or the Raoul Wallenberg Jewish Democratic Club that take a more collaborative approach with progressives, Plan C is combative in opposing the progressive agenda in San Francisco – and views the upcoming November election as a critical watershed moment to “take back” the Board of Supervisors.

And for many progressives, that crosses the line for the next Democratic Party Chair.

Randy Shaw contributed to this report.

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