Online Extra: Political Notes: SF LGBT political clubs set endorsement votes
by Matthew S. Bajko
August is shaping up as ground zero in the battle for endorsements from San Francisco's LGBT political clubs. The city's two Democratic clubs and one Republican group for queer politicos have scheduled important meetings this month to decide who to back for mayor, sheriff, and district attorney.
At the more moderate Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, the action begins Monday, August 22 during the group's political action committee meeting. That night the PAC will vote behind closed doors (the meeting is not open to the public) on whether the club should endorse just one candidate in each of the races or do ranked-choice picks.
The two heavyweights in the Alice endorsement battle in the mayor's race are former Supervisor Bevan Dufty, the only out candidate among the top tier of contenders, and City Attorney Dennis Herrera, whose office successfully waged the legal battle to secure same-sex marriage rights in the Golden State. [The court victory led to the ballot box fight over Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment that reversed the allowance of gay nuptials and is now being challenged in federal court.]
With news that interim Mayor Ed Lee jumped into the race today (Monday, August 8), it is unclear what impact his candidacy will have on the club's endorsement decision.
"Alice is so undecided about the mayor's race," said club Co-Chair Bentrish Satarzadeh, that she declined to speculate on who could emerge the winner of the club's endorsement.
Further complicating the guessing game is that the club changed its bylaws back in May to allow for ranked-choice endorsements. If no candidate gets 66 percent or more of the PAC's endorsement vote, then Alice will use a complicated formula approved by the Democratic Party to determine a first, second, and third choice in the race.
According to the bylaws, a candidate will secure a first choice endorsement by nabbing 60 percent of the vote. There will also be the option for no endorsement, which would prevail if it receives 66 percent of the vote.
If neither option reaches those thresholds, then additional ballots will be taken until a first choice is selected. At that point, the person would only need 50 percent plus one of the vote to be endorsed.
After each round of voting the candidate with the least votes and those who received no votes are dropped from the next ballot. The process repeats itself until someone is endorsed.
Then the remaining candidates will be up for second choice. Once that process plays out, voting for third choice will take place.
For the PAC's recommendation to become final, it needs to be approved by a 60 percent affirmative vote by the club's general membership. It is rare for the club's members not to side with the PAC when it comes to endorsements.
The only guarantee is whoever does get an Alice endorsement will be a registered Democrat. The club's bylaws forbid it to endorse non-party members, thus venture capitalist Joanna Rees, a decline-to-state who, along with Dufty, was a top sponsor at this year's Alice breakfast fundraiser on Pride morning, cannot seek the club's backing.
The final endorsement vote will take place at the club's meeting Monday, September 12 at the LGBT Community Center. It begins at 6:30 p.m.
As the Bay Area Reporter noted last month, the more progressive Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club is set to hold an up or down vote on endorsing District 11 Supervisor John Avalos in the mayor's race at its August membership meeting.
Herrera's backers within the Milk Club helped Avalos's supporters push through the endorsement vote in order to block state Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) from getting its support in the race. But Yee has been stacking the club with his own people, so it is possible Avalos will be unable to reach the 60 percent vote threshold needed to clinch the endorsement.
If that happens, it is anyone's guess what candidate, if any, the club will endorse.
In terms of the district attorney contest, LGBT politicos have split between former police commissioner David Onek and the incumbent, former Police Chief George Gascon. One key issue that has garnered Onek backing from both moderate and liberal LGBT people is his unequivocal opposition to the death penalty.
The third candidate in the race trying to nab LGBT support is Alameda County prosecutor Sharmin Bock. It is likely Onek will pick up Milk's endorsement, while Gascon will walk away with Alice's support.
As for the sheriff's race, District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi is the odds-on favorite to secure the Milk Club's sole endorsement. At Alice, former police union head Chris Cunnie could emerge the winner. Two other candidates, Sheriff's Captain Paul Miyamoto and openly gay former sheriff's deputy Jon Gray, likely don't have enough support in either club to get their nods.
The Milk Club's general membership meeting will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, August 23 at the Women's Building, 3543 18th Street.
The next night, Wednesday, August 24, the local chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans will meet at Martuni's piano bar, at the corner of Valencia and Market streets, to vote on its endorsements in the three races.
Because none of the contests for the city offices are partisan races, the gay Republican group is allowed to endorse any candidate it wants regardless of party affiliation. It cannot, however, do ranked-choice picks.
It has heard from all of the sheriff candidates and most of the major mayoral contenders. None of the D.A. candidates, however, responded to Log Cabin's invitation to address the group.
"They all turned down our invitations to meet with us. They don't seem very interested in the endorsement anyway," said club President Dan Brown.
As for mayor, Brown said four candidates impressed the club: Dufty, Rees, and former supervisors Tony Hall, and Michela Alioto-Pier. Lee could also have a shot at the group's backing, said Brown.
"A lot of people are waiting to see if Ed Lee jumps into the race," Brown said last week, before the mayor announced he was running. "To be perfectly honest, I couldn't even predict what is going to happen at this point."
He also couldn't predict if the club would endorse a sheriff candidate.
"Chris Cunnie jumping into the race has thrown things off a bit," said Brown. "It could go either way between Chris and Paul for that one."
To receive Log Cabin's endorsement, a candidate must garner 66 percent of the vote.
Mayoral debates this week
Tonight kicks off the first of three LGBT-hosted mayoral debates with the top tier of 10 candidates as it will be Lee's first forum appearance.
Several Castro neighborhood groups are hosting a mayoral debate from 7 to 9:30 p.m. tonight at the Castro Theatre.
The Alice Club is also co-hosting two mayoral debates. The first takes place at 6 p.m. Thursday, August 11 at the African American Art and Cultural Complex, 762 Fulton Street.
The second will be held at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, August 24 at the Jewish Community Center's Kanbar Hall, 3200 California Street.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.