Democratic Clubs Debate Over a Place for Greens

By Judith Scherr
Friday August 25, 2006

While the Democratic Party tent might be big enough for hawks such as Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton and radicals like Cynthia McKinney and Maxine Waters, there’s no room for people of other political stripes, most notably Green Party members. 

Locally, most Democratic clubs refuse to endorse non-Democrats. (One exception is the Cal Berkeley Democrats who endorse Greens in non-partisan races, according to club president Suzanne Reucker.) 

Most local clubs welcome Green contenders to their candidates’ events but will not endorse them.  

“State Party bylaws say you can only endorse Democrats,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington, president of the East Bay Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Democratic Club. 

“There have been no heated debates over the issue” in the LGBT club, Worthington said. 

One Oakland-Berkeley-based club, however, may challenge party rules. The Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club has invited to its Sept. 7 endorsement meeting. Oakland District 2 incumbent Pat Kernigan, a Democrat, and challenger Aimee Allison, a Green. 

In keeping with the club’s tradition of hearing from Democrats and non-Democrats, both candidates will address club members. Then, according to Jack Kurzweil, one of the club’s seven co-coordinators, the members could opt to endorse one or the other candidate. Kurzweil believes that many will wish to endorse Allison, though others—even supporters—will not. He predicts that a debate will ensue over whether or not to challenge the party rules and endorse a Green. 

If the club were to endorse the Green candidate, Kurzweil says that among the Wellstone members, “there are many political judgments as to the possible consequences,” including revocation of the club charter. 

And some people believe this is not the right fight to pick with the Democratic Party, Kurzweil said. The decision will be made collectively: “We are a ‘small d’ democratic club,” he noted. 

While most of the Democratic Clubs endorse strictly Democrats, individuals are free to endorse whomever they choose, according to Jack Lucero Fleck, newsletter editor for the John George Democratic Club. In fact, attorney Walter Riley, who co-chairs the John George club, has been devoting much time and energy in recent months to campaigning for Allison. 

Similarly, LGBT Democratic Club president Worthington is endorsing Green Party stalwart Councilmember Dona Spring, his most consistent City Council ally; he has also endorsed Allison in the Oakland race. 

While they don’t endorse non-Democrats, many clubs, such as the affiliated clubs that put on candidates’ events together—John George, the LGBT club, the Niagara Democratic Movement, and others—invite candidates from other parties in the non-partisan races to speak. Whether to do so is a question debated among East Bay Young Democrat members, said Edie Irons, president of the club that serves people mostly in their 20s and 30s. 

“We’re still figuring out how to get an accurate picture of the races,” Irons said. 

Allison said she appreciates being asked to appear at Democratic club endorsement meetings. “The high murder rate among young people, the lack of affordable housing—these are bread and butter issues that transcend party issues,” she said.  

Allison is supported by traditional Greens such as Spring and former Oakland Councilmember Wilson Riles. But she also points to her support among Democrats such as Board of Supervisors President Keith Carson and Berkeley Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, as well as organizations that traditionally endorse Democrats such as the Alameda Council Central Labor Committee and the Sierra Club. 

Spring criticized the Democratic Party endorsement rules: “It’s absurd for clubs to have a rule (to endorse Democrats only) for the non-partisan races,” she said. “All these Democratic Clubs are shut to me. What really counts is someone’s politics, not their political affiliation.” 

Spring noted, on the other hand, that the Green Party endorsed Democrat Ron Dellums for mayor of Oakland and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland-Berkeley, for Congress. “The party affiliation is not as important as the candidate’s record,” she said. 

A member of the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee, Maggie Gee, defended the rule that clubs endorse Democrats only. If the Democrats started endorsing people from other parties “we’d be all over the map,” she said. “If there are good Green candidates, we’d like them to become Democrats.”