It was a tense Wednesday night in West Hollywood as Torie Osborn, a candidate for the state Assembly District that includes Malibu, received another local Democratic club's key endorsement, one mired in controversy.
The community organizer won the support of the West Hollywood-Beverly Hills Democratic Club—her eighth endorsement from eight area Democratic clubs in recent weeks, again edging out her Democratic opponents in the upcoming primary, current Assembly member Betsy Butler (she currently represents a different area) and Santa Monica Mayor/California Coastal Commissioner Richard Bloom.
But Weho-Beverly Hills club members say their endorsement process was hijacked by way of a slew of new members who allegedly joined the club for the sole purpose of securing the Osborn endorsement. Similar charges were made at the of Osborn earlier this month.
The organization has about 125 members, 35 to 40 of whom are actively involved, club President Lillian Raffel said. She said the club received 45 new members on Dec. 29—their memberships all paid for with a single check amounting to $1,125.
Some of those new members live in communities outside the area, including Glendale and Norwalk, which are not in the new 50th Assembly District. Club bylaws do not have any residency restrictions, just that a member voting on the endorsement must have joined within the previous 25 days.
Longtime members say those 45 new members were enough to push the endorsement vote in the candidate's favor. Osborn defended the tactic when Patch questioned her.
After a short thank-you speech pledging to serve the interests of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills as well as the club, Osborn told Patch she needed the local endorsements.
"I'm thrilled to have this [endorsement]," said Osborn, explaining she believes the state Democratic endorsement will be "stacked against me" since it consistently favors the incumbent candidate, and Butler could be considered an incumbent since she is a current member of the Assembly.
Osborn told Patch, "We're in it to win it. I have a grassroots army that's working with me. ... People joining clubs in order to vote for who they vote for is part of the grassroots. It just is part of the tactics. People do it all the time. I'm proud of my troops."
Proposed dual endorsement
At the beginning of the meeting, the club's executive panel recommended dual endorsements of Osborn and Butler.
Club President Raffel explained that the executive panel interviewed Osborn, Butler and Bloom. Raffel reported the 13-member panel had voted 6-6-1 for Osborn, Butler and Bloom, in that order. Thus, they were recommending the dual endorsement.
But the full club did not agree, voting 47-27 against it. A motion was then made to endorse Butler, but that too failed with a 46-25 vote. Finally, a motion to endorse Osborn was made, passing 43-28.
Tension in the room
Prior to the start of the meeting, the new members were the talk of the room, many club members angry about them joining at the last minute. As the meeting got under way, the atmosphere in the room was tense.
An hour into the meeting, Weho Mayor John Duran, a longtime club member, spoke, acknowledging the many new faces in the room. "Don't hijack our process and never come back again," Duran said. "Don't do to us what you did in Malibu."
After Duran spoke, the mood in the room lightened somewhat, but with each successive endorsement vote, the tension began to rise.
By the time Osborn won—at the end of the nearly three-hour meeting—Duran could no longer contain his frustration. Storming out, he said, "West Hollywood will not forget this."
Ploy used 'aggressively,' some say
Although no one else was as vocal as Duran, several others approached Patch to voice their displeasure.
"I have never seen anything as aggressive as this," said longtime member Norman Chramoff, a Weho resident. "I've seen people stuff these meetings and buy memberships before, but in 25 years of doing this, I've never seen anybody so aggressive about it."
Weho Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Prang was equally concerned. He believed the outcome might not have been for Osborn had just the core club members voted, but as a two-time past president of the club, he also recognized that buying a large chunk of memberships was within the club's rules.
"They're effectively using the rules in ways that haven't really been used before," said Prang, who reports he is friends with all three contenders, but is supporting Butler since she is already in the Assembly. "It demonstrates where there is a weakness, where the club's endorsements can be manipulated."
Raffel told Patch she hopes some of these new members will return for future meetings, but said she won't be surprised if they don’t.
"I have never seen it [new members coming in] to this degree," she said. "People bring in a few more people, but not to this extent."
Raffel added she was disappointed that the dual endorsement option didn't pass.
"I really felt that having the dual endorsements was more reflective of our club," Raffel said.