The politics of unity and division - Page 2

Why does Newsom keep stabbing the progressive Democrats whose support he needs?

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Democratic County Central Committee chair Aaron Peskin

Sup. Chris Daly, the lone vote against the budget compromise with Newsom and the removal of revenue measures from the November ballot, noted at the July 27 board meeting how the business community has sabotaged city finances, citing its 2002 lawsuit challenging the gross receipt taxes, which the board settled on a controversial 8-3 vote. "This is a large part of our structural budget deficit," Daly said.

But antitax sentiment has only gotten worse with the current recession and political dysfunction, causing Democrats like Newsom to parrot Republicans' no-new-taxes mantra, much to the chagrin of progressives.

"A lot of this is being driven by statewide politics. [Newsom] needs to not have taxes go up but he also needs the support of the labor unions, so we get weird stuff happening in San Francisco," Mandelman said.

The situation has also fed Newsom's animus toward progressives, who have enjoyed more local electoral success than the mayor. Newsom responded in June to the progressive slate winning a majority on the DCCC by placing a measure on the November ballot that would ban local elected officeholders from serving on that body, which includes four progressive supervisors and three supervisorial candidates.

Nonetheless, Newsom then unexpectedly sought a seat on the DCCC, arguing that his lieutenant governor nomination entitled him to an ex officio seat (those held by state and federal elected Democrats) even though the DCCC's legal counsel disagreed. While noting the hypocrisy of the request, Party Chair Aaron Peskin took the high road and proposed to change the bylaws to seat Newsom.

Some progressives privately groused about giving a seat to someone who, as DCCC member Carole Migden said at the meeting, was "picking a fight" with progressives by pushing a measure she called "disrespectful and unconstitutional." But in practice, the episode seems to have hurt Newsom's relations with progressives without really strengthening his political hand.

Newsom ally Scott Wiener — a DCCC member and District 8 supervisorial candidate (who told us he opposes the mayor's DCCC ballot measure) — proposed to amend Peskin's motion to change the bylaws in order to seat Newsom with language that would allow Newsom to continue serving even if he loses his race in November.

That amendment was defeated on a 17-13 vote that illustrated a clear dividing line between the progressive majority and the minority faction of moderates and ex officio members. Even with Newsom and District Attorney Kamala Harris (who was seated as the Democratic nominee for attorney general) being seated — and counting the one absent vote, Sen. Leland Yee, who is expected to sometimes vote with progressives and sometimes with moderates — progressives still hold the majority going into the process of endorsing local candidates and allocating party resources for the fall campaign.

"Presuming that 17 people of that 33-member body all agree on something, then the presence of Mayor Newsom doesn't change anything," Peskin said. He also noted that even if Newsom's measure passed and the progressive supervisors were removed, "the irony is that the chair of the party [Peskin] would appoint their successors."

Also ironic is the political reality that it is Newsom who most needs his party's support right now, while it is progressives who are adopting the most conciliatory tone.

"We should all be working to turn out the vote and help Democrats win," Peskin told us. "I implore our mayor and lieutenant gubernatorial candidate to work with us and get that done."

Yet after Newsom gave a budget-signing speech that included the line, "At the end of the day, it comes down to leadership, stewardship, collaboration, partnership," he told the Guardian that he has no intention of removing or explaining his DCCC ballot measure, saying only, "If the voters support it, then it would be the right thing to do."