Local Democrats at Odds with Each Other

2019 Editions May More News

By K.D. Dunleavy

State Assembly District 51 (AD51), which includes Northeast Los Angeles, will have 14 delegates at the California Democratic Party convention in Sacramento from May 31 to June 2.

Assembly delegates, who are elected by their fellow Democrats in elections organized by the Party, help to ensure that local concerns are aired at the convention. Becoming a delegate is also a way for individuals to become more involved in Party politics, because delegates cast votes to elect Party officials, endorse candidates and determine the Party’s position on ballot measures.

But as of April 25, when this edition of the Boulevard Sentinel went to press,10 of the 14 delegate slots for AD51 were unfilled. If all goes according to plan, the vacancies will be filled in time for the convention. But the fact that it has taken so long reflects rivalry and tension within the local Democratic party.

Here’s some background: The election to select AD51 delegates was held on January 26 at East L.A. Rising, a community center. Fourteen winners were announced who were associated with various local Democratic groups: Nine of the winners were on the Working Progressive’s slate and five were on the United Progressive Democrats slate. There were no winners on the People’s Action slate.

Shortly after the winners were declared, the results were challenged by Dr. Ron Birnbaum, a Democrat with the People’s Action slate who had run unsuccessfully for one of the slots. In the challenge, filed with the Compliance Review Commission of the state Democratic Party, Birnbaum said that people had been allowed to vote without showing that they were registered Democrats in AD51.

The Compliance Review Commission upheld Birnbaum’s challenge, finding that 97 ballots had been cast by people who were not registered Democrats or not registered in AD51. The commission also found that 10 of the 14 declared winners might have lost if not for the 97 ineligible ballots. Accordingly, it vacated those 10 results and required a new election to take place for the 10 slots.

That might seem like a vindication for Birnbaum, but he was not satisfied with the decision. Nor were the 10 people whose victories were vacated.

Birnbaum thinks that all 14 of the winners should have had their victories vacated, while the 10 winners whose victories were vacated are unhappy to have to stand again for election. Hans Johnson, president of East Area Progressive Democrats which supports the United Progressive Democrats slate, sent an email to members calling the decision a “bizarre ruling that used math to make conclusions even scientists cannot fathom.”

The review commission says that it followed precedent and correct procedures to make its decision. But Hugh Esten, a Democrat with the United Progressive Democrats slate who ran and lost in January, isn’t buying it. Esten says the review commission acted arbitrarily and he has appealed its ruling; he wants the commission to allow all of the original winners to be retained.

The do-over election is set to take place on Saturday, April 27. The winners of the do-over will attend the state convention, where the decision will be made on Esten’s appeal. If Esten’s appeal is upheld, AD51 will have to hold a third election to select delegates for AD51.