PALM SPRINGS – Dennis Woods, one of three candidates vying for the City Council seat in District 2, has been the darling of Democrats — until it came to the Riverside County Democratic Party.
Woods garnered endorsements from three prominent Democratic groups in the Coachella Valley – Desert Stonewall Democrats, Democrats of the Desert, and Democratic Women of the Desert.
The Riverside County Democratic Party endorsement, however, was awarded to one of Woods’ two opponents, Peter J. Maietta. It is his single biggest endorsement. He has two other endorsements, one from state Sen. Connie Leyva and Cathedral City Mayor Mark Carnevale.
The Riverside County Democratic Party endorsement has raised questions among some Democratic leaders and some of Woods’ supporters. Woods, too, has questions.
Maietta told Uken Report that he is “incredibly proud” to have been endorsed by the Riverside Democratic Party.
“My campaign worked hard to earn that endorsement because it is important to me that in a time of such great national turmoil, voters should know that I value equality, diversity, opportunity, and will stand up for every community,” Maietta said. “That’s what this endorsement means to me. Those who did not receive the endorsement question the process because it’s easier than admitting they don’t reflect the values of the Democratic Party.”
Woods told Uken Report he is proud to have the endorsement of many Palm Springs and Coachella Valley organizations and residents, including the three largest Democratic organizations in the Coachella Valley.
“These people know me, know the work I’ve done as a Planning Commissioner for the city of Palm Springs and as a community leader within our Little Tuscany neighborhood organization,” Woods said. “I am extremely proud to have also received the endorsement of all the labor unions including Police and Fire – the Labor Council and the carpenters union. So, it was very surprising to me that the Riverside County Democratic Party went against these endorsements.”
The process for the Riverside County Democratic Party endorsement was difficult, Woods said.
“The interview date was moved more than once and then I was only given approximately 24 hours’ notice of the rescheduled time,” Woods said. “I was not given contact information for members of the club and the interview panel that conducted the interview did not introduce themselves. The vast majority of the members of the Riverside County Democratic Party do not live in the valley so I have not worked with them. Peter Maietta, who received the endorsement, has paid campaign staff that is key figures in that club, and they lobbied heavily for his endorsement.”
Woods declined to identify the people.
A review of Maietta’s campaign disclosure forms might connect some dots. The forms show that Joy Silver, a failed candidate for state Senate in 2018, has contributed at least $150 to Maietta’s campaign. Silver was tapped earlier this year to be chair of the Fundraising Committee for the Riverside County Democratic Party.
Tom Kuhn, who worked for Silver on her Senate campaign, is Maietta’s paid campaign consultant.
Franciso Ramos, whom Maietta paid for mileage and administrative services, is also a member of the Riverside County Democratic Party.
Woods said he is disappointed but recognizes it is just one endorsement. Ultimately, he said, he has the “important endorsements” that matter to Palm Springs residents.
“I have heard from a lot of people who were disturbed by the process,” Woods said. ”I hope that it changes in future years to provide more of an even playing field. Other significant organizations have chosen to endorse me. It’s one endorsement opportunity out of many. And, as I’ve said, I’m proud to have a large number of Valley endorsements, from unions, Democrats and business leaders as well as Palm Springs City Councilmembers (Christy) Holstege, (J.R.) Roberts, and (Lisa) Middleton and Mayor (Roberts) Moon. These local Valley people know me very well, probably better than most of those on the County Democratic committee. These people are endorsing me because they think I am very well qualified for this office. Their leadership and trust in me means a great deal.”
Mayor Pro Tem Geoff Kors, a candidate in District 3, did not endorse in the District 1 or 2.
“There are great candidates in both districts and I look forward to working with whoever the voters select to represent them,” Kors told Uken Report.
Tisa Rodriguez, chair of the Riverside County Democratic Party, told Uken Report the organization’s bylaws are very clear on which member may and may not participate in endorsement processes. Anyone who is directly working for a campaign must recuse himself or herself from the endorsement interview for that race. Members are allowed to have opinions, and still participate.
In the Woods/Maietta case the following occurred, which Rodriguez outlined in great detail:
- Francisco Ramos, Riverside County Democratic Party volunteer and staffer for Peter Maietta, recused himself from the endorsement interviews. He did not attend, and did not participate in the organization of the interviews. He was entitled to be one of the speakers for Maietta at the final vote, and was a part of a balanced discussion with equal numbers of speakers for and against the recommendation. He did not touch the ballots, or otherwise influence any part of the technical process. He just one of a number of members present at the final vote with a strong view, and none of those other people were shy about expressing their views at appropriate times.
- Silver is another volunteer, but was not a staffer or surrogate for Maietta. Under Riverside County Democratic Party bylaws she was entitled to full and fair participation in the endorsement process. As a member of the Assembly District 42 Caucus she was allowed to participate in the interviews, and ask each candidate a fair and balanced question. The AD 42 Caucus was made up of a variety people with a variety of opinions on the race, and looking to be persuaded to recommend one or another candidate. Joy Silver did not attend the final vote, and did not work on the organization of any part of the endorsement process. She is, however, allowed to hold and express an opinion on the election. That especially applies now that an endorsement has been made.
- Finally, we do allow candidates to bring limited numbers of people to watch their interviews only, as the actual interviews are not private. Tom Kuhn attended, silently watched Peter Maietta’s interview, and then left with the candidate. All candidates were informed of this right, and were further informed that people on their campaigns are not allowed to stay for any other interviews and that only the candidate may speak or be recognized. This in no way influences the race, as we are used to having some kind of audience in situations where the open meeting rule applies.
“We are elected from among the community to work on issues of importance to the community, and as long as we do so within the confines of our established bylaws, we maintain the order and ethics that are strictly required,” Rodriguez said. “The ability to endorse in local elections is one that is specific to County Central Committees. It is our responsibility under Elections Code and charter from the California Democratic Party. Clubs are able to direct Club Level Endorsement, because we voted to give them that ability, and formalized that ability in our bylaws. That means that we mostly all endorse the same people, but sometimes we will not. There is nothing unethical about having a difference of opinion.”
Ruth Debra, who serves on the Desert Stonewall Democrat’s Political action committee and Steering committee and participate in the interviews of candidates, told Uken Report that she is “surprised and disappointed” in the Riverside County Democratic Party Central Committee and the endorsement process in the Palm Springs District 2 election. She did not attend the endorsement event.
“The powers that be in the Central Committee did not consider that most of the Democratic Clubs in our area endorsed Dennis Woods who is a very well-qualified candidate with many years of planning experience and endorsed his far less qualified opponent in the race,” Debra said. “I admit that I was shocked when I heard this. It was definitely disappointing that the choice of many, many clubs and activists was ignored by the Central Committee and that the two voices that swayed the decision making were those of a former candidate and a (paid) employee of Marietta’s campaign. Sounds a bit like conflict of interest to me. Now I know how little our Democratic Club endorsements mean to the Riverside County Democratic Party.”
- Peter J. Maietta: Peter J. Maietta
- Geoff Kors: Geoff Kors
- Tisa Rodriguez: Facebook
- Dennis Woods: Dennis Woods