Interim District Attorney Suzy Loftus, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, Public Defender Mano Raju and Supervisor Vallie Brown are among the prominent names running for a seat on the Democratic County Central Committee. (Examiner file photos)

Big name officials crowd race for tiny Democratic Party board

The San Francisco Democratic Party campaign clown car is rollin’ once again.

Three years ago, I skewered San Francisco progressive and moderate Democrats — both — for running big names like John Burton, Angela Alioto and Tom Ammiano for the little-known San Francisco Democratic Party board.

Now both sides are back at it again.

For 24 open seats on the board, there’s a whopping 56 candidates running for an election this coming March, during the presidential primaries.

Those candidates are a who’s-who of SF politicos: Carole Migden, a former supervisor, assemblymember and state senator; current BART board president and former supervisor Bevan Dufty; soon-to-be unseated interim District Attorney Suzy Loftus; soon-to-be unseated Supervisor Vallie Brown — even Public Defender Mano Raju is running.

Current members of the Board of Supervisors are also getting in on the game: Supervisors Hillary Ronen, Rafael Mandelman, Ahsha Safai and Matt Haney have all thrown their hats into the ring.

It’s absolutely bonkers.

It also reflects a fight for control of the local Democratic Party board. For years, the moderate Democrats — including former party chair Mary Jung — held the board. Now the progressives hold a majority, but the mods are coming out swinging, hoping for a comeback.

“Progressives took the party away from real estate and corporate interests,” Democratic Party Chair David Campos said. “Those interests are now trying to take it back. It’s going to be a very big fight.”

For those to whom all of this is new, let me be frank: the dem board should not be a gladiatorial arena for battle-hardened politicians, all of whom have far better things to do.

The board, known as the Democratic County Central Committee, is tasked with the boring-but-necessary drudgery of party building: recruiting new voters, raising money, and organizing phone banking in swing states to electorally kick the collective behinds of President Donald Trump’s Republican allies.

But, dear readers, that’s usually the province of grassroots folks. Worker bees. People who are hungry, who are inspired, and are joining politics anew. That’s also why, in the past, the board (or DCCC, as people call it) has been a great place for political hopefuls to cut their teeth.

So why do these big-wigs give a damn? It’s simple: endorsements and money.

Those who sit on the board can help earn their allies a key rubber stamp during elections (though maybe not as key as people would think — Supervisor-elect Dean Preston won in November even though his opponent, Brown, was endorsed by the dem board).

It’s also a secondary candidate bank account, one in which you legally can raise unlimited amounts to raise your profile with voters. That’s handy for any politician facing an electoral challenge, like Safai. Double your money, double your fun!

But these board seats are necessary for future politicians taking their first baby steps — which is hard to do if the talent pipeline is clogged up by current officeholders and big-name has-beens. Name identification is the main way people get elected in San Francisco.

Some of those fired-up relative newcomers (at least compared to some) include Honey Mahogany, who co-founded the Compton’s Transgender Cultural District and said, “I’m running for my own feeling to need to see a representation of black folks, and trans folks, at the SF DCCC.”

Or Queena Chen, who has represented San Francisco’s Chinese community on a citizen committee advising Muni — she’s rabble roused like few others.

Or A.J. Thomas, a young labor organizer, who told the Milk Club “I believe, as a labor activist, that organized labor and progressive labor needs to work closer with other democratic organizations. I plan to be a conduit for that from day one.”

Or Gloria Berry, who told the Milk Club she’s working on a Democratic Party-backed list of needs for the African American community, “so candidates have to endorse a Black agenda.”

This isn’t about sides or allegiances. Personally, I feel even Steven Buss, one of those YIMBYs who frequently rankles my last nerve on Twitter, should get a fair shake. Sure, I disagree with him nine times out of ten, but at least he’s trying!

Candidates should be shot down at the ballot for their ideas, not because some big name squeezed them out for the sake of power politics.

Yet grassroots folks do get knocked off the ballot, easily.

You may not know two figs about what Migden, Raju or Loftus stands for, in terms of the Democratic Party, but gosh, their names sound familiar … so you vote for them. It’s established common wisdom from political consultants. Name ID is a major vote-getter, especially for down-ballot issues (like the Democratic Party board) that voters care little — and know little — about.

But don’t take my word for it. The Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, a key ally of political moderate Democrats, voted to provisionally adopt a position to recommend not endorsing candidates for the Democratic Party board who are “current elected officials or who are current candidates for other elected offices.”

The club wrote, in a statement:

“One of the reasons many talented grassroots activists don’t run for or win a seat on the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC) is because of the challenges to overcoming the unfair advantage that current or former elected officials have in winning a city-wide race.

We believe those who put in the most time and effort into running the Party are those who do not already have another elected position, such as supervisor.

In addition, those who run for DCCC can also raise unlimited amounts of money, exceeding the contribution limits of races for other elected positions, allowing to further their name recognition and promote themselves before or during an election for an entirely different office.

We find this to be unfair, undemocratic, and ultimately hurtful to the overall mission of the Party, which is to register voters and engage them in the democratic process.”

Corey Smith, president of the United Democratic Club, expressed a similar sentiment to me on Monday.

“When the DCCC is run by elected officials rather than grassroots advocates, a lot of the day-to-day work that needs to be done to make the Democratic party stronger doesn’t happen because our elected officials have other responsibilities,” he told me. “It makes our party weaker.”

In a surprising show of unanimity, the progressive grass-roots organizers feel the same way. These are people who are actively opposed to the candidates Smith and the Toklas Club usually represent.

Jon Golinger, a campaign strategist and author of “Saving San Francisco’s Heart: How to win elections, reclaim our city, and keep SF a special place,” told me he wants the board to go a step further, and remove voting power of ex-officio members, like senators, state senators and assembly-persons.

The grassroots members, Golinger said, “these are the people that do a huge amount of the work.”

And Jennifer Fieber of the San Francisco Tenants Union, who often is aligned with Progressive Democrats, told me “It’s supposed to be a breeding ground for new Democrats. It’s crazy … All the people that are already elected and sitting there are a huge problem.”

Sadly, this isn’t a problem that’s going away anytime soon.

This has long been a complaint, even from our now-governor, once-mayor, Gavin Newsom.

In 2010 Newsom authored Proposition H, to limit local elected officials running for dual offices. While that doesn’t take care of the problem of retired office-holders making a return, it would at least limit supervisors and other officials from double-dipping with dual campaign bank accounts.

“San Franciscans deserve more fairness, integrity, and transparency in government. Prohibiting dual office-holding is a step in the right direction,” Newsom wrote, nearly a decade ago.

In a rebuttal in San Francisco’s voters’ guide, then-state assemblymember Tom Ammiano called Proposition H “petty politics” and said Newsom’s argument didn’t point to “a single concrete problem.”

Prop. H failed.

Since Ammiano wrote that scathing rebuttal, however, my own reporting has found various elected officials — including Mayor London Breed as well as mayoral candidates Alioto and Jane Kim — holding secondary campaign accounts through the Democratic Party board.

So let me give you an easy rule of thumb for voting for the Democratic Party board, in March: If you recognize a name on your ballot for the Democratic County Central Committee from another campaign, or another election, give them a pass.

Pass the torch to someone new.

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.

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