SF Democrats reject new political club over wild accusations


In a politically sane town, Cyn Wang would be embraced by the local Democratic Party. It could even be promoted in campaign ads.

The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she married a woman from Mexico who just received her green card last week. She serves on the entertainment commission that promotes nightlife, helps run her family’s small insurance business, sends her daughter to her neighborhood public school, and worked in the Obama administration as diplomat in the foreign service.

She is a registered Democrat and has been active in Democratic politics since high school. He voted for Senator Elizabeth Warren in the 2020 presidential primary and for Joe Biden in the general election. She calls herself an “intersectional feminist” in her Twitter bio and considers today’s Republican Party “the greatest threat to our democracy.”

But are she and her political allies really Democrats, or are they Republicans playing pretend? That’s the ridiculous question that has arisen in San Francisco, where many liberal leaders have chosen to embrace zero-sum politics instead of a shared opportunity to fix the city’s biggest problems.

Wang and other parents who live on the city’s sleepy, politically moderate west side asked her Democratic Party of San Francisco last week to hire his new club, the Westside Family Democratic Club. They want to register more voters in Districts One, Four and Seven in time for next year’s big election and persuade families to get involved in civic life instead of paying our struggling city.

But party members rejected them over a series of ill-defined concerns: They invited Supervisor Joel Engardio, leader of last year’s school board recall movement, to an event! Among its members are some wealthy families! They say they’re Democrats, but what if they’re actually staunch Republicans? What if Republicans are funneling dark money into their bank accounts? In the most extraordinary talk of all, some party members speculated that the club’s co-founders are racist.

“My mouth was open,” Wang said, expressing shock shared by many St. Franciscans these days at the pettiness of local politics and political orthodoxy in some progressive circles.

“These allegations couldn’t be more false. We have no funders! We probably have less than $100 in our account,” he continued. “The fight against systemic racism is one of the reasons why I am involved in local Democratic politics. To me, it lifted the veil on their narrow definition of what it means to be a Democrat.”

San Francisco politics have long been toxic, but blue-on-blue fights have become especially nasty in recent years. Too often, the debate jumps from what would be a minor disagreement anywhere else to, “You’re a Republican-backed, Trump-backed monster!” Common ground has been ceded to baseless accusations.

And in this case, rejection matters beyond hurt feelings. The San Francisco County Democratic Central Committee, or “the triple D C” to local political nerds, is a little-known but powerful group of people elected by party members in the city’s two assembly districts. Democrats elected to office at the state and federal level also get votes on the committee.

The committee has a lot of influence with its endorsements; a stamp of approval from San Francisco Democrats can launch local candidates into office. They also form local clubs (23 are listed on the party’s website) that can also endorse candidates, register voters and advocate for issues. There are very few clubs on the west side or to promote issues important to families, leaving a big hole in a party that is supposed to be inclusive.

Wang wanted to create a more welcoming party, one that included families with young children. He helped form the nonprofit San Francisco Parent Coalition, which supported the removal of two of the three school board members last year, and then joined with some other politically involved parents to launch the new club

Among them is Robin Pam, who started Kid Safe SF and the campaign to make JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park permanently car-free; Parag Gupta, director of programs at Mercy Housing, a nonprofit that builds affordable units; Sara Barz, Apple product manager and Slow Streets supporter; and Maco Stewart, Privacy Attorney at Salesforce.

The caucus wants to improve the city’s public schools, make its streets cleaner and safer, build more housing and strengthen public transit, a platform that most Democrats across the political spectrum say they support. They met all the criteria to be hired, including getting enough registered Democrats to join and filling out the proper paperwork.

They thought Zoom’s meeting with party leaders would be a breeze. They thought wrong.

They were heavily grilled by some members of the DCCC, made baseless accusations, and then voted to file their charter request.

Janice Li, a DCCC member who voted against introducing the effort, said the result reflected the city’s intense polarization.

“It’s this ‘you can’t sit with us’ mentality that makes me very uncomfortable with the state of politics in San Francisco,” Li said. “It’s a lot,” you’re not even allowed inside. It’s very ‘Mean Girls’. “

She was referring to the 2004 comedy starring Lindsay Lohan as a girl in a high school ruled by a trio of popular girls who ostracize anyone who isn’t exactly like them. It is based on a book about cliques called “Queen Bees and Wannabes”.

In this case, the DCCC Queen Bees told Wang and his fellow hopefuls that the party suspects they are DINOs (Democrats in Name Only), secretly funded by Republicans, and maybe even racist.

Based on what? Turns out not much.

Before discussion on the letter began, the DCCC heard public comments, and two people objected to the letter. Brandee Marckmann, who strongly opposed the school board removal, said DCCC members should think twice because the Westside Family Democratic Club invited Engardio to one of its events.

“I know a Republican when I see one,” Marckmann said of Engardio and the club’s founders, all Democrats.

Tenant activist Jordan Davis also objected to the letter, saying the word “family” is “a common right-wing dog whistle,” that the club would be a funnel for Republican dark money, and that the club he wants to turn San Francisco into a “sad”. – gated community.”

“F— you, Westside Family Democratic Club!” Davis yelled at the computer screen. “I give my time! F– you!”

In a normal city, these comments would not be enough to undo a club’s chances. But soon, DCCC members grilled Gupta, who defended the club over Zoom. The tough questioning played out remarkably like the infamous 2021 school board meeting when commissioners wouldn’t let a gay parent volunteer on a parent board with lots of empty seats and no one else wanting to fill them, because he’s white .

In that case, the DCCC asked Gupta about club members’ income levels, racial backgrounds, sexual orientations and gender identities. They called for the removal of school board members’ positions and the construction of market-rate housing. They asked why they used the word family in their club name. They asked if the club members are really Democrats, if they are secretly taking money from Republicans, and if they are racist.

Gupta, looking shocked, tried to answer their questions, but acknowledged that he had not asked every member of the club about details such as how they voted in a recall 15 months ago.

“We’ve just begun,” Gupta told his inquisitors. “We seek to be an inclusive club, and we seek to be representative of all demographics, genders, races and inclusive of all families. If someone considers themselves family, we consider them family.”

His admirable attempt to answer these questions was not good enough. DCCC member Keith Baraka moved to present the club’s constitution. Honey Mahogany, the president of the DCCC, defended the group and reminded members that the club met the requirements for incorporation and had the right to form, but their instructions were not heeded.

Most club members abstained from the vote, but six voted with Baraka, enough to kill the club’s chances for now. Baraka told me after the vote that his concerns stemmed solely from the two public commentators, but that he had a fruitful discussion with Wang afterward and will support the club if it votes again. It is not clear if others will join him.

Peter Gallotta, a DCCC member who voted to introduce the letter, told me after the meeting that it was unclear why the group wants to be a club affiliated with the Democratic Party rather than an organization of defense

“I think we need to reform our application process so that we have more and better information as members before we give a stamp of approval,” he said.

Mahogany said he will schedule another vote at the club soon and believes the real reason for the rejection was that some DCCC members fear the Westside Family Democratic Club could help land a moderate challenger for Supervisor Connie Chan. elected to District One next year. But, he noted, that’s no reason not to grant a letter.

“This was really unprecedented,” he said of the club’s scrutiny and suppression. “The Democratic Party is a big tent and we have people with different points of view.”

“That,” he said, “is how we have a healthy democracy.”

Reach Heather Knight: hknight@sfchronicle.com; Twitter: @hknightsf

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