Jewish Journal

Democratic party vote sends Berman v. Sherman contest to convention

by Jonah Lowenfeld

January 22, 2012 | 4:48 pm

Counting the votes at the Democratic Party pre-endorsement Conference on January 22. Rep. Brad Sherman came away with more than 50 percent of the votes cast, keeping alive the possibility that either he or Rep. Howard Berman might win the Democrats' endorsement in this intra-party battle. Photo by Jonah Lowenfeld

In his race for reelection in the new 30th congressional district, Rep. Brad Sherman (D - Sherman Oaks) won a victory of a sort on January 22. In a preliminary meeting known as a pre-endorsement conference, more than half of the Democratic party activists from the new 30th congressional district urged the party to endorse Sherman.

Sherman’s opponent, fellow Democratic incumbent congressman Rep. Howard Berman (D - Van Nuys), received 36 percent of the votes, with the remainder advising the party not to endorse either candidate.

By winning more than 50 percent of the votes cast, Sherman guaranteed that a second vote would be held at the Democratic Party convention in San Diego next month. The nomination process in this internecine contest could end up taking these two long-standing congressmen all the way to an open battle for the party’s endorsement on the floor at the convention.

The 30th district vote was the last one taken at a meeting in Van Nuys that lasted almost four hours. Endorsements in 10 different state assembly, state senate and congressional races were considered. Most other races either produced one clear winner, resulting in a recommendation to endorse, or left the field so evenly split that the process of endorsement was halted immediately.

But in the 30th district race, when the votes were tallied, Sherman received 77 votes, or 54 percent of the total number of ballots cast. Berman received 52 votes from the district’s party activists.

The two campaigns have been ferociously fighting for every endorsement, and the atmosphere on Sunday was tense. The Democratic Party official who was running the meeting made a lengthy and vague reference to allegations of “irregularities” in the process of casting ballots in the race between Sherman and Berman.

Even though Sherman may have received more votes—votes could be cast by mail or fax—in the hall, the most vocal support was clearly lined up behind Berman.

Supporters waved “Reelect Congressman Howard Berman” signs when Berman got up to outline his record over nearly 30 years in congress. Even after Sherman spoke, touting his endorsements by local Democratic clubs and his 100 percent rating from the AFL-CIO, many in the crowd chanted “Howard, Howard.”

“I wasn’t a bit surprised,” Berman said of the result of the vote after the event. “This is Brad’s strongest forum, and this now goes to San Diego.”

A recommendation to endorse an incumbent that reaches the floor of the convention usually only requires a simple majority to pass. But in the 30th district, where two incumbents are facing off against one another, a 60 percent majority will be needed—if it makes it to the floor at all. Berman said that he felt “comfortable” about what he would face in San Diego and sounded dubious about the prospects of a party endorsement being made in the race.

“My best guess is we’ll get nowhere near endorsing anyone,” Berman said.

But Parke Skelton, a consultant for the Sherman for Congress Campaign, celebrated Sunday’s result.

“Once again it is crystal clear,” Skelton said in an emailed statement. “The Democrats who live and vote in [the 30th congressional district] know, trust and support Brad Sherman,”

Many of the races considered at the pre-endorsement conference featured only one candidate. Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, who is running for reelection in the 45th Assembly district, is one such candidate.

Closely allied with Berman, Blumenfield used his two minutes to urge people to avoid intra-party fighting. He cited his own experience of receiving a pre-endorsement conference recommendation in 2008, only to have that recommendation stripped at the convention.

“When we’re united there’s no stopping us,” Blumenfield said. “But when we’re divided, the Republicans win.”

Party unity isn’t an option in some races. Four candidates are running for office in the 46th assembly district, and no single candidate took 50 percent of the vote on Sunday, eliminating the possibility of the party nominating a single candidate. All four Democrats will appear on the open primary ballot this June. While their party affiliation will appear on the ballot, no official party endorsement will be made.

Other candidates recommended for endorsement on Sunday included State Senator Fran Pavley, who is running for re-election in the new 27th district. Initially, there were two names of candidates on the sheet of paper hanging on the front wall—Pavley’s and that of former Assembly Speaker and one-time Los Angeles Mayoral Candidate Bob Hertzberg. Hertzberg, who is reportedly considering running in the 27th senate district, had not yet filed or paid, so he was not considered.

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As a result of California’s 2011 redistricting, two Jewish Democratic incumbent congressmen, Howard Berman (D - Valley Village) and Brad Sherman (D - Sherman Oaks), have both...

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