Spilling Tea on the LACDP

0
183

Fellow Democrats,

Thank you for electing me to another term as Club President. It is a great honor to have your support to continue to lead Culver City’s original Democratic club. Since I’ve been in office, we have expanded our scope by endorsing in some elections in neighboring communities, used technology to become the city’s largest creator and publisher of political information and analysis, and brought you the highest possible level of programming. I look forward to our work together in this crucial election year. If you have not renewed your membership for 2024, click here now to avoid missing any more of the action. 

I am asking you to vote for me for another office. If you are in the 55th Assembly District, represented by Club Member Isaac Bryan, I will be on your primary ballot as a candidate for the Los Angeles County Democratic Party Central Committee. What is it, why does it matter, and why pick me?

Each district elects seven members to this body as part of the Presidential Primary ballot. I am running to be one of these. This is not the only way one can become a member. Every two years each district elects fourteen delegates to the California Democratic Party, which is not to be confused with being a delegate to the Democratic National Convention or a member of the Democratic National Committee, which share an abbreviation for added confusion. 

The biennially elected delegates are called ADEMs, for Assembly Delegate Election Meeting. ADEM candidates can choose to be considered for State Party Executive Board when they run, and the candidate who opts in and gets the most votes in their district becomes both a member of the State Party Executive Board and a voting member of their County Committee. In our district in 2022 you chose Leah Pressman for this position, and she is my wife. I have watched several LACDP Zoom meetings with her, which helped convince me to run. 

There are also members of LACDP who are Democrats elected to state and national offices, the highest finishing Democratic candidates for state and national offices held by members of other parties, members of the Democratic National Committee, LACDP officers appointed by the chair, and a few other categories.  

The major roles of LACDP are to charter Democratic Clubs, endorse candidates and ballot measures, and fundraise. In each of these areas, it has acted in ways which I believe do not reflect the Party’s best interests or its values. I have no illusions that I can change these things, but I intend to try.

LACDP recently chartered a second Democratic Club in Culver City. Many places are covered by multiple clubs with different areas of focus. Stonewall, for example, welcomes LGBTQ+ Democrats and allies from all of LA County. It does not compete with regional clubs such as Culver City or Santa Monica but compliments them by providing a queer-centered space. The Culver City splinter group, in contrast, is clearly intended to compete with this club and create brand confusion. They chose a very similar name, logo, URL, email address, and social media handles, as well as the exact same meeting night and time. This prevents local Democrats from participating in both groups and dilutes the power of the Democratic brand in Culver City. While we have endorsed District Attorney George Gascón for reelection, the other club is supporting one of his conservative challengers. Voters are likely to soon receive mailers from both campaigns citing the endorsement of “Culver City Democrats,” a problem which will surely increase in the November election because it will feature many more Culver City items. This could have been easily prevented if LACDP had protected the brand they gave us by asking the splinter group to call themselves the “Joe Biden Democratic Club,” the “Heart of Screenland Democratic Club,” or some other distinctive name.

Please excuse my suspicions that LACDP intended to weaken our influence. Democratic Clubs are rooted in the midcentury good government/reform movement led by Alan Cranston and the California Democratic Council, in opposition to the machine politics epitomized by Jesse Unruh. Whether individuals know this history or not, the Bernie-inspired Class of 2016, which I proudly identify with, is a revival of this movement. In Culver City, it grew in the past few decades alongside the breakdown of the center-right consensus which I have written about exhaustively in this space. When I became Club President, things had been tense with LACDP because of our support of Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton and of a progressive challenger to Diane Feinstein (Unfortunately that was Kevin de León, but more about him shortly).

LACDP’s endorsements carry enormous influence. They can make or break a campaign. LA is the largest County in the state, and the California Democratic Party is the largest in the nation. Many organizations will follow LACDP’s lead, and chartered Democratic Clubs are technically barred from campaigning against LACDP’s endorsees. This is not always enforced, and its main effect has been to get clubs to endorse before LACDP in order to not be preempted.

In the last couple of Culver City elections, LACDP’s endorsements have differed significantly from those of this club. In 2020 they backed Albert Vera Jr. for City Council, despite his ties to organizations that consistently oppose the Democratic Party’s platform, such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Police Officers’ Association. In 2022 they supported Howard Adelman for School Board, despite his running on an “anti-woke” platform and being under a restraining order for threatening to rape and murder his neighbor. Vera and Adelman also performed poorly in our forums and Adelman also literally chose to remain silent rather than answer a question about vaccine mandates at the Kids Scoop Media forum. I could speculate about the affinities and animosities which inspired LACDP to make these endorsements, but what matters is that those relationships overrode the Party’s policy goals.

LACDP has an endorsement committee, selected by its Chair. They create a consent calendar of endorsements. At the December 2023 LACDP meeting they recommended no endorsement for District Attorney or for LA City Council District 12, where Democrat Serena Oberstein, the former Chair of the LA City Ethics Commission, is challenging Republican-turned-No Party Preference incumbent and alleged bagman John “City Staffer B” Lee. They also recommended Ethan Weaver over incumbent Nithya Raman for LA Council District 4. All three of these recommendations were pulled by a majority of the members, who then voted to endorse Gascón, Oberstein, and Raman. This was a spectacular victory for progressives inside LACDP, especially because it is not enough to have a majority to pull a recommendation. A member of the endorsement committee must also agree, and that committee is appointed by the Chair. Progressives beat the house in a rigged game.

Before leaving the topic of endorsements, let’s return to Kevin de León. You may recall the “Fed Tapes” scandal which broke in October 2022, when a recording was leaked of a wild conversation between him, LA City Council President Nury Martinez, Council Member Gil Cedillo, and LA Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera, in which they discussed gerrymandering Council districts to increase Latinx representation and reduce that of African-Americans, renters, and progressives while making a variety of racist and homophobic comments. Cedillo was defeated by Eunisses Hernandez in the next election. Martinez and Herrera resigned. De León chose to tough it out and, after several weeks of Council Members leaving the room in protest when he arrived in order to break quorum and force adjournment, they yielded to keep the City functional. He is now running for re-election.

This was not the only recording leaked. In a second conversation, Herrera and LACDP member Hannah Cho discussed buying the endorsements of Democratic clubs including Stonewall and LA County Young Democrats. Herrera also mentioned attempting to bribe Hugo Soto-Martinez to not run for LA City Council. Stonewall’s President spoke out against the corruption of their endorsement process but, like de León, Cho and LACDP have stood their ground, with no accountability, apology, or reform.

At the January 2024 LACDP meeting, Chair Mark Gonzalez proposed creating an ombudsperson position to run the grievance process. This ran aground because progressives objected to the Chair getting to appoint another voting member, which would increase the Chair’s power and dilute that of elected members. His motion defeated, Gonzalez complained that the majority had chosen to deny abused members redress rather than allow him another appointee, ignoring that he had turned down a compromise which would have made the ombudsperson a non-voting office, enhancing its neutrality, and that this was a vote of “no confidence” in him. It does not reflect well on his leadership that a majority of members would rather delay having an ombudsperson than allow him a small increase in power, but this is a structural issue as well as a personal one.

He also complained that his opponents did not raise money for the party, an example of a Kinsley gaffe, in which the speaker tells the truth at the wrong time. Is a member’s credibility related to how much they can raise or donate? Money may talk, but leaders are not supposed to admit they are listening. 

In 2019, at the first state Democratic convention I attended, the party violated its own rules by accepting donations from vape company Juul, and shamefully also took money from Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash. That year those companies were backing Prop. 22, which allowed them to classify their workers as independent contractors, denying them labor protections. When challenged, party leadership gave the same reply as Mark Gonzalez: if we stop taking this money, what will you do to replace it? They repeated this when a coalition of caucuses, including the Progressive, African-American, and Environmental Caucuses, attempted to ban fossil fuel, police, and prison money from the party. 

The same is true for LACDP. No sooner had they finished apologizing for accepting Fox as a sponsor of the 2023 Roosevelt Awards Dinner while actors and writers were on strike, than they announced the Chair’s Holiday Party with Rick Caruso as a sponsor. Caruso did not seek the LACDP endorsement when he unsuccessfully ran for Mayor of LA and is now using his financial leverage to move the party to the right

The issue here is not quid pro quo as much as mistaking foes for bros. We won’t see a Democratic Representative vaping on the House dias, no matter how much Juul donates, but just a little more hesitation to regulate this business or otherwise stand up to “stakeholders.”

Gonzalez also told the progressives who denied him an additional appointed member: “Who needs Republicans when I have you?” I have only been a Club President for three years, but it seems unwise for a leader who has had a proposal defeated to respond by insulting the majority of members present for voting against it. 

My question is the opposite: who needs Republicans when we have Democrats who were Republicans until five minutes ago, like Caruso and Weaver, or who, like Vera, are rubber stamps for Republican proxies like the Chamber of Commerce, the Police Officers Association, and the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles? Democratic organizations use the very real threat of Republican rule to fundraise, and LA County is a huge and diverse place, but Culver City and the westside elect and re-elect Democrats by margins that Putin would envy, so locally the threat to the Democratic establishment is from the left. That threat is not that we oppose the Democratic Party, but that we take its promises seriously.

Why do I want to be part of this body and why should you vote for me? Didn’t I just spend 2000 words tearing it down? Isn’t life frustrating enough already? Yes, but as with my participation in the State Party and the Democratic Party in general, it is necessary because this is where the power is. If progressives abandon these institutions there will be no checks on how their power is used against us.

Thank you, the members of this Club, for voting to endorse me, Leah Pressman, and Freddy Puza for LACDP. I personally encourage you to also vote for Ilissa Gold, a labor lawyer who was the founding President of the Miracle Mile Democratic Club and is a delegate from the Forward 55th slate, and for Jasmyne Cannick, whose reporting and advocacy was essential in exposing Ed Buck’s crimes, those complicit in them, and demanding justice. This is not a slate, but these are people who have proven their courage, compassion, and integrity and who I would be honored to serve alongside.