The queer race to be chair of SF's Democratic Party

A koan for San Francisco: If an election pits a straight candidate against a gay candidate, and if a straight member of a gay political club promises said club will blackball anyone voting for the gay candidate — well, is this progress?

Whatever it is, it's also the synopsis of the surprisingly contentious race for chairmanship of the Democratic County Central Committee. In the left corner, with the backing of the liberal Harvey Milk LGBT Club, is Aaron "He's Not Gay" Peskin. And in the right corner, backed by the more centrist Alice B. Toklas LGBT Club, is the incumbent, Scott "He's Gay" Wiener.

While the Toklas Club's support for its past cochair Wiener was a given, the Milk Club's recent endorsement of Peskin came with an explanation: The president of the board of supervisors, while not gay, was described as being extremely gay-friendly in his appointments to city commissions. In fact, Peskin is very Milk Club–friendly in his appointments: Five of the nine commissioners he has tapped have been current or former club presidents.

Peskin said he was unaware of this, while his staffers and appointees answered questions in one of three ways: 1. How many campaign donors and/or PG&E people has the mayor appointed? 2. The Milk Club is a really great club that transcends LGBT issues. 3. Ya got a problem with queers? (Hey, just asking! You're the ones pushing to dump the gay guy.)

The Milk Club member most vociferously backing Peskin is, in fact, Supervisor Chris Daly (not gay). In an article on the Fog City Journal blog, Daly noted that it would be a "nightmare" if Wiener — "a proxy for Leno/Newsom/Downtown" — were re-elected, adding it has become his "personal mission" that DCCC members not backing Peskin "never receive the endorsement of the Guardian, Tenants Union, Sierra Club, and Milk Club in subsequent races."

Peskin said he'd like to see Daly tone down his act, since Wiener and his supporters are already playing the "If Peskin wins, Daly will behave like this all the time" card.

That may be a useful ploy: Wiener said a majority of the 34 DCCC members have promised to support him in the July 23 vote. Peskin counters that he's "within a vote or two, depending on the hour of the day."

The fight over the chairmanship is the latest skirmish in the battle to control the local arm of the Democratic Party — and, by extension, the Board of Supervisors. Last month, progressives ran a slate for the DCCC that included Peskin, Daly, and Supervisor Jake McGoldrick with the aim of influencing which supervisorial candidates the party endorses in the November election (i.e., folks Mayor Gavin Newsom doesn't want). Party backing is no trifling matter in a city where registered Dems outnumber Republicans nearly six to one.

Nonetheless, both Wiener and Peskin claim there is little a DCCC chair can do to steer the organization. That sounds about right to political consultant Jim Ross, who says that there was no way either man could single-handedly sway the DCCC to endorse candidates or ballot measures: "Either you have the votes or you don't," he said. "I think this is largely symbolic. Why are high school politics so bitter? Because the stakes are so low. That applies to this as well."

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