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Peskin Flubs Newsom Snub

By Our City Hall Correspondent

Democratic Party Boss Aaron Peskin ate his own gun last night.

Peskin fired a political bullet at San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, challenging his right as the state Democratic Party’s nominee for Lt. Governor of California, to name a representative to vote on the city’s 26-member Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC), often short-handed in political circles to the more colloquial “D-Triple-C.”  San Francisco Democrats nominated for statewide office have traditionally named a representative to the county Democratic panel.

Peskin solicited an opinion  – the cost of that opinion ranging from zero to many thousands of dollars from the party’s thinning coffers – was a much-gossiped-about subject at the panel’s meeting Wednesday night in the State Building’s basement auditorium. At the opening of the meeting Peskin bragged of the logic of the opinion secured from longtime DCCC legal hack Lance Olson.

Aaron Peskin backed down at Wednesday night’s meeting and Newsom’s appointee, former deputy City Attorney John Shanley, was seated.

Peskin’s somewhat complicated legal argument was that since Newsom’s opponent, Lt. Governor Abel Maldonado, was a Republican, Newsom could not have a representative on the Democratic committee until after the November election. He said that however San Francisco City Attorney Kamala Harris, who is the state party’s nominee for Attorney General, could name a representative because the current Attorney General, now running for Governor, Jerry Brown, was a Democrat. Harris named London Breed as her ex-officio representative and deputy City Attorney Matthew Rothschild as her alternate.

The state Election Code states that candidates for a statewide office shall automatically become members of their party’s county Central Committee, but Peskin argued that the bylaws of the D-Triple-C were unclear on that matter. Peskin told the Bay Guardian earlier in the week that his ring would need to be kissed if the mayor hoped to make an appointment. “He’s going to need to make an argument why we should amend the rules.”

The mayor’s appointee, John Shanley, was asked by Supervisor Campos why the mayor should get an appointment since he has presented a ballot measure to preventing elected officials, i.e. Supervisors, from automatically becoming voting members of the DCCC. Shanley, who also happens to be an attorney, stated that his appointment was “not to represent they Mayor of San Francisco.  I am here to represent the duly certified Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor in accordance with State Law.”

Adding to the elements of contentiousness and occasionally frivolity in the often antagonistic relationship between former Board of Supervisors president Peskin and Mayor Newsom, the Mayor named San Francisco journalist Warren Hinckle, a frequent critic of Peskin, as Shanley’s alternate on the committee.

Peskin’s about face came about following a counter legal opinion submitted to the committee by member Scott Weiner, a deputy City Attorney, and a leading candidate for Supervisor in District 8.

Weiner argued that Peskin’s legal opinion was flawed:

“The DCCC can, and historically has, allowed the nominees for statewide office listed in the Code to take their seats upon nomination — from Arlo Smith to Dianne Feinstein to Kevin Shelley. Nothing in the bylaws precludes us from doing so here. Mr. Olson cites to nothing indicating that the DCCC intended to exclude ex-officios listed in the Elections Code. Instead, he relies on bylaw provisions that, at best for him, are vague, as opposed to the crystal clarity of the Elections Code,” Wiener wrote in a memorandum distributed to members.

“Our job is to unify the Democratic Party, not to tear it apart. Stretching the interpretation of our bylaws to exclude nominees we have historically included on the DCCC would be a terrible first step in achieving that unity. It would, deservedly, be an embarrassment to the Party. It also could strengthen Abel Maldonado’s hand by sending a message that the SF Democratic Party doesn’t support its own nominee. I can guarantee you that the Republicans will play up any decision by the SFDCCC to exclude our Lt. Governor nominee,” Weiner said.

The committee agreed with Weiner by a 17-13 vote to clarify the bylaws and seat Shanley. The vote at Peskin’s Draconian suggestion also revised the DCCC by-laws so that if either Newsom or Harris were to lose their statewide races, they would no longer have a representative on the committee, which is contrary to long-standing party tradition.

The unintended consequence of Peskin’s manipulation would be that, if Harris were to lose the race for state Attorney General, the San Francisco Democratic Party Central Committee would lose it’s only black member (London Breed, Harris’ delegate.) The DCCC as presently constituted is predominately white, with many gay, lesbian and transgender members but disproportionate to the city’s population number of Asian, Black and Latino members.

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