Democrat Endorsement Chair says race not a factor in Antioch endorsements

However, they only endorsed two of the three candidates who requested it for the three seats on the Antioch School Board

By Allen Payton, Publisher

This is to follow up on my recent commentary about the elections in Antioch and reporting on the concerns shared by some white Democratic candidates that the Contra Costa Democratic Central Committee only endorsed minority candidates for office.

I emailed the Democrats’ Endorsement Chair, Jeff Koertzen with the following questions:

Mr. Koertzen,

I have been informed that you are the Endorsement Chair for the Contra Costa Democratic Central Committee.

In following up on my recent commentary on the Herald website regarding the elections in Antioch, I’d like to know did any of the following candidates seek the endorsement of the Contra Costa Democratic Central Committee?

Randy Benevides, Barbara Cowan, Diane Gibson Gray

The reason I ask is that the CCDCC only endorsed two Democratic candidates for the three seats, both African Americans, even though there are three other Democrats in the race.

Also, was race used as a criteria for the endorsements for the elections in Antioch? Knowing the history of support for Affirmative Action by the Democratic Party, is there a desire to promote minority candidates over white candidates, at the local level?

Finally, why is the Democratic Central Committee endorsing in what are supposed to be non-partisan races?

I look forward to your responses.

Thank you.

Allen Payton


Koertzen responded:

“Mr. Payton,

Regarding the three candidates you reference.

Randy Benevides did not respond to our correspondence (email and postal mail, no answer by phone).

Barbara Cowan was interviewed but was not endorsed.

Diane Gibson-Gray told me by phone that she was not interested in seeking our endorsement. (Phone calls were made to Democratic registered candidates who had not responded by email.)

Per our bylaws and the bylaws of the California Democratic Party, the Democratic Party of Contra Costa County may endorse any candidate in non-partisan races who is registered as a Democrat as long as that candidate specifically indicates he or she is interested in our endorsement. (A non-response must be interpreted as the individual is not interested in our endorsement. Our Bylaws require that we send a letter to the campaign mailing address on file with the registrar’s office. In addition, emails were sent to the email address on file with the registrar’s office and phone calls were made to the campaign phone number on file with the registrar’s office. Messages were left when answering machines were reached, but because we had attempted to reach candidates in multiple ways, it was not required that we actually reach any person to receive a yes or no response if they were interested in endorsement. Due to the multiple methods to attempt to reach candidates, it was up to the candidate to reply to us.) In addition, we may only endorse a maximum of the number of seats available in a particular race. Only one of the three you mention indicated she was interested and sought our endorsement.

As for the city council race which you mention in your blog post but not in your email, Walter Ruehlig did not respond to our correspondence and Noel Pinto was interviewed but was not endorsed.

Race is absolutely not considered as a factor. It was actually a surprise to me when I read your blog post because when we interviewed the candidates, we interviewed them as people not as representatives of a particular race. The endorsement committee made our recommendations based on the individuals we felt best met the requirements for office, would best represent their constituents, and who represented Democratic ideals.”

I then responded with the following:

Mr. Koertzen,

Thank you for your quick and complete response.

However, regarding the Antioch School Board race, since one more Democratic candidate sought the endorsement, who appears to be very qualified from her experience as both a teacher and principal, why wasn’t Barbara Cowan endorsed, instead of leaving the one position without an endorsed candidate?

Allen Payton


Koertzen responded:

Mr. Payton,

The endorsement committee did indeed find her to be qualified as a teacher and administrator, and, as I recall, she is a warm and engaging person, but some committee members had some reservations and concerns based on responses to questions posed during the interview. As a result, she did not meet the threshold required for the committee to recommend endorsement. Although we may endorse up to the number of available seats, we are not required to endorse that number of candidates.

To be fair to Ms. Cowan, I would need to discuss that information with her. It would not be appropriate for me to discuss the details of our endorsement deliberations with the press, especially if I have not yet had that conversation with Ms. Cowan.

Thank you,

Jeff Koertzen”

So there you have it. The Democrats claim race wasn’t used in their endorsements, but when they had the opportunity to endorse a very qualified, white Democratic candidate for the third seat on the Antioch School Board, they chose not to. So it’s up to you to decide what to believe and determine what impact, if any, it will have in the election results.

I emailed each of the three candidates mentioned to ask if they had requested the endorsement of the CCDCC, but none of them responded before publishing this commentary. If and when they do, I will provide an update.

Now, let’s get something, straight. I’m being accused of injecting race into the elections in Antioch. Let’s be clear. I was not the one who put out the emails about the issue. I received them and spoke with a few of the white Democratic candidates for office in Antioch about the issue and shared that information in my commentary. They chose to share it with me on condition of anonymity. If people are upset, so be it. No issue is too sensitive to discuss it if it’s of concern to candidates running for office or the voters. But don’t shoot the messenger or even try to read into anything I wrote. You need to take it on its face value. Debate and discuss the issue don’t attack the one who brought it out of the shadows. If those candidates who have the concern wish to remain anonymous, that’s their choice. But it would be good if they would step forward and share their concerns, publicly and challenge their own party.

This is America where we have freedom of speech. Don’t be afraid to speak up and speak out when you feel an injustice has occurred – no matter who it might be against.

13 Comments to “Democrat Endorsement Chair says race not a factor in Antioch endorsements”

  1. Carolyn Phinney says:

    Dear Mr. Payton,
    I am an elected member of the Democratic Party Central Committee in my 2nd term.

    When all the candidates who are endorsed are white, no on asks if race is a factor. Suddenly, when two candidates are endorsed who are black this is a major topic of debate and discussion. I find that sad.

    As you know, there is a significant black population in Antioch, so of course some of the candidates should be black. The fact that 2/3 candidates were endorsed and they both happened to be black is not statistically significant…as any statistician would tell you.

    The fact that the white candidate did not meet the criteria established by the party does not mean that the white candidate was subjected to discrimination. It means she did not meet the values criteria established by the Democratic Party.

    Political Parties and others who endorse are allowed to have values and criteria and to pick and choose who they endorse and don’t endorse.


    • Carolyn Phinney says:

      Furthermore, the Democratic Party Central Committee has an explicit preference to endorse as many candidates as there are slots (we can not endorse more). Hence, she must have said something that disqualified her or she would have been greeted with open arms and endorsed.

      What would disqualify a candidate theoretically? Any sort of discriminatory statement; anything that suggested you were anti-worker, anti-teacher, anti-union, were anti any civil rights, didn’t listen to constituents, didn’t think there was global warming (anti-science), and so on and so forth….lots and lots of statements could veto you getting the Dem Party endorsement. Skin color is not one of the things that could disqualify anyone for endorsement. NO ONE CARES.

      • Publisher says:

        Well, obviously, Ms. Phinney, some of the other candidates do care and are the ones who made it an issue. I am the one who reported about it and questioned those involved and hopefully after my next article is posted, the matter will be put to rest.
        Allen Payton, Publisher

    • Publisher says:

      Ms. Phinney,
      Thank you for your comment.
      The concerns of those who shared their information with me, including the numbers by the statistician, weren’t just about the Antioch School Board.
      I don’t believe I’m being ridiculous for asking questions and reporting on the concerns and information shared with me on the issue.
      Yes, I agree, political parties – and anyone – can pick their candidates based upon their values and criteria.
      But what you nor Mr. Koertzen have explained is what were the criteria that your Central Committee used, which a very qualified, former principal and teacher, such as Mrs. Cowan, didn’t meet?
      Allen Payton, Publisher

      • Carolyn Phinney says:

        I did give you a sample of the type of criteria that are considered. We do not expose what we consider to be the weaknesses of the candidates we interview, or no one would come in for an interview. In fact, we provide confidentiality that we will not go running around talking about what they said in an interview and Jeff Koertzen collected the notes of the interviewers, so that they would not have any information to spread around intentionally or unintentionally.
        Frankly, Mrs. Cowan is behaving like a baby. She and two other white candidates were endorsed by the teacher’s union and yet no one is screaming racism for their not endorsing any black or Latino candidates. Mrs. Cowan clearly said something that the committee found to contradict the values of the Democratic Party. This committee worked hard, with integrity, was conscientious, and not only interviewed candidates but read lengthy answers to questionnaires. For you or Mrs. Cowan to be crying about her not getting the endorsement of the Democratic Party is childish. Lots of people didn’t get the endorsement of the Democratic Party, who were Democrats. We don’t always get it right, but we do have the right to evaluate candidates and decide they are not up to our criteria. Mrs. Cowan was not up to our criteria and we no obligation, nor do we have the permission to break our confidentiality agreement, to explain what she said or did that disqualified her. I was not there, but I can tell you my colleagues worked hard and thought carefully and did their best job to be conscientious and the babies need not apply in the future for endorsement for political office.

        • Publisher says:

          Ms. Phinney,
          Was the criteria objective or subjective? Were each of the candidates asked the same questions? That’s important to know, from a fairness standpoint, but that’s the subject for another time and not the focus of my commentary or articles.
          With all fairness to Ms. Cowan, she wasn’t “crying” that she didn’t get the endorsement. She didn’t call me, I called her and she shared the reason why her interview didn’t go well, which was what she surmised was the reason she didn’t get the endorsement. However, Ms. Cowan does not know why she was not endorsed as she never informed that she was or wasn’t or why not.
          I’ll leave that up to your Central Committee to work out.
          Allen Payton, Publisher

          • Carolyn Phinney says:

            You are actually asking if an endorsement was subjective or objective? You know that is a ridiculous question on the face of it, unless there were multiple choice questions scored by a computer.

            Each candidate was asked the same questions on the questionnaire and the same basic questions on the interview, differing in follow up questions.

            If Ms. Cowan was not trying to ride the wave of your racism allegations, why did she provide you a nice photo of herself and her grandchildren for PR at election time?

            You can’t have it both ways, Ms. Cowan. Either you are part of these allegations of racism by the Democratic Party or you are not. If you are not, you shouldn’t be publishing photos in the article alleging racism. And, again, no one alleged racism when the teacher’s union endorsed 3 white candidates, with so many nonwhite candidates available for endorsement.

            GIVE ME A BREAK. You must have something else going on in Antioch to write about other than the hard and honest attempt of the Democratic Party’s Endorsement Committee to endorse the best candidates.

          • Publisher says:

            Ms. Phinney,
            Mrs. Cowan didn’t publish her photo with the article, I did. That was the photo she submitted for the article that was published in the October print edition of the Antioch Herald, in which each of the candidates submitted their own photo and answers to some basic questions posed to them.

            Since you don’t live in Antioch, you don’t receive a free copy of the paper in the mail, as most residents and businesses do, each month.

            It’s good to know each candidate was asked the same questions in the endorsement interviews. That’s the only fair way to assess the candidates.
            And yes, we do write about multiple other subjects in the Herald and on our website. Feel free to read all our other posts.

            As for the three white candidates endorsed by the Antioch Education Association, I did point that out in my commentary.
            Let’s move on, shall we?
            Allen Payton, Publisher.

        • jso says:

          I don’t know Mrs. Cowan personally, however I did vote for because she is the most qualified in my opinion.

          Ms. Phinney I find your comments about Mrs. Cowan to be very rude. Saying, “Mrs. Cowan is behaving like a baby” and “babies need not apply” is uncalled for. Who are you?

          For someone who was not present during the interview you sure have a lot to say.

  2. Hilary Crosby says:

    Both Mr. Koertzen and Ms. Phinney left several examples of the criteria used by the Contra Costa County Democratic Party Central Committee to make endorsements. Mr. Koertzen was very transparent when he stated (and you quoted)

    “To be fair to Ms. Cowan, I would need to discuss that information with her. It would not be appropriate for me to discuss the details of our endorsement deliberations with the press, especially if I have not yet had that conversation with Ms. Cowan.”

    I can tell you that our Democratic values also promote consideration for those individuals who have chosen to serve by running for local office. It’s true that candidates enter the public arena where they may be subjected to many slings and arrows. However, our endorsement committee will not respond to anonymous accusations with specifics about individuals without their informed foreknowledge.

    I’m glad this matter will be put to rest soon – it’s not ridiculous, but repetition of the original accusation without acknowledging the considered responses is certainly a time waster when our county, state and country face such serious problems.

  3. Diddo Clark says:

    Dear Allen,

    I’ve served on the Contra Costa County Democratic Central Committee almost all of this millennium; I was one of the 5 interviewers, for 24 hours, interviewing local candidates who are on the 11/6/2012 ballot (but I missed the Barbara Cowan interview); and I think that: Jeff Koertzen and our Endorsement Sub-Committee provided a fair and evenhanded process to every candidate, evaluated every candidate on the merits, and recommended for endorsement the candidates who – we believed – would best serve their constituents. The process was not perfect; there is room for improvement; but the process had SO much integrity that I am willing to support the Endorsement Sub-Committee recommendations, and the Central Committee endorsements, even in cases where my personal preference differs.

    There were races where we recommended a white candidate over a black candidate and vice versa. One of the most well-prepared, articulate, mature, nuanced, and outstanding candidates with whom I have ever crossed paths is De’shawn Woolridge from Pittsburg who is running for Community College District Governing Board. We didn’t unanimously recommend him and unanimously endorse him because he’s black – or 21 years old. We unanimously recommended him and unanimously endorsed him because we believed that: (1) he’s the best and the brightest and (2) the interests of the Community College District and of the voters would be best served by De’shawn Woolridge.

    We unanimously recommended, and unanimously endorsed, Debra Vinson for Antioch School Board because: she is very well qualified; she has made major contributions to the community; we like her very much; and, we believed, the interests of: the Antioch School District, Antioch children, and Antioch voters would be best served by Debra Vinson. I would feel blessed if Debra Vinson served on the school board in my community.

    Respectfully submitted,
    Diddo Clark, Democrat

    • Publisher says:

      I agree, Debra Vinson is very qualified to serve. In fact the Antioch Chamber’s PAC, on which I participated, endorsed her for school board two years ago. I also believe Synitha Walker is qualified to serve, as well, with all her involvement in the school district and educational issues in Antioch.
      We’ll see what the voters decide, tomorrow.
      Allen Payton, Publisher

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