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Wide-Open Field for Mayor’s Race Nixed by Peskin Machine; Democratic Party Boss Asserts Force Majeure, Will Play Favorites; Newsom Bitterly Attacked

Peskin Challenges Feinstein Reform Moves, Slurs Against Brown and Burton Family Included in Torrent of Invective – He  Defends Machine After Party’s Candidates Lost 4 Out of 4 Races in 2010 — “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It”

From Our Political Correspondent

The San Francisco County Democratic Central Committee (DCCC) is made up of members elected from each of the city’s present two assembly districts and San Francisco Democrats elected to state and federal offices. Its meetings this spring have been flavored by the slurp of political wounds being licked and the balm of bravado to ease the pain of the devastating electoral defeat last year when the party’s top picks for supervisor unprecedently lost all four of the seats in play.

The  D-Triple C’s  monthly gatherings in the Milton Marks Auditorium in the cavernous basement of the State Building on Golden Gate Avenue have been distinguished by a palpable tension between Aaron Peskin’s occasional flirtations with resigning his position as party chair and his combative resistance to reforms pushed by senior party officials who wanted to stop Peskin from spending Democratic party funds to defeat fellow Democrats  running against his hand-picked candidates.

Peskin has peppered the meetings with increasingly strident public attacks on former San Francisco mayor, now California Lt. Governor, Gavin Newsom. The party boss’s unvarnished enmity toward Newsom is expected to surface again Wednesday night at the regularly scheduled meeting after Peskin last week questioned Newsom’s right to a vote on the DCCC because he is living outside the city with his family in Marin County for the summer.

Peskin’s move was read by some observers as a slam at the late Phil Burton who lived most of the year in Washington but was registered to vote in San Francisco at his mother’s house on Sloat Boulevard. Newsom plans to be out of town only during the summer and remains a registered voter in San Francisco.

Reform  motions from Newsom’s proxies on the DCCC have especially nettled the Chair and last month’s meeting degenerated into outbursts of political Tourette’s.  Peskin and his acolytes challenged the rectitude of Democrats such as Senator Dianne Feinstein to make motions affecting the way his committee conducts its dirty business.  Peskin led the charge by stating that “in the last quarter century, no ex-officio on this committee has ever made  a motion.” Democratic elected officials like Feinstein automatically become DCCC voting members. They rarely attend meetings in person and appoint official proxies to vote for them and are called in DCCC-talk as “ex-officio” members.

This upset visibly emotional Peskin loyalist Gabriel Holland  who said that because he had been “on the ballot” to be elected to the DCCC  his voting rights were superior to someone like  Dianne Feinstein who was only a United States Senator “No ex-officio members has a right to make a motion from the floor,” Holland said.

This brought a spirited rejoinder from George Broder, Feinstein’s proxy on the Committee. “I represent a person who was also on the ballot and was dully elected and as far as I know is a member in good standing who has the right to vote here ,” he said.

Broder, the son of George Broder, the late dean of Washington political, said that Peskin’s  DCCC allies appeared to be attempting to establish second-class citizenship for the voting rights of elected officials. “What is this, Upstairs, Downstairs?” he asked.

Peskin was particularly incensed by a Newson motion to amend the DCCC bylaws to conform to the state Democratic party standard requiring a 60% vote for an endorsement; the present San Francisco  rule of 50% plus one.

The local party has used this procedure for decades but it was never a matter of contention until then- Supervisor Chris Daly manipulated the more easily obtainable 50% plus one rule to electing Peskin the party chair in 2008.  Daly threatened DCCC members with never eating a Democratic lunch in this town again if they didn’t vote for Peskin, asserting in an e-mail that a DCCC member “would never receive the endorsement of the Bay Guardian or the Harvey Milk Club” if he didn’t vote for Peskin. This extortion-as-politics method was the subject of articles in The Argonaut raising public awareness of the Peskin machine’s methods. In the 2010 supervisorial elections, all of the Peskin machine’s main candidates were defeated.

Peskin nonetheless insisted that the party should not change its endorsement methods – “Don’t fix what ain’t broken,”  he said.

Peskin belittled Newsom’s suggested reform saying that he had nothing better to do, rather indelicately stating – “All the Lt. Governor has to do is get up in the morning and check to see if the governor is still alive.”  This remark was taken by many in the audience as insulting to Governor Brown.  A 60% endorsement standard in the upcoming mayoral election would have meant a No endorsement policy by the party and left a wide open field in an election without an incumbent where a confusing ranked choice system of voting was being effectively employed for the first time in mayoral race. Mayor Gavin Newsom had no significant opposition for re-election four years ago.

A no endorsement policy by the Committee would not have been without precedent. In 2000 the party decided to make no endorsements in the district elections for Supervisor where many qualified candidates – many of them DCCC members – were running.

John Shanley, Newsom’s proxy on the Committee, said the Lt. Governor favored official party neutrality in a mayoral race with more than a half dozen qualified Democrats running. He said that Peskin’s intra-party partisanship last year had diminished the coin of the party’s official endorsement, and a repeat this year could be disastrous for the party’s reputation.

Peskin’s reaction to Newsom’s plea for even-handedness was to turn on  the machine and go all-in attempting to make the next mayor,  ending the wide-open field in the mayor’s race by insisting that the party will officially pick favorites among equals.

The likely result will be two for the three candidates for mayor now leading in citywide polling – City Attorney Dennis Herrera snd Board of Supervisors president David Chiu – are unlikely to gain the Peskin machine’s endorsement and will campaign for mayor either ignoring, or attacking, their party’s official endorsement.

At this point, the likely beneficiaries of the Peskin power play are expected to be Supervisor John Avalos and State Senator Leland Yee, but more candidates could file before the August deadline.

During increasingly harsh debate Peskin was rebuked by former party chairs Scott Weiner and Matthew Rothschild for violating party rules and voting procedures and repeatedly making personal distasteful personal attacks on fellow Democrat Newsom.

At the end of the day, Aaron Peskin never misses an opportunity to bite the hand that isn’t feeding him.

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