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At DCCC Meet Tonight:

Peskin Should Do The Right Thing —

In Fairness, Allow No Endorsement Vote in Districts 6 and 8 Supervisorial Races

By Warren Hinckle

2000 was a very good year for democracy, as former DCCC member Jeff Sheehy recalls it. That year new political talent was in abundance in the San Francisco Democratic Party (including a wedding singer named  Hall and a couple of guys names Daly and Peskin) and the party central committee decided to make no endorsements in the races for district supervisor on the grounds of fundamental fairness.

“There were so many qualified candidates for the voters to choose among

that we agreed to make no endorsements for Supervisor and leave it to the voters because the official party endorsement would give one candidate an

unfair advantage over other Democrats,” said Sheehy.

And what an advantage it is — in mailing, money and imprimatur. In a study of 20 years that party made endorsements in supervisorial races, only 2 candidates managed to beat the Most Lucky Fellow with the endorsement. “Especially with the instant run-off system, the party endorsement gives a huge advantage if only one person is endorsed,” Sheehy said.

2010 is very much like 2000 in terms of talented and resourceful candidates.

The hotly- contested races in Districts 6 and 8 are so hotly contested precisely because in each there are at least three strong, qualified candidates who have demonstrated the ability to raise serious campaign money.

(District 10 has had a later-blooming field than the 6 and  8 battlegrounds but there are several highly qualified candidates and if the fairness principle is applied the panel would either ranked-choice list the candidates or include them in the No Endorsement category.)

For a Democratic party panel made up of  politicians and their appointees to trade favors to anoint one of them – when they have the historical option of  not endorsing any and leaving it to the votes to pick the most qualified Democrat – raises the unsettling question of what type of democracy there is in the Democratic Party on chair Aaron Peskin’s watch.

DCCC members I spoke to thought there appears to be a developing consensus that given the strength of the field it would be fairest to take the year 2000 No Endorsement route in 2010 – but that would be unlikely if Peskin and his handmaidens on the committee play machine hardball and push through their pick of the litter.

Background to tonight’s vote: In 2008, Supervisor Chris Daly e-mailed longtime DCCC member Arlo Hale Smith Jr. that he must vote for Aaron Peskin for chair and not Scott Weiner (now the leading contender in the District 8 race for termed-out Bevan Dufy’s Supervisor seat) because the independent-minded Weiner as chair “would make it less likely that our candidates would win the endorsement of the Party.” Daly threatened Smith, the son of  former San Francisco DA Arlo Smith, with ex-communication from the Left if he didn’t make Peskin chair and confided that “Aaron, Michael Borstein (Peskin’s mini-me on the DCCC) and I” were working to “field a slate for the DCCC” in 2010 to control the Board of Supervisors.

The Daly/Peskin takeover plan hatched in 2008 will be played out in the DCCC endorsement vote tonight.

The politics of the situation are further charged by sitting members of the Board of Supervisors squatting at the Central Committee at night after  their day jobs at City Hall.  Peskin has been uncharacteristically uncoy when asked by other DCCC members about his ambitions to become Interim Mayor —  to get the job Peskin needs  six votes on the current Board to assume the remaining year of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s  term through December 2011 if Newsom is elected Lt. Governor in November.

(It is eating pie for a Supervisor to be elected to the DCCC  because of name recognition and the ability to raise money – as opposed to the financial resources of the average neighborhood activist running the a DCCC seat. (Compared to  the city’s stringent fiscal controls on Board of Supervisor races, a campaign for the DCCC is a virtual Open Seseme for fundraising.)

Mayor Newsom has placed a reform measure on the November ballot that would bar a sitting Supervisor from holding a dual seat on the Democratic county committee. If approved by voters, that would resolve the obvious complications with the  open-government Brown Act  of having  sitting county Supervisors (a non-partisan office) sitting at night on a partisan political body and discussing public policy issues outside the confines of their regularly scheduled and announced public meetings at City Hall.

It would also eliminate a channel for what is so famously called ‘special interest’ money to get into the purses of individual Supervisors via donations to their DCCC campaigns apart from the tightly restricted process of political donations to members of the Board of Supervisors.

Former DCCC member Jeff Sheehy took an historical perspective about 2000 to 2010. “The goal of the old DCCC which fostered district elections was that Committee would become a forum with members elected from the  neighborhoods and a place where new political talent in the Democratic Party would have a chance to grow.” Already-elected members of the Board of Supervisors further enabling themselves through also being elected to the DCCC did not exactly square with that grass roots, spread the political wealth ideal.

“When someone gets elected to the Board of Supervisors or the Board of Education, which are non-partisan positions, I wonder about them also running for a seat on a partisan political committee – and taking up seats on that body making it more difficult for neighborhood candidates to run,” he said.

The vote tonight is about if the DCCC is to be a farm team, or a Tammany Hall.

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