The slate controversy at the DCCC


There’s nothing like a combination of insider politics, a struggle for control of the local Democratic Party and the ongoing discussion about the need for progressives and moderates to get along better to make for a complicated political story.

Which is exactly what’s going on with Alix Rosenthal’s effort to put together a Women’s Slate for the Democratic County Central Committee.

I’ve spend way too much time trying to figure it all out, but it raises enough interesting issues to make it worth discussion in the progressive community.

The background: For four years, the progressives have controlled the DCCC – and thus the powerful local endorsements for the local Democratic Party. That’s taken considerable organizing – and it’s worked to a great extent because of a remarkable degree of unity among a famously fractious bunch.
In the past two elections, every progressive group, the Harvey Milk Club, the Tenants Union, the teacher’s union, the nurses, the Sierra Club -- and the Bay Guardian – has endorsed essentially the slate of candidates. There are problems with that approach – it’s easy for some people or some groups to get excluded, and you get complaints of machine politics – but in reality, there weren’t a lot of people who identified as progressive getting left out. Quite the opposite – the slate organizers were working hard to recruit people to run. Serving on the DCCC isn’t glamorous and it’s a lot of work. (It’s also at times unpleasant -- the arguments are harsh, sometimes more so than necessary.)

In 2012, we have a different problem: The people who are called moderates have convinced a lot of high-profile canidates (former Sup. Bevan Dufty, Sup. Malia Cohen, School Board member Hydra Mendoza) – people who will win on name-recognition alone – to run. Combined with the retirement of Aaron Peskin, and the all-but certain re-election of incumbents like Scott Wiener and Leslie Katz (who remains to this day the only member of the DCCC who refuses ever to take my phone calls) and you have the makings of a conservative victory.

Let me take a second on this “moderate” tag. Moderates in San Francisco are people who are liberal on social issues – like, frankly, 80 or 90 percent of the city – but conservative on economic issues. Conservative is the right word here: The moderates don’t typically support higher taxes on the rich and big business, don’t support development controls, are weak on tenant issues, don’t think that housing should be a right of all people and pretty much buy into what in the Clinton era we called neo-liberalism.

The progressives (who have economic policies more like the Democratic Party of FDR and Lyndon Johnson) and the moderates (who have economic policies more like the Democratic Party of  Walter Shorenstein, Dianne Feinstein and Bill Clinton) have been fighting for decades over the future of a city where there aren’t a whole lot of Republicans.

So when I say conservative I'm not talking about Reagan or Santorum -- but I'm talking about a very different economic vision than mine.

And while I’m all in favor of being civil and polite to everyone and respecting friends and colleagues who disagree with you, I guess I’m enough of an old commie (with a lower case “c”) to believe deeply in class struggle and the idea that the rich and powerful don’t give up without a fight.

And having a good working relationship with the conservative Democrats (hey, I’m on great terms with Scott Wiener – we talk all the time and I respect him and like him personally) doesn’t mean I’m ready to give up the notion that in the United States and California and San Francisco, 2012, there’s a class war going on. We didn’t start the war, but we have to fight it to survive -- and to keep the city from becoming an ossified playground of the very wealthy.

Okay, enough background and rhetoric. On March 29, Rosenthal – who is also my friend and I respect and often support – sent out an email that announced that all of the women running for DCCC were going to work together on a slate:

“The female candidates for the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC) have banded together to form a slate of our own. It's called Elect Women 2012, and it includes all women running this June in both Assembly districts in San Francisco, moderates and progressives alike. The slate is intended to provide a support network for both new and seasoned candidates, to develop an amicable working relationship between moderate and progressive candidates, and above all to get more women elected to public office.”

That’s all good. More women in politics is good. Supporting new candidates is good. A working relationship between progressives and moderates is good.
But here’s the question, and it’s not a new one in San Francisco: Is it a good idea, both politically and as a matter of strategy, to promote the interests of people who largely disagree with you on issues? If a slate of women helps knock off a progressive man in favor of a conservative woman, is that a positive change?

Rosenthal doesn’t think that’s going to happen. We’ve had a couple of long discussions about this, and she’s looked at the math and the current list of candidates, and she thinks her slate is more likely to help a couple of progressive women (Petra DeJesus, for example) who might not otherwise win.
“You need to touch the voters three or four times before they know who you are,” she told me. “The winners will be people who are on several slates, and the progressives have more slates than the moderates.”

The guys who she agrees should really be on the DCCC and might have a close call (Matt Dorsey, for example, a gay man, or Dr. Justin Morgan, an African American man) won't win or lose on the basis of a competing women's slate.

Rosenthal ran for office on a pledge to bring more women into the DCCC and into public office, and that’s an important goal – right now, there’s not a single woman among the citywide elected officials in San Francisco. (That hasn’t always been the case -- the mayor for 10 (awful) years was Dianne Feinstein, and in the past decade or so we’ve had a female treasurer, assessor, district attorney, city attorney and public defender. But right now: All guys.

The Board of Supes is a bit lopsided, too – seven men, four women.

And for the same reason that putting people of color into office almost by definition changes the perspective of politics, electing women is a progressive value. No matter how sympathetic the straight white men are, there are things we never had to experience and will never really understand.

That said, I would much rather have (mostly progressive) white guy Aaron Peskin run the Democratic Party than (mostly conservative) Asian woman Mary Jung – and so would Rosenthal. “No question, no doubt about it,” she told me.

Now that Jung has all but announced that she wants to be the next party chair, and since a number of the women on the slate will support her over a progressive (and would support her over Rosenthal) – is this doing the movement any good?

Gabriel Haaland, a transgender man and former president of the Harvey Milk Club, points out that “the Milk Club could simply endorse all LGBT candidates for our slate, and there are some who have argued for that over the years. But we don’t -- because we work in coalitions, and that kind of slate undermines the whole concept of coalition politics.”

Hene Kelly, who is on the women’s slate but has insisted that the mailings make it clear she isn’t supporting some of the other candidates who will be connected with her, thinks the Rosenthal plan is a bad idea.

“There are people on this slate I could not and would not support because they don’t share my beliefs,” Kelly told me. “These are nice people, but they don’t see San Francisco the way that I do. Mary Jung and I don’t believe in the same things.”

Rosenthal says that the very fact that so many people who disagree on issues can work together on a slate shows that women can get along and end some of the divisiveness on the DCCC. Kelly – who is a passionate and often fierce fighter – disagrees: “I’m not that easy to get along with.”

Kelly is part of what will be a progressive coalition slate – including women and yes, men – and Latinos, African Americans, LGBT people, young people, older people … a mix. An imperfect but generally San Francisco mix. And all of them share the same political values.

Some of the people who don’t like the women’s slate are, indeed, men – and Rosenthal is at least a little proud of that. In another email talking about a Chronicle story, she notes:

“I have already received panicked calls from some male candidates and leaders, it seems there is quite a buzz about us and about Heather's article. Which is great.  I hear that Malia said some good things, as did Supervisor Wiener.”

Wait -- Scott Wiener and Malia Cohen are happy about the slate? This is supposed to be good news? I like Scott and we’ve worked together on issues we agree on, but I didn’t endorse him for office; on the most critical things, we don’t agree at all. And interestingly, there is not one progressive woman quoted as opposing the idea in the Heather Knight piece in the Chron.

I think the panic is not, alas, about men fearing the power of women. There isn’t a progressive man I know who would be unhappy with Hene Kelly running the party.

The question is about whether this effort might help shift the balance of  power away from the progressives – and, frankly, whether all this talk about getting along together is an excuse for watering down what we want to do and what we believe in.

Maybe Alix Rosenthal is right, and her slate -- which will spend about $25,000 in what amounts to co-op advertising -- will help bump a couple of progressive women to the top and help the left hold on (narrowly, because it will be close) to the DCCC. Maybe the moderate/conservative crew will win a majority, and some of the moderate women will be impressed by the help Rosenthal gave them and elect her chair (which would be a lot better than some of the alternatives).

Maybe politics should be less rancorous and we should all get along better – except that, in my 30 years of experience, getting along with the moderates has always, always, always, led to a watering down of the progressive program and agenda. 

Maybe I’m just a straight white guy who doesn’t get it – and I’m happy to cop to that possibility.

I agree that there aren’t enough women in local political office, that we need to encourage and promote progressive women candidates, that much of the leadership (such as it is) on the left is male -- and that needs to change.

But I’m not sure that working to help elect people who disagree with you on the key economic and political issues is good for the values that I think Alix Rosenthal and I share.

It’s tricky, but at least we should be thinking and talking about it. Nicely. I promise.


They are labels and we should be able to approach politics without stereotyping people.

You acknowledge that most SF'ers are liberally, at least socially. That's good. Economically, this is an affluent city and affluent people are always going to be economically conservative. Everywhere with high taxes, socialism and handouts has failed - and SF'ers are smart enough to not buy into shades of socialism.

So a middle-of-the-road democratic party with a moderate corpus reflects the will of the electorate. It might not be 100% in sync with your views but isn't it more important that the majority here supports such a position?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 3:18 pm

No, it's not more important. What's more important is what's right. If everybody followed your path, they'd look at the country and go, "Oh, segregation? Well, clearly the majority of Americans support it. I guess that's more important than trying to change things."

Posted by Guest on Oct. 15, 2012 @ 9:29 am

Women, men, gay or straight - more moderation from what has become a hotbed of progressive extremism and as a consequence - more and more politically marginal, would be nice.

Posted by Troll II on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 3:19 pm

Who cares as long as we can keep SF freaky!
Honestly I can't convey more how much handwringing is going on within the remains of "progressive" San Francisco. You all have had what, a decade, to do something?
And what, Mirk was the best you could put out?
Massively amazing.

Posted by Greg on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 7:12 pm

Perhaps the reason why there are fewer women elected officials is that women are smarter than men and after rising to positions of "power," they realized that there is really no power in most elected positions other than ceremonial, the real power is behind the scenes?

After electing Achtenberg, Migden, Leal and such and seeing the clearcutting of lesbians over the next few years, after electing Brown and seeing the black population evaporate, I'm pretty convinced that there's more to it than identity.

The problem for "progressives" running for DCCC is that the Democrabs are going to be blowing the "women's rights" dog whistle from now until November and this might help sweep women to victory in the DCCC. That is, unless women are smart enough to realize they're being played.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 7:54 pm

The progressives obsession with, race, class, gender, sex, sexual preference etc... again dooms them to be patronising to anyone who comes near.

Anyone who shackles themselves to such a narrow agenda is always going to be second rate.

Posted by matlock on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 8:23 pm

Issues of race, class, gender and sexual orientation are important but they are not used as ways to make positive change by many lefties. No, they are used as part of a discourse constructed to make language a tool of control. Within this discourse, only those who know the dance perfectly may participate.

Others are required to be shamed as racist, sexist, homophobic and classist, shutting down their otherwise legitimate contributions for no particular reason at all. This does not substantively address the underlying oppressions but allows for activists to remain in control of the discourse that they've constructed for that purpose.

The problem, of course, is that only like 20% of the "oppressed" identities are down with that framing. Yet the assertion is made by the activists that they speak for all oppressed. One way to really bug them is to ask why the non-activist, rank and file "oppressed" can't speak for themselves or be supported to speak for themselves.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 8:53 pm

You're right.

There's really nothing else that can be said beyond what Marcos just stated. Achtenberg sits on the Board of Trustees and recently, after scuttling to avoid student protestors by illegally moving the Trustee meeting to a heavily guarded private room and then voting for a massive tuition increase followed by a huge raise for CSU presidents - said "I'm just sorry we can't pay them more..." Migden was voted "Sacramento's Worst Boss" and received the largest fine for ethics violations in the history of California and was then endorsed by the SFBG for an SF DCCC seat and Willie Brown is a corrupt peddler of influence who gets his rocks off by strolling Chinatown and seeing how many peddlers throw cash at him for Chinese New Years.

Identity politics are dead.

Posted by Troll II on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 8:59 pm

Leal is pimping government relations for AECOM now, the the firm with the project management contract for the Central Subway.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 9:38 pm

I'm not sure that progressives have the agenda of either John Burton, FDR or LBJ. All of the above had the broad general welfare as a priority.

Contemporary San Francisco progressives rarely concern themselves with anything other than raising revenue to fund increased labor headcount and with raising revenue to fund programs that serve only the most vulnerable. I'm all for a vigorous public sector and social services.

However a progressive political program is incomplete if it is limited to that. Such a limited political program comes nowhere close to building an electoral majority coalition, and that is why San Francisco progressives are going the way of the dodo bird. The new political coalition is going to be neighbors challenging downtown's corruption and poor delivery of municipal services.

The nonprofits and labor will most likely side with those who are paying their bills. The number of "the most vulnerable" will continue to plummet, except for services for the Chinese. As a result, most of the legitimation services of the non-Chinese nonprofiteers will no longer be needed.

This should be interesting.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 03, 2012 @ 8:46 pm

Getting along with moderates is like saying ok I'll leave in a friendly way when your landlord nicely asks. Things just seem to work out better when you decide not to be friends.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 04, 2012 @ 12:19 am

is getting along with the majority of the city.

The elitism of the progressives and their revealed view of the world isn't appealing to many people.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 04, 2012 @ 9:29 am

If progressives saw past their pathological fixation on The Most Vulnerable and shopworn and threadbare addressing of very real classism and racism via identity politics, then moderates would feel more comfortable abandoning the corruption that downtown exacts from all city services.

But that would involve labor and the nonprofits putting San Franciscans first, even including folks who are white and middle class or above. Paid activists can't and won't do that, it is not within their political constitution to do so.

For years I've asserted that compared to the people who own and corrupt this City, we are all very low income and progressives had better start acting that way. Occupy put forth that same analysis as the 99%.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 04, 2012 @ 10:08 am

The left has always been an uncomfortable alliance of disparate groups who often have nothing in common other than a faint sense of unease about how things are.

Unions, the homeless, blacks, the poor, non-profits each have their own agenda and only ally with each other occasionally and coincidentally.

Occupy changed none of that and, arguably harmed the cause by focusing attention on largely irrelevant escapades of mischief and bad behavior. If the nation must change, it won't happen that way, nor by some form of nouveau class warfare.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 04, 2012 @ 10:31 am

Banks have hijacked democracy and are threatening the well being of 99% of Americans. That is new and is why Occupy has broad public support.

Occupy is populist, not leftist. That is the difference. If the left hijacks Occupy, as the SF nonprofits and labor are trying to, then Occupy fails and the left nonprofits and labor get handsome rewards from corporate power for services rendered.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 04, 2012 @ 10:50 am

than they have ever done. They've been neutered by the mortgage mess, are in a corner over foreclosures, and in some cases are effectively government agencies at this point.

I'm afraid the left needs a new bogeyman. Banks are broke.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 04, 2012 @ 11:15 am

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

The Great Oz Has Spoken!

Posted by marcos on Apr. 04, 2012 @ 5:52 pm

SFBG, do you really want to jump on the band wagon of the war on women?

What you seen to be saying is - the Elect Women 2012 slate is a good idea, but we don't like it "just because" so we're not going to support it. You do not cite one fact as to how any of the slate's members could do damage to progressive policies. If it's such a bad idea, then why are approximately 12 "progressive" women a part of it - twice the number of "moderate" women? (And, I am begrudgingly adopting your labels of progressive and moderate. I think the women you're tagging as "moderate," are more forward thinking than you are crediting them. Why don't you ask them?)

And, why have you not mentioned the fact that Aaron Peskin is very much behind undermining the Elect Women 2012 slate?

The reality is, the "moderate" women are going to help the progressive women in AD 19 get elected; not the other way around. And, if the "moderate" women were truly "conservatives," do you think for one second they would go for such a strategy?

Why don't you ask a sampling of the women what is important to them? I think you will find that the women will want the same things. The only "fear" is that which is being fomented behind the scenes by certain white males - who claim to be progressive, and who want to hold on to their power bases.

Also, I thought you guys were journalists. Did you call Mary Jung to ask if she wants to be chair? Did you realize that a male member of the DCCC is advancing her as a candidate without her consent, and that he is supporting others as candidate for chair as well?

People are desperate for new leadership - that should be your story. Why don't you do a piece on the would-be chairs and what they could do for the DCCC, the party and San Francisco? I'd like to see that in print.

Why be a part of whipping up factions when there is a chance for a new atmosphere on the DCCC?

Posted by Guest OCCUPYMyMind on Apr. 04, 2012 @ 8:33 am

The DCCC endorsement is increasingly less valuable without corporate money to back it. Outside of a wave election like 2008, the best that can be done at the DCCC is to prevent downtown from taking the endorsements and then throwing citizens united levels of dollars behind pushing the slate.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 04, 2012 @ 9:11 am

Well, Tim, I hear you.
At the same time, I have been hearing for many, many years from the leadership of the progressive side of the party how progressive women don't want to run for office - it's BS. Leadership is not born - it's developed - through action. People need to be given opportunity and then supported in a real way through mentorship, training, funding, education. The moderates have figured out how to do that - and kudos to them. Just look at Emerge and who participates, funds and encourages those women. If my progressive brethren were serious about the participation of women and particularly women of color, they would put their money where their mouths are. Until then, Alix is doing what she has to - because just talk has not worked.

Has anyone else come up with a real proposal? Has Aaron?

Posted by Myrna on Apr. 04, 2012 @ 9:59 am

of identity politics, and the associated stereotyping that goes with it, that harms the progressive movement?

Partly because it makes us a soft target for our opponents, who can glibly dismiss us as being "politically correct" thought police.

But also because it's just plain wrong and, paradoxically, quite disempowering.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 04, 2012 @ 10:27 am

The left needs to put a whole lot more effort into recruiting, training, encouraging and promoting women into leadership positions. The fact that we're having this discussion over a slate speaks volumes about that flaw in our movement.

Still: Alix is running a slate that includes people she doesn't support and excludes people she does support, and that's more than a little odd.

Posted by tim on Apr. 04, 2012 @ 11:00 am

but not in terms of ideas.

Why shouldn't SF's Democrat party by a broad church? I'd rather DCCC reflects a diversity of opinion that have token quota's of this, that and the other minority.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 04, 2012 @ 11:17 am

diversity in identification good.

Diversity in anything else is horrid.

Posted by matlock on Apr. 04, 2012 @ 11:47 pm

Tim, Myrna, progressives don't have a pot to piss in, where would these resources that progressives don't have come from?

The nonprofits? Randy Shaw? Calvin Welch? John Elberling? Don Falk? Peter Cohen? Fernando Martí?

Labor? Gabriel Haaland? Mike Casey? Chris Daly? Tim Paulson?

Media? Tim Redmond? Steve Jones? B3? Randy Shaw? Paul Hogarth?

Are you seeing a pattern here?

Posted by marcos on Apr. 05, 2012 @ 7:47 am

Good for Alix Rosenthal! The DCCC is supposed to be about strengthening and advancing the Democratic Party and the differences between the so-called progressives and the ridiculously named conservatives are very small when it comes to the activities that the Committee *should* be focused on. We need more women in SF politics and the DCCC is a great place to start.

Posted by Ryan Clary on Apr. 04, 2012 @ 2:43 pm

When the progressives took over the DCCC, most of them didn't lift a finger to raise money to pay for the materials to get out the vote. Only Aaron did the real work along with a few others.

The influence of the DCCC was diminished as a result, and the fact is, most "progressives" were so obsessed with running for other offices (mayor x 2 , for example) they could give a hoot about helping the local party.

SF needs to turn out a lot of voters to offset the super PACs and others who want to get Romney and others elected and pass bad ballot measures. It does not matter if you are progressive or conservative or middleist or a snake-handler, all that matters is getting Democrats registered and out to vote. Period. Aside from Aaron, the progressives did not perform and don't deserve to be in charge.

Deal with it, hippies.

Posted by Fake Aaron on Apr. 04, 2012 @ 5:45 pm

No matter what happens in SF, Obama carries CA.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 05, 2012 @ 7:42 am

Tim, great point about the nomenclature we use to describe our leaders. The false notion that we have so many "moderates" goes hand in hand with the false branding of anyone to the left of them as being "far left."

As for the identity politics, it's always been a turn-off to me because I see it as ultimately being more useful to the conservatives who wish to conceal their true allegiance with such an overlay. That's how we've ended up with so many years of Nancy Pelosi in the13th District.

Posted by lillipublicans on Apr. 06, 2012 @ 9:06 am

I wonder why when it comes to the progressive slate, many more moderates were picked over me. Yes maybe it was name recognition, or the possibility that those who are choosing the slate want to try and be "right on" with who will win, instead of being concerned about progressive values. I can only hope that people will do their research and vote for the candidates that will best represent San Francisco.What am I Tim? Chopped Liver?

The following people and organizations have endorsed my run for DCCC:

SF Tenants Union
Central City Democrats Club
Tenant Associations Coalition (TAC PAC)
David Campos - Supervisor San Francisco, along with others that are listed on my site.

Dean Clark for DCCC District 17

Posted by Dean Clark on May. 08, 2012 @ 7:26 am