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Leno nets major backing from SF Dem Party, Breed refuses No. 3 endorsement

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San Francisco mayoral candidate Mark Leno, right, received the endorsement of the Democratic County Central Committee on Wednesday night while Board of Supervisors President London Breed, who’s also running for mayor, declined the local Democratic Party’s No. 3 endorsement. (Left: Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner; right: Courtesy photo)

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Progressive mayoral candidate Mark Leno won what the local Democratic Party called a “historic endorsement” Wednesday to potentially become San Francisco’s first openly LGBT mayor.

The 31-member board representing the will of The City’s Democrats cast its votes to cheers and jeers from the packed crowd in the Tenderloin Community Elementary School cafeteria. Those in attendance sported shirts and signs politicking for the major mayoral candidates and other politicos in the running for the official Dem nod.

The real fireworks came after the vote to back Leno.

Once the gathered Dems then voted to make Supervisor Jane Kim their number two pick, all eyes were on Board of Supervisors President and mayoral candidate London Breed.

Many had spoken emphatically for Breed that night. More than a dozen supporters in yellow London Breed t-shirts held signs aloft, frowns on their faces, awaiting her words.

Then came the shocker: Breed took the microphone and outright refused the party’s third place endorsement.

“I just wanted to say it’s not the first time it happened, but we will win the war on June 5,” she told her supporters, referring to the Board of Supervisors vote to appoint Mark Farrell rather than her as mayor in January. “It’s clear something else is going on here.”

“I will respectfully decline the number three endorsement,” she said to cheers.

The vote for Leno does not come as a surprise. Last June, progressive Democrats won the election for a number of seats on what is also called the Democratic County Central Committee. There were not necessarily any Machiavellian deals here — the board is just stacked with progressives, and those progressives aren’t Breed’s allies.

But Breed spurning third place is surprising, many said. “It’s fair to say I was shocked by that. I don’t understand it,” Democratic Party Chair David Campos, a former progressive supervisor, told me.

The Dems’ endorsement, while not make-or-break, is influential. The party will spend beaucoup bucks mailing flyers and door hangers before June, splashing the beaming faces of Leno and Kim before voters. David Latterman, a political consultant and principal at Brick Circle Advisors, put it this way: “It’s a Democratic town. The party matters. That said, you can win without it.”

Latterman pointed to Breed’s biggest potential weakness in the June election, ranked choice voting. Few experts know how it will shake out. Will the much-vaunted “Year of the Woman” cause Breed supporters to pick Kim as their second ranked candidate, and vice-versa? Or will people preferring progressives rank Kim and Leno in their top two, freezing out Breed?

“There’s a legitimate concern that (in ranked choice voting) Mark and Jane together are a problem for London,” Latterman said. “They have to be worried about that. That’s a big strategy.”

Spurning the Democratic Party’s number three position, in other words, may hurt Breed’s chances to pick up votes in the ranked choice voting system. Some insiders speculated Breed threw down the gauntlet after counting votes and assuming she would not net a number three position anyhow — but those same insiders said Breed in fact would have netted the number three endorsement.

When I asked Breed campaign spokesperson Tara Moriarty if Breed was troubled by potentially endangering her ranked choice voting prospects, Moriarty answered by email, “Board President Breed probably didn’t think it necessary to continue participating in a process that was so clearly pre-arranged and pre-ordained by the two running mates: Jane Kim and Mark Leno.”

And “Da Mayor” Willie Brown, an ardent Breed supporter, brushed off any concern about ranked choice votes.

The candidate’s speech “Sounds like Willie Brown,” he said. “I’m so disdainful of phony politics that I think my contact with the voters is what will elect me, and I don’t give a shit if it’s a Democratic party endorsement or no endorsement.”

He added, with a laugh, “Why would I wanna be your number three? I’ll be your number one!”

* * *
The much-ballyhooed “deal” between Supervisor Aaron Peskin and Supervisor Jeff Sheehy went up in smoke at the local Democratic Party board Wednesday.

When Sheehy became the crucial swing vote in January to crown Mark Farrell for mayor, removing Acting Mayor London Breed from office, many speculated behind the scenes that Peskin made promises to sweeten the deal.

One of those rumored promises? A “no endorsement” in Sheehy’s District 8 supervisor race against progressive candidate Rafael Mandelman.

Sheehy couldn’t expect the elected progressive Democratic Party board members to endorse him, but a promise of “no endorsement” would have been enough to take some wind out from under Mandelman’s wings — hence the promise.

But Wednesday night, that rumor was blasted into smithereens — the Democratic Party overwhelmingly voted to endorse Mandelman. The only votes to back Sheehy came from board members Mary Jung, Tom Hsieh Jr., Meagan Levitan, Rachel Norton and Angela Alioto.

Sheehy was endorsed by the Democratic Party in the number two slot, which will guarantee his name appears next to Mandelman’s on the party’s many mailers and door knob hangers, but hell’s bells — number two in what is essentially a two-person race ain’t winnin’, that’s for sure.

And Mandelman is already cleaning up in the endorsement category, netting backing from the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club and Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, the two biggest LGBT clubs in The City. When you’re vying for votes in the Castro and Noe Valley, the importance is tough to deny.

Insiders at the party vote that night said Peskin didn’t whip the votes from party members, and those who agreed to vote “no endorsement” with Peskin gave up the ghost when they saw the votes weren’t going to materialize.

In a statement to me, Sheehy said he was “gratified” by the endorsement, and that “from my perspective, the vote for me is an affirmation of the value of my independent voice.”

Da Mayor, Willie Brown, told me that anyone who would make a deal to depose Breed “would be crazy,” especially since the bargain was essentially “You pay me first, I’ll pay you later.”

But Brown said it didn’t matter much anyhow, because Sheehy has “long since died, politically.”

“Why would anyone waste keeping a commitment to him?” Brown said.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

This story has been updated to include a comment from London Breed’s spokesperson.

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