Report on the Events of Last Saturday (1/21)
A lot has happened in the last week on the Democratic side of things. As I’ve mentioned before, I attended four events last weekend that involved Jerry McNerney in one way or another. I have also heard a couple of snippets about other events the candidates were at, and I’ll discuss them as well. I have only succeeded in writing up what I experienced last Saturday, and I have to leave for the evening. Sometime tomorrow, you can expect another, hopefully briefer, account of what happened last Sunday. And I will also, hopefully within the next day or two, provide some reports back from events I have not attended.
Last Saturday I attended Jerry McNerney’s campaign kickoff in Tracy. It was a fairly large event, attracting at least a hundred people and probably one hundred twenty by my reckoning, although Nick Juliano pegged the number at seventy-five. Regardless, it was a sizeable gathering of consisting predominantly of McNerney supporters from San Joaquin County.
At the event, I got a chance to meet a lot of the players in the SJC Democratic Party grassroots, including: Dick Archbold, the President of the Democrats of Greater Stockton (the DoGS); Stella Lopez, the President of the Latina Democratic Club; Sandra Carter, the Chair of the San Joaquin-Calaveras Central Labor Council and President of the Democratic Women’s Club; and two members of the San Joaquin County Democratic Central Committee from Lodi who are involved with the Greater Lodi Area Democrats (GLAD).
I have been told that the DoGS and the Latina Democratic Club were the two most active grassroots clubs in San Joaquin County. Both Stella Lopez and Dick Archbold said that McNerney enjoyed overwhelming support among the membership of their respective clubs. That said, I found out that the Latina Democratic Club is not going to make an endorsement until after a multi-club candidates forum that will be held in March and that the DoGS are barred from endorsing a candidate in a contested primary full stop. The upshot of this is that some of the big grassroots leaders in the county, such as Lopez and Archbold, will personally support McNerney even as the organizations they lead will have to officially remain neutral. Still, the personal support of such well-respected and active members of the grassroots community is bound to benefit McNerney tremendously, especially since so many members of their respective clubs already support McNerney.
Another interesting thing I noticed at the event on Saturday was how people spoke about McNerney. Two people introduced McNerney before he made his speech to the crowd, and both described him as “an honest man” and otherwise lauded his character. Both were clearly speaking in a very impromptu manner, so their remarks came across as very genuine. And I was struck the other night when a member of the Wellstone Club who had just met McNerney on Thursday also described him to me as “an honest man.” I think there is a lot of cynicism about politicians these days. Certainly, I have my share of cynical thoughts when I meet your average politico. But whatever his faults, McNerney clearly comes across as a good guy.
Sandra Carter in her introduction said something like, “I always say that Richard Pombo is the type of guy you’d want to have as your neighbor and Jerry McNerney is the kind of guy you’d want to have as your neighbor AND as your Congressman.” And I think people readily understand what she’s getting at. Jerry McNerney clearly does not have the charisma of a lot of politicians, but he does have something that I’m not sure how to label. McNerney does not have any pizzazz, and he’s certainly not slick at all. But he seems honest, dependable, and competent. And in the face of all of the sleaze about Pombo oozing its way onto the newspapers, I think a lot of people would welcome a change to someone who seems responsible and respectable.
That said, I wish McNerney would find a way to be more on-message when it comes to speaking. He has improved his public speaking a lot since I first heard him, but he still has a long way to go. He clearly knows what he wants to say in broad strokes, but he uses all sorts of different words and different arguments to talk about the same thing. Seeing him in Tracy and elsewhere all in a short span of time I realized that McNerney never really answers the same question or addresses the same issue in the same way twice. It’s not that he provides conflicting and contrary answers. In fact, his answers are all relatively consistent. But I would like to see stock language added to his responses to reinforce the themes of his campaign and to highlight particular aspects of his vision. It’s still fairly early in his campaign, and I do give him credit for discussing a wide range of issues substantively on his website and in person. But McNerney needs to find a way of focusing what he says so that people begin to understand which issues he’s prioritizing and how they all fit together thematically.
Now I know I’ve gone somewhat far afield, but let me just end by saying that I think that the Tracy event was fairly successful for McNerney. People seemed like they were having fun and McNerney’s speech was certainly well-received by the hugely supportive audience. I even heard that a staffer for a local politician said that the kickoff was the best campaign party she (the staffer) had ever seen in Tracy. I think such a comment says a lot about the previous state of Democratic politics in Tracy and about how McNerney is energizing and revitalizing the grassroots. It’s certainly worth pondering.
After the kickoff, I actually got a ride to an event in Oakland from Vicki (my friend and McNerney’s scheduler) who was driving McNerney to the same event I had planned on attending. I was somewhat surprised that McNerney had any interest in attending because the event, a meeting of the Social Responsibility Network, was billed as a meeting of community organizers and activists in Alameda County and I suppose I did not make the connection between CA-11 and the Social Responsibility Network. In retrospect, it was probably very appropriate for McNerney to attend the meeting because a) the district includes a part of Alameda County and b) there were a lot of people there who’d care about the district regardless of where they lived. Also, I did see McNerney talking with Sharon Cornu, the Executive Secretary and Treasurer (i.e. the head) of the Alameda County Central Labor Council, which in and of itself made the trip worthwhile for McNerney in my opinion.
I won’t linger on a description of the event since it was more important as a networking opportunity than anything else. However, I do want to mention two things.
First, I met the president of the Hayward Demos Democratic Club, and he mentioned that there was a lot of interest in his club about working in CA-11. Although most of the members live outside of the district, there are some overlapping political connections on a local level. Not only is their the connection between all of the areas in Alameda County by virtue of their inclusion in the county, there is also a specific connection made by the California’s 18th Assembly District, which includes essentially the Hayward Demos’ area on one hand and the Alameda County portion of CA-11 on the other. For example, the Chair of the AD18 Democratic Central Committee is an At-Large officer of Hayward Demos. I think that the pre-existing political connections plus the actual physical proximity of these areas establishes a groundwork upon which we can expect some effective political activism in CA-11 coming from the Hayward Demos. McNerney narrowly lost Alameda County to Pombo in 2004. Whoever the Democratic nominee is, I think we can expect a much improved performance in this part of the district.
Second, I wanted to note that saw no less than ten people I recognized from various Wellstone and East Bay for Democracy events (including the new President of the East Bay Young Dems). Like me, they attended because they were interested in the meeting itself. And like me they had no idea that McNerney was going to show up. But I mention their presence because the more I become involved with local politics, the more impressed I am by the disproportionate presence of members from these clubs. As of this Thursday, both the Wellstone Club and East Bay for Democracy have officially endorsed McNerney. And each club can call upon a large cadre of active members to do the humble but vital tasks involved in political organizing and activism. Of course, not every member of the club is going to work on the anti-Pombo campaign. But even those who don’t still have a wealth of expertise and a depth of political connections that can be tapped to some degree or another in the fight against Pombo.
Tomorrow I will write up what happened at an appreciation party for local Special Election volunteers and what happened at the MoveOn volunteers meeting. I’m not going to be around this evening, so feel free to leave a comment in the comment section as long as you do not expect a prompt response.