Political Notebook: Election to bring changes to SF Democratic Party

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday February 28, 2024
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Out San Francisco DCCC candidates include, Frances Hsieh, left, and Sydney Simpson. Photos: Courtesy the candidates
Out San Francisco DCCC candidates include, Frances Hsieh, left, and Sydney Simpson. Photos: Courtesy the candidates

The March 5 primary will herald a leadership sea change for the San Francisco Democratic Party. Of the 24 people serving in elected seats on its oversight body, more than half have opted not to seek election this year, including transgender party chair Honey Mahogany.

Peter Gallotta is the only LGBTQ incumbent on the Democratic County Central Committee, known as the D-triple-C for short, vying to remain. Gallotta, who is queer, holds one of the 14 seats from the city's 17th Assembly District covering the eastern section of San Francisco. The other 10 seats are allocated to the 19th Assembly District on the westside of the city.

Part of a slate of progressive DCCC candidates, Gallotta told the Bay Area Reporter he wants to remain on the committee because the local party needs to be "as bold" as the city itself.

"San Francisco is facing real challenges as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, but we cannot afford to revert back to failed Reagan-era policies in the hopes they suddenly deliver results," stated Gallotta. "On the SF DCCC, I will continue to champion a San Francisco that is safe, affordable, and accountable for all. I will defend San Francisco's Sanctuary City status, fight for more affordable housing, support investments in our public schools, and continue to support evidence-backed solutions to address the public health crisis on our streets."

DCCC members not only determine the local party's endorsements for ballot measures and races in San Francisco, they also select the local party chair, a powerful post that past holders of have used to run for elected office. Thus, it is seen as an influential body that can sway the outcomes of local elections because it sends out mailers featuring its endorsed candidates and stances on ballot measures to city voters ahead of each election.

Yet, the DCCC remains little known to most voters, who usually pay scant attention to the quadrennial contests for seats on it. This year, however, with the November election boding poorly for Mayor London Breed based on recent polling, the contest to control the city's Democratic Party — and whom it ends up backing in the mayoral race — has attracted greater attention. Look no further than the television and online ads championing a number of moderate DCCC candidates as evidence of the money flowing into this year's race.

One such candidate is Joe Sangirardi, a gay Castro resident whose ads have blanketed online sites. A vocal supporter of the renovation plans for the Castro Theatre, Sangirardi has been active in various local political and neighborhood groups.

"I care deeply about our city and believe that politicians, moderates and progressives alike, have become more occupied with soundbites and retweets than actually delivering on their promises," Sangirardi told the B.A.R. "As an overwhelmingly Democratic city, SF's Democratic Party can have enormous sway in determining who gets elected. I'm running for DCCC to make sure the folks we endorse as a party are outcomes-oriented and not just interested in virtue signaling."

There are two main slates of candidates running on next month's ballot, with progressives united under the banner of Labor and Working Families and moderates like Sangirardi teamed up as SF Democrats for Change. Only registered Democrats in the state Assembly districts can vote for their respective representatives on the DCCC, and they do not have to choose only members of either slate.

Part of the progressive slate is gay lawyer Michael Nguyen, who performs as drag queen Juicy Liu. He told the B.A.R. he is running to see that the local party listens to and meets "our community" where it is.

"Too often in our politics, corporate interests funnel huge sums of money to push agendas through that don't work for everyday San Franciscans," stated Nguyen. "As a community organizer and activist, I'm a champion for our most marginalized communities, especially for folks who don't think their voices matter."

Thirty people are seeking the DCCC seats designated to the 17th Assembly District, with another 21 running for those seats in Assembly District 19. The winners of both DCCC races will serve four-year terms beginning this spring, as they will be seated once the primary vote is certified. They will help elect a new party chair and determine the party's endorsements in the fall municipal races.

Another distinction of this year's DCCC contest is the lack of elected city officials who are running; just six current officeholders are candidates. (The city's Democratic congressional and state legislative elected representatives are automatically given seats on the party's governing body, along with the statewide officeholders from San Francisco.)

In past DCCC races local elected officials have largely crowded out party activists vying on the ballot. It dented the party's electoral farm team, as DCCC members often use their experience running the local party as a launch pad for seeking political office.

Among the 15 incumbents departing this year are eight current or former elected officials, including gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, out BART directors Bevan Dufty and Janice Li, bi City College board member Shanell Williams, and gay former District 9 supervisor David Campos. Also departing will be Campos' successor and former aide, Supervisor Hillary Ronen, a straight ally.

Meanwhile, one of the elected officials seeking a DCCC seat in AD 17 this year is gay District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, who had won a seat on it over a decade ago. During his term from 2012 and 2016, Dorsey was San Francisco's only openly HIV+ elected official.

He told the B.A.R. elected officials are needed as DCCC members because they play an important role within the local party.

"In addition to offering the needed experience to do the fundraising, voter registration and (Get Out The Vote) work at the core of the DCCC's mission, I think they are important for mentoring and supporting non-elected younger people as they're gaining political experience as DCCC members," stated Dorsey, part of the moderate slate.

Another current officeholder running for a DCCC seat in AD 17 is City College of San Francisco Trustee Vick Chung, who is pansexual and nonbinary. Part of the progressive slate, Chung told the B.A.R. they are running not only to ensure the needs of the financially struggling college are a priority for the local party but also to empower its students.

"Besides voting to endorse, and offering to mentor and support queer, Black and brown candidates that come before the DCCC, as a continuation of the work I started as a student activist, I hope to more effectively empower student leaders — particularly queer, Black and Brown students who are rooted in ethnic and social justice studies—to engage as organizers within the system and to seed aspirations for them to run for office," stated Chung. "If elected, I will have wider and greater political influence to uplift these students into decision-making bodies across the city and state."

Fourteen LGBTQ candidates for DCCC seats responded to the B.A.R.'s questionnaire for the candidates this year. They predominantly are men and all are running as part of one of the two slates. The sole lesbian, Frances Hsieh, had previously served on the DCCC and is now running as one of the progressive slate members in AD 19.

"I have spent much of the past 20 years volunteering and working for progressive causes and candidates, demonstrating, through action, my commitment to the work of the party," noted Hsieh. "I am running as part of the Labor and Working Families slate because I know that each one of my slate mates shares that vision and commitment."

Out DCCC candidate Joshua Rudy Ochoa. Photo: Courtesy the candidate  

Among the slate's out candidates in AD 17 is Joshua Rudy Ochoa, who is bisexual and queer. Having turned 25 in January, he is the youngest candidate for DCCC this year.

"We have too much at stake with corporations and special interests drowning our local elections in money to take control, and to elect candidates who will be more favorable to their demands," stated Ochoa. "We need a San Francisco Democratic Party that fights for working people and kitchen table issues."

Gay longtime union leader Sal Rosselli  

Gay longtime union leader Sal Rosselli is also one of the progressive slate members running in AD 17. He told the B.A.R. he is doing so to enact "real change" in the city.

"My vision for SF is a city where affordable housing, job security, and safe neighborhoods aren't just ideals, but realities," stated Rosselli.

Fellow AD 17 slate member Jeremy Lee, a gay man who served on the city's redistricting task force in 2021, noted to the B.A.R. how he had "advocated heavily" to "keep whole" the city's 8th supervisorial district that includes the LGBTQ Castro neighborhood. Lee added that he "staked my reputation to call out the injustices caused by breaking apart marginalized communities across the city, especially the Trans Cultural District," which was drawn into a newly configured District 5 with the Haight and only a small slice of its boundary kept in the new District 6.

Lee told the B.A.R. he is now running for the DCCC "to uplift the needs of underserved communities, speak truth to power, and call out do-nothing policies that put quick wins and political clout over real solutions. If elected to the SFDCCC, I will be a fierce voice for immigrants, LGBTQ people, and working families."

Also part of the progressive slate in AD 17 is queer married parent Sydney Simpson, a nurse who founded and leads the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club's Trans Caucus.

"As a slate, we hope to more effectively empower young people, particularly queer, Black, and brown to engage as organizers within the system and to plant aspirations for them to run for office, and bring them into decision-making bodies throughout the city and state," Simpson told the B.A.R.

Running in AD 17 as part of the moderate slate of DCCC candidates is Luis A. Zamora, one of the city's delegates to the California Democratic Party and co-chair of the party's LGBTQ+ Caucus. He now wants to play more of a role locally.

"If elected, I will continue to champion efforts to further support and advance our community, and fight back against anti-LGBTQ efforts in our nation through organizing efforts like phone banking and supporting candidates who support our community," Zamora told the B.A.R.

Fellow slate member from AD 17, Emma Heiken, who told the B.A.R. her sexuality is fluid, wants to bring to the local party committee her experience working at City Hall as a legislative aide to District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar.

"In addition to my career in public service, I have personal experiences that represent some of the challenges facing San Franciscans: my mother struggled with addiction, my cousin was forced into homelessness due to transgender housing discrimination, and my life has been deeply impacted by gun violence," stated Heiken.

Trevor Chandler, a gay man running for the District 9 supervisor seat in November, first has his sights on being elected to the DCCC. He is one of the moderate slate's AD 17 candidates.

"I commit to using my role on the DCCC to build and advance the next generation of leadership in the Democratic Party," pledged Chandler.

Among the moderate slate's AD 19 candidates is Mike Chen, a gay man who fell short when he ran for DCCC four years ago. Chen told the B.A.R. he would prioritize the party's nuts and bolts work, such as voter education and turnout, should he be elected this year.

"I think the DCCC could help people understand how local government works, and help more people become invested in civic life through neighborhood associations, Democratic Clubs, city commissions, and other organizations. Putting more people in civic leadership should build the bench for elected office," stated Chen. "How do we show that civics matters and that people have political power (self-efficacy)?"

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on support for requiring California school districts' participation in an LGBTQ policy survey.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Threads @ https://www.threads.net/@matthewbajko.

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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