| February 2013
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By Corrie M. Anders
Andy Ferguson says he didn’t hesitate after getting an email inviting him to join the Noe Valley Democratic Club and help tilt the political balance in the organization.
“I basically agreed with everything in the email,” said Ferguson, 46. The 25th Street resident and his wife, Tanya Shadoan, paid the $30 membership fee and signed up.
The solicitation that landed in Ferguson’s inbox came from Todd David, a 42-year-old stock market trader who has emerged in the last several years as one of Noe Valley’s most visible community activists.
A moderate who has been a Democratic Club member for four years and a local resident for 15, David expressed concern that the group’s political endorsements had become more progressive than the neighborhood actually was.
“I have a simple plan to have the Noe Valley Democratic Club (NVDC) more accurately reflect the ‘moderate’ politics of the Noe Valley neighborhood,” David wrote in his Dec. 10 email.
“Adding 20–30 ‘moderate’ members to the club,” David wrote, “would go a long way to making the NVDC more accurately reflect the politics of Noe Valley.”
The Eureka Street resident said he sent the invitation to more than 50 friends and neighbors in Noe Valley. The effort generated 33 new club members by mid-January, according to David. That number—almost half of the membership (about 75 people)—would be large enough to swing future club votes toward more centrist candidates and initiatives, he said.
In his email, David said he was frustrated that the club had failed to endorse moderate Scott Wiener in the 2010 District 8 supervisoral contest, and fiscal conservative Rodrigo Santos, who was vying for a seat on the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees in last November’s election.
Endorsements can be influential because many residents follow the club’s recommendations inside the polling booth.
Wiener won his race, but Santos, a professional engineer who lives on Chattanooga Street, failed to snag one of four open slots on the seven-member board. Attorney Rafael Mandelman, an avowed progressive and a former president of the Noe Valley Democratic Club, won the group’s backing for the City College seat.
In addition, David said he was irked that the group supported progressive candidate Ross Mirkarimi for sheriff, then “refused to discuss removing its endorsement” after Mayor Ed Lee suspended the sheriff in connection with a domestic violence complaint. Mirkarimi later pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of false imprisonment, but was reinstated after the Board of Supervisors narrowly voted against his permanent removal.
In an interview, David said he sent an email to club leaders following Mirkarimi’s suspension, asking if there were a process to strip the endorsement.
“I never received a response,” he said.
Out of Left Field
Tension between moderates and progressives has been an accepted part of San Francisco’s political atmosphere for years. But the tug of war between blue and purple in Noe Valley has seldom surfaced publicly, and David’s email caught some neighborhood politicos off guard.
“I don’t think it speaks to some leftward lurch of the Noe Valley Democratic Club,” said Mandelman, 39, who was club president from 2003 through 2005. “Overall, if you look at their endorsements, they are kind of moderate.”
He added, “I don’t think San Francisco is as conservative as Todd thinks it is, and I don’t think Noe Valley is as conservative as Todd thinks.”
Club vice president Molly Fleischman, who lives on Noe Street, also pooh-poohed the idea that the club’s members were out of touch with the neighborhood’s political beliefs.
“I wouldn’t by any stretch of the imagination call us flaming liberals,” said Fleischman, who with her husband, Andy Fleischman (president from 2006-09), has been a mainstay of the 20-year-old organization.
She pointed out, for example, that Mandelman was a three-term president and yet “we didn’t endorse him for the Board of Supervisors” in 2010.
That, she said, “is far more telling than the fact we didn’t endorse Scott Wiener.”
Rules of Endorsement
Both Fleischman and current president Hunter Stern said a strict club policy dictates how endorsements are made. Candidates must obtain at least 60 percent of the voting members to win the club’s support.
“It’s not that we didn’t endorse Scott Wiener,” Fleischman said. “It’s just that he was very close to 60 percent” and didn’t cross the threshold for the endorsement.
Fleischman said the club could not have rescinded its Mirkarimi endorsement—even if it had wanted to.
“It’s in our bylaws that we can’t unendorse someone,” she said.
Ironically, Stern sparked David’s email.
Because club membership and enthusiasm tend to wax and wane, Stern said the group is “always on the lookout for new members,” especially younger people with fresh energy. Stern, 51, said he enlisted David in the effort, knowing that he had a long list of neighborhood contacts.
Still, Stern said he didn’t specifically ask David to write the email, and was unaware of its existence until last month when a Voice reporter sought a response.
“There is plenty of his own opinion in there,” Stern said.
He’s Not Running
David went to great lengths to say that his frustration was not directed at the club’s leadership, which he said did “an outstanding job” of engaging the community, especially with monthly public forums and voter registration campaigns.
“This is 100 percent about the endorsement process,” he said.
David also stressed that his recruitment pitch was not a political maneuver to lay groundwork for his own run—for the school board, the Board of Supervisors, or any other elective office.
“I do enough in Noe Valley. I don’t need another job. I don’t think I have the demeanor to be an elected official. I get cranky,” he said.
But “I think I’m a fairly good advocate,” said David, who is president of Friends of Noe Valley and a co-chair of the $4 million effort to transform the parking lot at 24th and Vicksburg streets into a town square.
He has also organized fundraising activities at Alvarado Elementary School, where two of his three children are students; worked on various political campaigns and parent PACs; and briefly served as a legislative aide to Wiener’s predecessor, Supervisor Bevan Dufty.
Last fall, David sent out a mass email with his “final endorsements for Party of Todd (P.O.T.) for the November 2012 elections.” His message included recommendations on 20 races, candidates, and propositions.
Though the passion is evident, it’s unclear when David, and the new brigade his more recent email attracted, will put their imprint on the Democratic Club’s endorsements, and on city politics in general. Only two races—city treasurer and city attorney—are up for grabs this November, and both are offices held by long-term, popular incumbents. The election for District 8 supervisor doesn’t arrive until 2014.
But a statement has been made.
Jersey Street resident Sean Ryan, 44, is another of David’s new recruits. He said that simply having people make their voices heard was more important than affixing political labels.
“For me, these things are all about getting more people involved in the process,” said Ryan, director of gaming partnerships at Facebook. “How it plays out doesn’t matter as much to me.”
The Noe Valley Democratic Club will host its first annual membership party for new and returning members at the home of club president Hunter Stern, 7 to 9 p.m., Feb. 20. For information, go to noevalleydems.org or www.facebook.com/Noedems.