The Sonoma County Democratic Party has endorsed the three most liberal of six Democrats running for Petaluma City Council in November, overruling the recommendations of a committee that interviewed all six candidates.
Democratic activists involved in the process characterize the change as an effort by the more progressive members of the party to assert their influence. They say the switch came after intense internal disagreement during the selection process.
Local elected offices in California are technically nonpartisan, although party politics can be influential.
The county Democratic committee ultimately endorsed Councilwoman Tiffany Renee for a second term; Jason Davies, who unsuccessfully sought election two years ago; and newcomer Alicia Kae Herries, an anti-big-box activist on the city Planning Commission.
That slate was markedly different than the recommendation from the interview committee: Davies and Councilmen Gabe Kearney and Mike Healy.
In other city council races in which the central committee has made endorsements this year, it followed the exact recommendations of its interview committee.
Sonoma County Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Gale described the discussion to dump Kearney and Healy for Renee and Herries as "robust."
Four other committee members who asked not to be named were more descriptive. They said the group of more liberal members, including Assemblyman Michael Allen's committee appointee Pam Torliatt and Petaluma Mayor David Glass — hijacked the process and intimidated committee members.
Torliatt and Glass spoke out against endorsing Kearney, Gale said.
Kearney and Healy have endorsed Allen's opponent in the 10th Assembly District race, Marc Levine. Both Levine and Allen are Democrats.
Healy has never been favored by progressives, and Kearney apparently fell out of favor since 2010 because of his more moderate votes.
The committee agreed on Davies and Renee by more than the two-thirds vote needed, Gale said. After a motion to endorse Kearney failed to reach that threshold, a move to endorse Herries attained two-thirds agreement.
Kearney, active in the local Democratic party for years, was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention this year and is a former chairman of the Sonoma County Young Democrats. That group endorsed Kearney, Renee and Davies.