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SF Democrats Turn Red to Protect Cops 

Wednesday, Jul 29 2015
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It was Kelly Dwyer's first night since losing her position as a member of the local Democratic Party's board, and her last policy resolution before that body.

Down a long set of stairs at the State Building on Polk, the Democratic County Central Committee — or D-Triple-C, as it's known — gathered in a room so deep in the bowels of government, the walls block most internet and cellphone reception. The DCCC represents San Francisco's Democratic Party. Every mailer sent by a Democratic politician and ballot measure in the local November elections depends on this board to pound its impactful rubber stamp.

It's a small cog in the political machine, but a vital one.

Dwyer's resolution before the DCCC would put the city's Democratic Party on record backing concrete recommendations from President Barack Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

As the DCCC debated the merits of Dwyer's police reform, she watched side-by-side with the two San Francisco Public Defenders who helped her craft it: Deputy Public Defenders Rebecca Young and Chris Hite, two people of color.

Dwyer leaned at the edge of her chair, jaw tense.

Your Pissed-Off Narrator was there and watched as San Francisco's Democratic board sided with Republicans, voting against, and then gutting, the measure Dwyer had derived from the head honcho Democrat himself, President Obama.


Sandra Bland. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Whether by questionable arrest, a chokehold, or bullets, black deaths nationwide are prompting people to take a long look at their boys in blue — and to ask for police reform, from the inside out.

President Obama convened a task force that in March published major recommendations to reform U.S. policing. "It offers pragmatic, common-sense ideas," the president said at a news conference that month. "A lot of our work is going to involve local police chiefs, local elected officials, states recognizing that the moment is now for us to make these changes."

Obama had prompted Dwyer's measure, and the DCCC voted to gut the substantive police reforms she derived from his efforts.

The DCCC vote against police reform ripples beyond this one measure. Its loss signals a further "moderate" (read: conservative) turn for our local Democratic board, perhaps offering a glimpse at the fate of other progressive-liberal measures seeking endorsement in the coming election — the Mission Moratorium, and Airbnb reforms, for instance.

The city's Democratic politicians are backing down to Republicans with power, and to well-funded special interests. This one vote shows how San Francisco's big D rolls in bed with the local R's.


The Police Officer's Association opposed Dwyer's measure, but it always staunchly defends its officers. It steps on the neck of politicians in San Francisco until they cry "uncle."

The uncles, in this particular case, were Marty Halloran, the POA's current head, and Gary Delagnes, its former head. In terms of political weight, those two have sizable paunches.

Before city supervisors were to vote on a measure supporting the "Black Lives Matter" movement not long ago, Delagnes wrote a politically threatening note to six of them, including London Breed and Malia Cohen.

"I am sure all of you understand that working together in the future with anyone who signs on to this legislation would be impossible," Delagnes wrote.

Fearing the POA would smack down their favored political causes, the supervisors voted against that measure.

Compared to the Supervisors, the DCCC members are easy pickings.


So it was "Black Lives Matter" deja vu Wednesday night at the DCCC meeting. Much like moderate supervisors had done to that earlier resolution, DCCC members did to Dwyer's police reform resolution.

Similarly, the Police Officer's Association penned an email to the DCCC denouncing the measure, and then posted the email publicly on its website.

The POA accused DCCC members of trying to score political points, to which Dwyer replied, "I'm not trying to score political points, I'm moving to freaking Vacaville!"

Seated in a semicircle on a stage, the 18 or so DCCC members who were present spoke out against the measure, one by one.

The writing was on the wall.

DCCC member and Supervisor Cohen, who has been bullied by the POA many times before, broke down. "I want us to take a stand and be fearless," she said.

Her voice wavered, then strengthened. "I represent my constituents, I hear the stories. There was a mother who died shielding her child from bullets," Cohen said, wiping away tears. This is "not about them" she added, referring to the POA, "this is about the people who live in fear."

"Don't be afraid. Take a stand," Cohen said. "Fuck the POA."


Cohen's argument could not persuade one of the DCCC's newest members, Josh Arce. "Here's the risk," Arce said. Pushing too hard for reform, he argued, could threaten changes the SFPD has already made.

"We've seen progress," Arce said of the SFPD.

Using a parliamentary sleight-of-hand, Arce introduced a "substitute resolution" that resembled the first page of Dwyer's hard-hitting call for police reform, but lacked any of the substantive points on the other pages.

Diet Police Reform. Police Reform Zero. All the taste, none of the calories! (Or, in this case, none of the substance.)

When Your Pissed-Off Narrator asked Arce why he bait-and-switched a measure created to protect lives, he called it "consensus building."

Arce, an attorney who works with the Laborers International Union, has reason to curry favor with the POA. It is rumored he will run for Supervisor David Campos' seat in the Mission District in 2016.

"I'm thinking about it," he told me, when I asked if he was in the race.

Despite Arce's half-denial, his candidacy is San Francisco's worst-kept secret: Mayor Ed Lee often trots him out at press functions, and Arce's union allies have been publicly positioning themselves against his rumored Mission District opponents for months. Arce's recent appointment to the DCCC also suggests he's angling for office.

He's not the only DCCC member with a future political career on the line — it is a springboard for many political hopefuls, including newly appointed conservative member Joel Engardio. The Democrats need every political ally they can get — even if those allies are Republicans.

According to Marin County voting records, the POA's former head Delagnes is a registered Republican. He wrote in a 2012 blog post that police officers are at heart Republicans, as they are constant witnesses to the failed "nanny state." In the wake of the high-profile death of Kathryn Steinle, the POA's Facebook page called undocumented immigrants "ILLEGAL ALIENS," in caps, repeatedly.

By gutting the Obama-inspired police policy, Arce and the DCCC have genuflected to the whims of one of San Francisco's most brazen Republicans: Gary Delagnes.


After the vote Wednesday, DCCC progressive Democrats voiced disgust.

"I'm so embarrassed for the Democratic Party," said DCCC member and Supervisor Eric Mar, "it's hard for me to stay in this room now."

"It so undercuts the resolution as to make it not make sense," said DCCC member Rafael Mandelman.

DCCC member Hene Kelly stared into Arce's eyes. "I think it's a lily-livered rotten, underhanded thing," she said. "I'm so offended that I have no words."

Kelly threw her chair at a wall. Arce's eyebrows raised, for all the good it did.

Arce is just one of the DCCC's newest conservative-Democrat appointees. As more measures and politicians come before the body for its crucial rubber stamp, more lily-livered votes are almost guaranteed.

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Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

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