Hotel boycott subject of heated DCCC meeting
by Zak Szymanski
San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee members spoke with tears in their eyes.
City College representatives booed, hissed, and chanted "Shame!"
Activists screamed at each other and came dangerously close to engaging in physical contact and were asked to leave the auditorium of the downtown State Building.
It all went down on Monday, August 21 as incumbent community college board member Lawrence Wong lost – and then suddenly won – the DCCC endorsement in his race for re-election.
At issue: Wong's appearance at the Bay Area Reporter 's 35th anniversary party in March, which was held at the Fairmont Hotel, one of 13 hotels on the official boycott list of Unite Here Local 2, which has been in a long-running labor dispute with hotel owners.
Most state and city officials refused to attend the B.A.R. 's party, citing their loyalty to labor. Some – such as District Attorney Kamala Harris and state Senator Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) – sent representatives to the party instead. Others, like state Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), neither attended nor sent representation.
B.A.R. publisher Thomas E. Horn acknowledged the labor dispute in his remarks during the party, which drew about 150 people.
"We booked the room two years ago," Horn said, adding that virtually all the local politicians who were invited did not attend due to the labor issue. "I regret the awkwardness it caused for people, including us."
Wong, an openly gay Chinese American politician, told the crowd at the B.A.R. party that he got his start in politics because of the B.A.R. 's late publisher, Bob Ross.
"I owe a lot to the Bay Area Reporter ," Wong said in presenting a proclamation from the college board to Horn. "The B.A.R. was our only connection to the LGBTQ community. It was our lifeline."
The controversy over the party's venue was discussed by some political clubs before the event and reported on in local media outlets – including the B.A.R. – following the event. The leadership of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club also voiced their concerns and asked for the party to be moved.
But Wong maintains that he was unaware of the controversy surrounding the B.A.R. party and the Fairmont Hotel.
At Monday night's DCCC endorsement meeting, he emphasized his 12-year pro-labor record. He said he made an honest mistake when he attended the B.A.R. party because he did not know the Fairmont was a boycotted hotel.
"My partner of 16 years is a hotel worker and a member of Local 2. I have always asked the voters of San Francisco to judge me by my record," said Wong, referencing his solid past labor support. "I have apologized a million times. Stupid, stupid, stupid, but I apologize.
"What I love about being on the college board is that we're helping people's dreams come true," he said, advocating that his continued service could benefit laborers and the movement.
Local 2 members requested that Wong not be endorsed due to his violation of the boycott.
"We are trying to raise the living and working conditions of the entire community," said Josephine Garcia. "The only way to win is through support of the boycott."
Gay labor activist Howard Wallace agreed. "Lawrence did not find the time to pick up the phone and apologize for being the only elected official to break the boycott," said Wallace. "This is not something we should be cavalier about."
During discussions, DCCC member Mary Jung pointed out that other officials had sent representation to the B.A.R. party and wondered, "Are these people going to be held to the same standard as the only Chinese American running for his seat?"
Robert Haaland, a transgender man who sits on the DCCC, responded that it makes a difference whether an elected official walks into an event, and the clear lines of labor support dictate that "when a union asks us to do something, we do it."
Other LGBT members who voted not to endorse Wong were Laura Spanjian, David Campos, Scott Wiener, Michael Goldstein, Holly Thier, and Bill Barnes. Many said they struggled with the decision, and did not mean it to be a personal attack against Wong, but rather, a vote in support of labor.
Representatives for elected officials on the central committee (called proxies) were more forgiving. Leno is a strong advocate of "rehabilitation," Leno's proxy Reese Isbell said to a roomful of laughter. Giving Wong a chance to make good and become an even better labor advocate was preferable, he said, to opening the seat up for a Republican victory.
Representatives for Migden, Supervisor Fiona Ma, and U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) agreed, and cast their votes for Wong. So did former Supervisor Leslie Katz, who claimed that "a statewide elected official" had also attended a boycotted hotel and received a labor endorsement.
But Assemblyman Leland Yee's (D-San Francisco) proxy voted "no endorsement" for Wong, and David Chui, the newly appointed DCCC member to fill the late Sue Bierman's seat, also voted not to support Wong.
After the vote tally, Wong received just 16 "yes" votes while college board incumbents Johnnie Carter and Anita Grier received enough votes to be endorsed. At least 17 votes were needed for a DCCC endorsement, and it was pointed out that "no endorsement" – which had logged 18 votes – had won over Wong.
At this point, Wong's more vocal supporters stood up and began chanting "Shame! Shame! Shame!" as they filed out of the auditorium.
"This is racist and shameful!" they said upon hearing that Wong had lost.
"Losers!" a group of people in the back of the auditorium shouted back.
During the commotion of congratulatory hugs, it was not noticed that a motion to reconsider the vote had been approved.
Not everyone may have understood the voting process, Wong supporters on the DCCC contended, and some political proxies may have over-cautiously abstained from voting. Those who wanted Wong to win also may not have realized that voting "no endorsement" for the other two candidates actually helped the "no endorsement" category to beat Wong.
A roll call vote was conducted again. This time, George Broder – proxy for U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-San Francisco) – changed Feinstein's abstention to a vote for all three Democrats. Additionally, at least one person who voted for Wong but voted "no endorsement" for other candidates changed their vote to favor all three candidates, effectively defeating "no endorsement"'s former lead.
In the end, Wong had totaled 18 votes, enough for the DCCC endorsement. Labor union members sat still in their seats.
"Y'all want a contract, you better learn to be loud like me," one City College employee called out as she approached some Local 2 members, gesturing with animation.
"Shut up. Don't point at me like that," a Local 2 member responded. "We're not going to vote [for Wong]."
As tensions increased, the groups were asked to leave if they wanted to continue talking while the DCCC dealt with other business. The shouting and confrontations continued all the way up the stairs outside the auditorium, where a janitor and security guard watched in disbelief. Outside the building, City College employees had to hold each other back from getting too close to two women from Local 2.
"We will still be there for you in spite of this," a man from City College told the pair of Local 2 women as they turned the other direction and walked away.
"We don't need you," the women responded.