November 27, 2005

Gordon blasts extension of Democratic state cmte seat terms; Sees effort to block progressive gains

by Kimberly Nevas

A North Cambridge resident and a founding leader of the city’s Progressive Democrats failed to reverse the extension of terms from two years to fours years of the special diversity seats on the Democratic State Committee at its Nov. 15 meeting in Malden.

Gordon1_2The extension cancels the party elections for the 80 of the committee seats that were two-year term seat committee scheduled to be contested early next year, said Jesse Gordon, a party activist, who lost his first bid for city council in November.

The change, along with other charter amendments passed at the May state party convention, is part of an effort to keep more progressive members of the party, like himself, off the committee, he said.

“They didn’t bring it up at all,” he said.

“The vote in May was the only vote they needed to call off these elections.  We had a whole lineup of people ready to introduce the issue when they called it off,” he said. 

Because Gordon is not a committee member, he said he could not take the initiative to speak. 

“Even the most cynical among us are astounded at the blatancy of this anti-democratic display,” he said.    
Carol Coakley, a committeewoman from Millis, said she regrets not speaking up at the
Malden meeting.

“It was sketchy how the vote was handled at the convention.  They’re not allowing members to discuss and vote on so many issues,” she said.

“While I would not be opposed to becoming a four-year member, I think I should have to run for it,” she said.

Of the 372 seats, the 80 seats that always had four years terms were determined by voting in the state’s presidential primary.  Those seats are filled by one man and one woman from each of the state’s senate districts, Gordon said.

The 80 affected by the rules change are among the special seats called: add-ons, which were meant to create a diverse committee. Those members were selected by combined senate district members and those whose membership was awarded for service to the party or by virtue of holding a congressional or state constitutional office.

It allots nearly one third of the seats for gender balance, ethnic minorities, homosexuals, veterans, union members, the disabled, French and Portuguese-speakers, seniors and youth below the age of 36.

Some candidates for these seats stand on their own, while others are formally recommended by the Affirmative Action sub-committee or by joining a slate assembled by one of the different communities in the party, such as organized labor, said James Roosevelt, the state committee’s chief counsel.

James Smith, the committeeman from Swampscott said the system is akin to Noah’s Ark.

Although he was not at the Malden meeting, Roosevelt said the state committee on its own does not have the authority to override a rule approved by at the state’s convention.

Roosevelt said now all seats have four-year terms, unless the rules are changed again at the next convention in May.

The extension was an attempt to keep the party’s leadership more centralist and the party more appealing to a broader swath of voters, said Mary Marrs, committeewoman from Swampscott.

“I think it’s proven that we should try to stay a little more moderate than ultra liberal.  I honestly do not believe that the majority of the people in this country are ultra-liberal,” she said.

Several committee members cited social issues such as abortion, capital punishment and gay rights as points where progressives and moderates diverge. 

“On abortion, a progressive would be for it.  A moderate would, with restrictions,” said Sandra Carle, a committeewoman from Weymouth.

“I know a couple of my friends that are a little more moderate favor capital punishment.  Whether someone is in favor of gay marriage or even as far as civil unions, that’s where Democrats sometimes run into problems,” said William Bradley, a committeeman from Ware. 

Committeewoman Carol Donovan of Woburn said the amendment to extend terms is all a matter of efficiency. 

“In most cases there isn’t a contest for the two-year seats and it entailed holding a special caucus to do it. An extra meeting would have to be held to have the election every two years.  They decided it was more efficient to do it every four years,” she said.   

Roosevelt said the focus of the committee members should be on electing more Democrats, not worrying about whether they will get re-elected to their own seat.

Roosevelt said he was not aware of movement to block progressives from the committee. “I have not heard that from anyone but Jesse.”

“But, I can see how they could see it that way,” he said.

Others said they were caught surprised and unaware by the controversy. “They’ve increased my term to four years?” asked Carolyn Herrick a committeewoman from Sunderland

Gordon said another example of how the party establishment has sought to concentrate its power at the expense of the up and coming progressives is the number of state committee seats that are held by members of the same family.

Brian Hoose, a committeeman from Westfield, said he acknowledged that multiple members of the same family on the committee could create an unfair advantage.

One example is Fall River’s Ida Cabral and her son Ronald, both committee members.
Cabral said she rejects the notion that multiple family members on the committee present an ethical dilemma.

Rather it reflects the lack of interest in running for the seats, she said.

Her son ran for the seat because he saw what was going on, nothing was being done, she said.

“You can’t get people to get involved.  It’s too bad,” she said.   

One of the more glaring examples is in the Roosevelt home. There, the committee’s lawyer share’s a roof with a gender balance committee member, his wife Ann, and a college-age member, his daughter Theresa, Gordon said.

Roosevelt said despite appearances, his family’s involvement in the committee was not coordinated with party leaders or at the dinner table.

His wife’s election was actually elected despite running alone opposite a slate of women supported by an ad-hoc diversity committee, he said.

His daughter’s selection, similar to the situation with Ron Cabral, came after no one could be found to fill the seat, he said.

Theresa, a student at Brown University, arrived at the meeting with no intention of joining the state committee. She was persuaded to accept the seat by a committee member, who knew she had worked on Brian Murphy’s 2003 city council campaign and John Kerry’s presidential effort.

This is not Gordon’s first run-in with the state committee, Roosevelt said.

As a leader of the PDC and the creator of its scorecard that holds elected Democrats accountable to the state party’s platform, Gordon does not have permission from the state party to use the word: Democrat, either in the PDC or with the scorecard, he said.

To rein in the unauthorized use of the party’s name, Roosevelt sent Gordon a demand letter instructing him to stop, he said.

Although, it is a criminal violation of state law, Roosevelt did not send copies of the letter to District Attorney Martha Coakley or Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, he said.

Regardless of his scrimmages with the state committee, Roosevelt said Gordon was a Democrat in good standing.