Feinstein, Pelosi, Spear, Leno, Harris
In Unusual Public Rebuke of DCCC Chair Peskin;
His Actions Were “Wrong” (Feinstein) , Set “Bad Example” (Harris);
The Hot Issue: Spending Democratic Party Funds
Against Other Democrats in Supervisor Races
By Warren Hinckle
Aaron Peskin played offense Wednesday night against charges that he had misused Democratic party funds attempting to defeat Democrats he didn’t like in Supervisor races last fall. He blamed wealthy Republicans “interfering” in local elections for his actions – for which he was promptly and publicly rebuked by representatives of Senator Dianne Feinstein, Congresswomen Nancy Pelosi and Jackie Spear, State Senator Mark Leno and the new California Attorney General Kamala Harris.
Speaking serially and almost in chorus, the proxies for the top Democratic officials took turns giving Peskin verbal spankings before the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee, and concluded he was in need of some sort of adult supervision.
Peskin had argued in his defense that the Central Committee had no written rules or procedures about negative campaigning against Democrats. Feinstein representative George Broder asked why such “rules” should be necessary – when it was “simply wrong” for party resources to be used “against one Democrat in favor of another Democrat.”
Broder said Peskin had violated “long held Democratic Party practices, precedents and protocols” and wondered aloud, with an air of parental weariness, if party elders would now have to “review every e-mail and communication” from Peskin to see if it passed the smell test.
Peskin, who on his own authority sent out official Democratic party e-mails and a direct mail piece against Scott Weiner in D. 8 and Mark Farrell in D. 2, had acted in an “unprecedented, unsanctioned and reprehensible” manner – which he did without the knowledge or consent of others members of the Central Committee, Broder said. Broder, a communications consultant who was the most outspoken of the ex-officio members representing the party’s top dogs, knows his political p’s and q’s – he was a City Hall aide to Mayor Feinstein and his father, George Broder of the Washington Post, is the dean of D.C. pundits.
Veteran DCCC members Tom Hsieh and Arlo Hale Smith Jr, who between them have clocked more than 30 years on the panel, said they had never seen anything like the get-thee-to-the-woodshed harshly worded critiques of Peskin by party leaders.
“Usually the ex-officio members don’t say anything and just observe,” Hsieh said. “When a vote is taken they usually abstain.”
Peskin had clearly hoped to send the matter – a complaint by the Alice B.Toklas LBGT Democratic Club about DCCC “Negative campaigning against Democrats” filed after last November’s election – to committee and be done with it. But the party elders were not about to let him off easy and piled on the embsattled Chair as if he were a political moss pit.
Keith Baraka, State Senator Mark Leno’s proxy, said Peskin’s unilateral actions were “divisive” and “unbecoming our party.” The proxy for Congress Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi demanded an accounting for Ms. Pelosi to see if any money she raised byhad gone to foul fellow Democrats. Congresswoman Jackie Spear’s representative as much as said that Peskin was not be trusted to be alone in a room and warned that in the future ex-officio members of the Central Committee would have to be “more aggressive amd diligent about what sort of e-mails and other materials Peskin authorizes.”
“When I see some of the material put out by the San Francisco Democratic Party, I don’t feel so good about being a Democrat,” said Attorney General Kamala Harris’s spokeswoman, lamenting that Peskin had set a “bad example” for future party leaders.
Peskin sat through this thumping looking a tad frayed, but pluckily stated that he would remain “as your Chair for the next year” – and then more pluckily appointed himself as the head of a committee to investigate himself and come up with “rules and guidelines” to keep him from doing it again.
He named as the second member of his self-investigation committee former DCCC chair Leslie Kartz, who had previously spoken in Peskin’s defense.
Katz had the unfortunate positioning of speaking after Clint Reilly, the opening act for Peskin’s defense strategy, who made a game attempt to change the subject from Democratic misdeeds to Republican misdeeds. Reilly, a former sore- loser candidate for Mayor and former big buck campaign manager who once famously fired Dianne Feinstein as a client because she did not have enough ‘fire in her belly’, is now a real estate mogul. He complained to the Central Committee that his beloved wife Janet (whom he had skippered through the rough seas of two expensive, losing campaigns for elective office, in 2006 against Theona Ma and last fall aginst Mark Farrell) had lost her D.2 race for Supervisor because of last- minute Republican independent expenditures fraudently linking her to Chris Daly, Peskin’s former sidekick and chief enforcer when he took control of the DCCC in 2008. [ See story below, “Petard Time as The DCCC Corral”] ]
Reilly admitted that he had, err, once, some time ago, given some money, but not much to Daly – but insisted Janet hadn’t and urged that the DCCC turn its historically controversial Slate Card Committee (the very committee that Peskin stood accused of abusing by sending out Democratic Party hits at Democrats Farrell and Weiner) into some sort of a super Truth Squad to expose late-blooming Republican lies.
The problem with Reilly’s explanation for his wife’s defeat was that it wasn’t Janet’s alleged ties to Daly that sunk her candidacy. It her actual ties to Peskin – who handed her the coveted DCCC endorsement on a platter, a fact that did not go unnoticed in the conservative D.2 where Peskin’s name is toxic. When Janet was asked at a D.2 election forum at the Golden Gate Yacht Club if she would promise that she would not support Aaron Peskin for Mayor, she fussed around and refused to commit herself, evoking boos from the audience of Marina voters. Word rapidly spread through the Peskin-adverse Marina and Pacific Heights and Janet Reilly’s campaign wss virtually finished. A few days later she wised up and issued a press release saying she would not support Peskin, but voters by then had begun to question her sincerity; she had also denied that she and Clint had been big backers of public power – another political no-no in D.2 – but voters remembered otherwise.
The irony about Katz following Reilly was that the example she choose to defend Peskin – a reference to a past time she said the DCCC had rightfully sent out negative information about a candidate – intimately involved Reilly, as in Clint the Bad, not Clint the Good in his present incarnation as the piggy-bank for Catholic Charities.
The DCCC meets in the basement of the mammoth State Building on Golden Gate Avenue and it is a bit lonely and full of weird echos at night. Some audience members with elephantine memories of San Francisco political squabbles past – former Supervisor John Bardis was there, looking elegant – could be heard to gasp audibly when Katz brought up what proved to be a sore example to support Peskin’s recent burst of collegial negativity.
Katz described a time past, like a fairy tale, when she said a candidate for Supervisor sent out a mailer “saying she was a Democrat when she actually was a Republican” and the DCCC (then chaired by the indefatiguable Matthew Rothschild,who spookily always wears an overcoat, come rain or come shine, sat in Peskin’s catbird seat as Chair and found it irresistibly opportunistic to put out a blast pointing out that the candidate in question was really a Republican in Democratic disguise.. Katz described the mailer – I was seated toward the rear of the auditorium and it was hard to hear her over the grunt and scrape of state office workers overtime moving some unwiedly piece of protesting furniture around a story above – but I think she said it was unfortunate but necessary to picture the candidate’s face in a circle with the international no-go slash diagonially across.
She didn’t mention the candidate’s name but anyone with half a political memory in the room knew she was talking about Clint Reilly’s then-candidate for Supervisor, Annmarie Conroy (now a honcho in the United States Attorney’s office here) – a semi-famous story about San Francisco political malfeance that does not in any telling reflect well on Clint Reilly. That year Clint was running two belles of the Westside for office – Conroy, a bright up-and-coming Republican lawyer for re-election as Supervisor, and Kathleen Brown (the current and former Governor’s sister) who was then running for… Governor. By all accounts (Kathleen Brown later sued Reilly and is bound to eternal silence by the terms of a financial settlement she won) Reilly royally screwed over both his clients, who started out both favored to win, spending their money early and making himself rather unavailable in the closing weeks of their campaigns. Both lost.
I called Conroy and told her that her name had (not) been taken in vein at the Democratic party meeting. At first she laughed at the memory. Then she got mad. “I ran as a Republican, with many Democratic supporters, particulary Democratic women, and nobody thought much about it. Then Clint came to me in the last two weeks of the campaign and wanted me to put my last $25,000 into one of his phony slate cards. He said he’d quit if I didn’t, so I did. After he got the money, it was all I had then, he went dark and silent on me and wouldn’t return my phone calls. His slate card had all Democrats on it and purported to be sent out by the Democratic party, but it wasn’t. Then Matthew Rothschild put out that awful piece claiming I was pretending to be a Democrat, which I never did. It was all Clint.”
Conroy said the DCCC hit piece was hardly as benign as Katz would have it. “It wasn’t simple no-go diaganle. Matthew put a jagged red-dripping X slashing through my face like it had been X’d out with a knife. I was single and living alone then, it was before I got married, and I was frightened and afraid to walk down the street.”
“I’d like to know if Leslie Katz condones the Democratic Party putting a bloody red X across a woman’s face, obliterating it. Does she think that’s politically correct?”
I told her that that the senior Democratic leaders had just denounced Peskin for ugly campaigning against fellow Democrats. “It’s a little late for them to by finally catching on to Peskin,”she said. “He did his best to destroy the city, and now he’s destroying the Democratic Central Committee.”
The double irony in Reilly asking the DCCC to turn their Slate Card Committee into a Truth Squad was that he was rightly famous as the King of the phony Democratic Party slate card. During the 1980s when the party was prohibited by a Republican law suit from endorsing candidates the enterprising Reilly stepped in and produced hundreds of phony ‘Official’ Democratic Party slate cards in local and statewide races, earning gazillions.
What did Peskin put out that was as phony as Reilly’s slate cards of yore? Reese Isbell of the Alice B. Toklas club told the Committee that Peskin had sent a mailer in the Party’s name into D. 8 supporting his candidate Rafael Mandleman against Scott Weiner and implying Weiner had Pepublican leanings by putting a photo of Weiner next to a photo of George Bush. “The question is, is our party going to be truthful and honest with our own voters?” Isbell wanted to know.
There would be no simple explanation. Peskin made light of the Alice Club’s concerns, saying that he reacted to late Republican independent expenditures trying to influence local races in favor of more moderate Democratic candidates than Peskin’s picks. Peskin loyalist Mandelman, who was defeated by Weiner, sat strategiclly at Peskin’s left hand on the dias and defended him mentor by saying what Peskin said in his negative e-mails and mailers about certain Democrats :was all true” – but said he didn’t want to “spend months on how true it is.” Deborah Walker, Peskin’s losing candidate (to the non-DCCC endorsed Jane Kim in Daly’s former stronghold of D.6) chirped in that the non-existent “rules” about spending party money attacking other Democrats were “vague” and
repeated the mantra that there had been “huge influx” of Republican money (it turned out it was only one Republican, who spent spproximately $200,000 on anti-rent control agit-prop) into city supervisor districts that Peskin had to be counter by, presumably, having the Party attack Democrats who might benefit from it.
Feinstein’s representative Broder, the columnist’s son, put paid to Walker’s assertion by, patiently, pointing out that they were talking about independent expenditures which by definition, made by either a Republican or a Democrat, were made without individual candidates having any knowledge of what was spent or what was being said for, or against, them. He said there was no justification or logic in the Party attacking a Democrat over a Republican mailer done without his knowledge.
Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom’s representative, John Shanley, brought the discussion to earth by pointing out that the issue was not what Republicans did or didn’t do – it was about what Democrats did – “using party funds to attack other Democrats.”
Peskin launched into an extraordinary extended monologue about the whole mess, a soliloquy fit for a Shakesperian farce. It was not his fault, he said, but fault of his fellow DCCC collegues who did not respond to a “dully noticed” e-mail he sent out about a special meeting of the Slate Card Committee. “None of you showed up,” he said reprovingly. There was only himself, who called the meeting, and a certain Ms. Henny Kelley, who had run for the DCCC and lost, but was appointed by Peskin to fill a vacant seat, and presuably in gratitude, showed up for the no-show Slate Card Committee meeting, so now there were the two of them – the chair and Ms. Henny Kelley, the DCCC freshman, who approved the Chair’s decision, in the absence of the other 22 members, to do what comes naturally, which to Peskin was spend Democratic money to cannibalize other Democrats. Ms. Kelley sat proudly in support at Peskin’s right side on the dias and seemed a tad perplexed by all the attention, which she dealt with it by announcing she was had “lots of fat to take the whacks” directed at her by any complainers. She then said she was going to go home after the meeting and “eat a big dinner” to add more protective layers should they choose to whack her some more.
Peskin summed up majestically: “For those of you who want an investigation, this is the investigation.”
Former Chair Katz then reminded him that, ahem, they were going to form a committee to adopt rules and regulations for the Slate Card Committee. Good idea, Peskin nodded, naming himself to head the investigstion and resolution committee, with Ms. Katz riding sidecar. He said the two of them “could get things done faster” than a really big committee, and pledged a speedy delivery, by mid-February, of a draft for the full Committee to review. Longtime DCCC member Arlo Hale Smith Jr., a former Party parlimentarian, said with equal resignation and regret that the Party’s by-laws and Roberts Rules of Order grant the Chair absolute power to appoint committees. Even when the committee is investigating the chair.
“I suppose we’ll have to add rules and protocols about stipping at red lights and the sun rising in the East so they’ll understand,” said Feinstein’s Broder.
Shanley said he was disappointed “that those who were comfortable talking shite about fellow members offered no mea culpa, no apology, nor displayed any sense that they got what we were saying.”
Board of Supervisors president and DCCC member David Chiu, who seems to be gradually picking up the marbles of power spilling from Pekin’s bag of tricks, said, hopefully, that “maybe the Ccommittee should bar all negative campaigning.” It might just do that, next time around.