Friday, January 30, 2009

San Diego Democratic Club Elects New Officers

Sachs Easily Beats Krug for Political Action V-P; County Chair Reports on Inaugural


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Photos, top to bottom: Alex Sachs & Michelle Krug, Dennis Csillag, Jess Durfee

The predominantly Queer San Diego Democratic Club elected new officers at its meeting January 29 — the first one held during Barack Obama’s presidency — but at least one of the races was unusual. For the first time in years the club had a contested election for one of its top positions, vice-president in charge of political action. The club’s choices were Alex Sachs, former staffer in the Clinton White House and assistant to former San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre; and Michelle Krug, San Diego city worker and union activist.

“I’ve been the club’s legislative advisor for most of the last eight years,” Sachs said during the two-minute statement both candidates were allowed to make to club members. “As vice-president for political action I will work to expand the outreach into South Bay and North County. It’s important to work on the 50th Congressional District” — the North County district that narrowly elected Republican Brian Bilbray over Democrat Francine Busby in a 2006 special election to replace Randy “Duke” Cunningham after his bribery conviction. Sachs also stressed the importance of building coalitions with other progressive organizations, said he was “very committed to the diversity of this club,” and thanked the 60 people who signed his Facebook page to express their support of him.

Krug, who was clearly disappointed that the club wasn’t running its own election the way it decides on election endorsements (candidate presentations, question-and-answer periods and intra-club debate with the candidates out of the room), opted to yield her two minutes to a spokesperson, Dennis Csillag, president of Local 54 of the Communications Workers of America (CWA). Csillag presented Krug as someone who was already doing much of the outreach Sachs called for — she’s a South Bay resident as well as a union leader — and said she’d been “invaluable in our efforts to secure a fair contract at Channel 10.” Krug, Csillag said, “is able and willing to share her past work with the disability community, public transportation, affordable housing, labor and the Chula Vista/South Bay area.”

Club nominating committee chairs Jim Campbell, Kate Lyon and Fentress Ott met in the back room behind the main meeting hall at the Joyce Beers Community Center in Hillcrest to count the ballots, and invited a representative from each candidate to observe. With nearly 100 club members present and eligible to vote, the club ran out of pre-printed ballots for the race and late voters had to write in their choices on the ballot forms printed for the other, uncontested club offices. Eventually Sachs won a sweeping victory, with 85 votes to 11 for Krug.

The Sachs/Krug race somewhat overshadowed the other five officer elections, all of them uncontested, as Larry Baza became the club’s second consecutive Latino/a president, replacing Andrea Villa. Jeri Dilno, the outgoing vice-president for political action, switched over to executive vice-president. Bob Lay was chosen s vice-president for development [fundraising], longtime club secretary Brad Jacobsen was elected to another term, and John Gordon was chosen as treasurer. Dilno, who chaired this part of the meeting, explained that Gordon was already serving as acting treasurer because his predecessor, Chris Ward, had resigned to take a job as chief of staff for newly elected Assemblymember Marty Block.

The other business of the club January 29 was an eyewitness report on the inauguration of President Obama by Jess Durfee, recently re-elected as chair of the San Diego County Democratic Central Committee following his stint as the club’s president. He accompanied it with a slide show of pictures taken by himself and fellow club members Greg Bolian, Judy Ki and Alex Sachs. Durfee noted that the day he arrived he flew from San Diego, where the temperature was 80 degrees, to Baltimore, where it was three.

“The Sunday before the inauguration, the California Democratic Party had a bash at the automotive wing of the Smithsonian,” Durfee said. “Each state held their own state party before the inauguration, and there were some official and non-official inaugural balls. A reporter and cameraman for Channel 6 went at their own expense and used their press credentials to get into the events. I was interviewed, and took them down and found a bevy of San Diegans.”

As the audience gasped at the sight of a close-up photo of former President Clinton, Durfee explained that it had been taken at a reception Hillary Clinton hosted the night before the inauguration at her former campaign headquarters. “Hillary went to one side of the room and Bill went to the other,” Durfee said — explaining why he’d been able to greet him but not her. Also at this reception were former California Governor Gray Davis and his wife Sharon — who, Durfee was astonished to learn, vividly remembered the fundraiser she’d appeared at in San Diego at Peter Janopaul’s home years ago.

Durfee’s presentation included photos of the actual inaugural ceremony as well as the concert on the National Mall the night before — where, he ruefully noted, those who were actually there probably saw less of the performers than those watching on TV. He recalled getting a surprisingly good view of the swearing-in — “I was a little off to the side but fairly close to the podium” — from a pie-shaped section reserved for Democratic Party officials. Durfee also noted that, unlike him, the person sitting next to him remembered to bring a blanket to keep warm.

The night of the inauguration both of California’s senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, had receptions in their offices — Durfee showed a photo Sachs had taken during Boxer’s — and there were also plenty of inaugural balls. Durfee had a grim assessment of the West/Southwest ball, which he described as “$150 per person tickets, no chairs, bad food and two separate ticket lines you had to wait through to get a drink.” He walked out of that one but the more perseverant Judy Ki got a photo of Barack and Michelle Obama hugging at this event.”

Durfee also stopped at California’s inaugural ball, which he noted was four blocks away from the Eagle, a D.C. Gay bar. “David Sanchez went to the Human Relations Commission (HRC) ball at $350 per ticket, and I went to the Eagle and met Steve Hildebrand, deputy political director of the Obama campaign, and David Binder, a California pollster the Obama campaign used. Steve Hildebrand has been living in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, but he asked me for information and contacts on real estate in San Diego.”

The day after the inauguration, Durfee said, was the first meeting of the new Democratic National Committee (DNC), which governs the party between Presidential elections. Howard Dean stepped down as DNC chair and was replaced by Virginia Governor Tim Kaine. Durfee explained that once a party has won the presidency, the newly elected president traditionally appoints the DNC’s new officers and the committee’s own election process is merely a formality — though he added that, as Obama’s choice for DNC chair, Kaine “very clearly stated that the 50-state strategy” — Dean’s aggressive push for Democratic votes throughout the country, including the South and other areas previous Democratic leaders essentially wrote off — “is here to stay.”

Many of the other DNC officers are familiar faces, Durfee said. Among them are former Gore for President campaign manager Donna Brazile (club members applauded her photo) and Linda Chavez-Thompson as vice-chairs, Alice Germond as secretary, and Andrew Tobias, investment advisor and author of the pseudonymous memoir The Best Little Boy in the World about growing up Gay, as treasurer, a post he’s held since 1999. Another openly Gay man, New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Ray Buckley, was elected a vice-chair of the DNC and president of the Association of State Democratic Chairs. Former Minnesota state chair Rick Stafford was elected chair of the DNC’s LGBT Caucus.

Durfee got personal when he talked about Brian Bond, who was Obama’s director of constituencies during the presidential campaign and is now deputy director of public liaison for the White House. “I first met Brian Bond 11 years ago when he was executive director of the Victory Fund” — a fundraising and support organization formed specifically to elect politically viable openly Queer candidates to public office — “and he was the person who really got it under way. Then he was outreach director of the DNC and oversaw the contact people for African-Americans, Asian-Pacific Islanders and LGBT.” Durfee said that Bond’s current position in the Obama White House also includes Queer outreach.

Another part of Durfee’s presentation explained the complicated structure of the DNC and the various ways people get on it. “There are about 325 members, including every state party chair and vice-chair. Every state gets a committeeman and a committeewoman, and every state gets additional members apportioned by population” — so each state has a minimum of five members and California, as the nation’s most populous state, gets 19, almost double the number of the next largest state, New York.

But that’s not all; as Durfee explained, “75 members are at-large and for now we don’t know who they’re going to be.” The way he described them, they sounded like the controversial convention “superdelegates” discussed extensively in the last campaign: “Generally, they’re appointed to provide diversity, thank major donors and that sort of thing.” Durfee also said the Democratic Governors’ Association, Democratic Mayors’ Association, city and county governments and various organizations each get to name people, and Craig Roberts, the club’s liaison to the National Stonewall Federation (NSF) of Queer Democratic clubs, added that the national Young Democrats chair, Federation of Democratic Women chair and one additional representative are DNC members.

Durfee also said that one of the plum assignments of the DNC is a slot on one of its five committees. Only 90 of the 375 DNC members get to be on these committees, which include the two Durfee would most like to serve on, Rules and Credentials. “As a new member of the DNC, I probably won’t be able to pull that off,” he conceded. “The political arm of the White House makes most of those decisions.”