Flood of new members has some question endorsement vote

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

Some longtime members of the Democratic Club of Claremont are calling foul play following the club’s meeting on Monday during which they selected candidates to endorse for the upcoming local election.

According to former Claremont Mayor Karen Rosenthal, when the Zoom meeting began on Monday there were about twice the number of participants as is typical for the DCC. Furthermore, she said, 32 people had joined the club in the last week which some members believe was an organized attempt to “stuff the ballot box” and sway the outcome of the club’s endorsement.

“I was extremely disappointed when I arrived at the Zoom Democratic meeting Monday night (after leaving Yom Kippur events early) to see that membership had doubled overnight. I had a feeling this might happen because there were no prior rules of engagement, like voting privileges if you had been a member for at least three months,” said Ms. Rosenthal, who has been a member of the club for 35 years.

She said that the membership bump was organized by people affiliated with Claremont Change, which is a grass roots political organization focused on reforming policing in Claremont.

Asked how she knew Claremont Change was involved, Ms. Rosenthal replied, “One just had to look at the names of people attending the Zoom meeting…many of us keep track of who is supporting what and whom not only during elections.”

Club president Sam Pedroza, who is also a former mayor, flatly denies that the recent increase in membership had anything to do with Claremont Change. He said the jump in membership is the result of recruitment efforts by current club members including “slam” meetings on Zoom, promoting the club on social media and old fashioned word of mouth.

Mr. Pedroza said there was also a spike in interest following the club’s executive committee interviews with local candidates on September 14 and 15 in advance of the endorsement vote.

Since August there have been 24 new household and 46 new individual memberships. “There was no single day that we had 30 new members, it was over the span of several weeks,” Mr. Pedroza said. He also emphasized that the Democratic Club of Claremont is an organization that accepts all Democrats that wish to be members.

Noah Winnick, cofounder of Claremont Change, also denies that his organization had anything to do with the spike in new members.

“Claremont Change did not publicize, contact, or ask any of our members to join the Democratic Club. I myself am a member of the club and have been for quite some time, as my father is a fixture in the Democratic scene here in town,” he said.

Last week executive committee member Debi Evans had concerns that there would be a surge in new members in the days leading up to the endorsement vote. She said club treasurer Carol Whitson told her in a phone conversation that about 30 new members joined the club “recently” but the exact time frame was not clear. Ms. Evans said that the spike in new members did not occur over the weekend of September 26 and 27.

On September 24, Ms. Evans sent an email to the executive committee expressing her concerns that a lot of people could join the club and the bylaws no longer require that one be a member in good standing for 30 days before one can vote.

“Be prepared that new folks may decide to join the club in order to tip the vote to their candidate,” the email read. “We have no restrictions in the bylaws that they need to be a member for a time certain.”

Ms. Evans said that during the endorsement meeting there were many new faces, including candidates and their family members and the focus of interest from new members was on the city council District 1.

District 1 was the only council seat that was in play because Sal Medina is registered as no party preference, so the endorsement for Mike Ceraso in District 5 was a clear choice.

Besides her involvement with the local club, Ms. Evans is the immediate past chair and an alternate member of the LA County Democratic Party 41st Assembly District.

Ms. Evans did say that she felt the vote itself was fair because it functioned under the current bylaws. The 30-day wait period before new members could vote was removed from the bylaws when they were rewritten a few years back.

Mr. Pedroza said on Thursday morning that, as a result of this year’s endorsement process, the exective committee will be meeting in the coming weeks to address membership issue in the bylaws.

The club’s official endorsements are: Mike Ceraso, city council District 5; Christine Margiotta, city council District 1; Chris Naticchia, CUSD board of education; and Danielle Soto, Three Valleys Water District, division 6.

Citrus College board candidate Laura Bollinger received the club’s endorsement following the executive committee meeting. However, that decision was reversed after a member of that committee asked that it go to a general vote of all members. In that vote neither Ms. Bollinger or her rival Joe Salas reached the 60 percent threshold. The club also had no recommendation for the second board of education seat because there was no consensus.

Ms. Rosenthal also took issue with the meeting itself and how the vote was conducted, saying that only Mr. Pedroza was keeping track of who was voting and tallying the results.

“Only one person was keeping track of the ballots appearing on screen, checking membership, counting numbers of votes and figuring out percentages, and whether the club was following alleged parliamentary procedures. Basically it was a free for all,” Ms. Rosenthal said. “Also there were no clear rules about reversing of prior endorsements, which makes one wonder why the board even bothered making prior endorsements.”

Mr. Pedroza said that voting was conducted through the Zoom app and that it was a complex but fair process. Each person logged on to Zoom was allowed one vote, if there was more than one person sharing a screen, they would text him their vote, and then he called them back to verify the vote they wished to cast.

“The process was very clear from the beginning, but because it did not work out in favor of their candidate then [they contend] it’s flawed,” Mr. Pedroza said in defense of the vote tabulation.

Ms. Rosenthal remains troubled by the process and about the “win at any cost” message the outcome sends.

“It does call to mind the machinations of a candidate and party on the national political scene. It’s a page out of the Mitch McConnell and Newt Gringrich playbook. Who wants council members who work and think like that, no matter which wing of the party they represent?” she said.  



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