Activist and writer Michael Petrelis was one of many... uh, colorful characters on parade at the California Democratic Party convention in at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, May 31-June 2, 2019. (Photo/Dan Pine)
Activist and writer Michael Petrelis was one of many... uh, colorful characters on parade at the California Democratic Party convention at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, May 31-June 2, 2019. (Photo/Dan Pine)

Candidates and other colorful characters at the California Dems’ convention

Defeat Donald Trump in 2020. That mission, above all else, informed the high-decibel, hyper-electric energy that was the California Democratic Party State Convention.

More than 3,200 delegates, along with thousands more volunteers, campaign workers, observers and wandering demonstrators, crowded into San Francisco’s Moscone Center over the weekend for the state convention. Party activists gathered to pass resolutions, elect regional officers and a state party chair, and hear from 14 candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Combine San Francisco’s character with thousands of enthusiastic liberal firebrands, and you get quite the entertaining spectacle.

For most of the convention’s three days, Moscone Center thundered with cheering, chanting throngs, holding up signs promoting candidates or issues, such as “The Rent Is Too Damn High” and “Black Women Are the Margin of Victory.”

Sex workers demonstrate at the California Democratic Party convention at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, May 31-June 2, 2019. (Photo/Dan Pine)
Sex workers demonstrate at the California Democratic Party convention at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, May 31-June 2, 2019. (Photo/Dan Pine)

Sex workers showed up, too, dressed in leather and fishnet stockings, calling out “Sex work is work” and waving signs that read “Dominatrixes Against Donald Trump.” At one point a marching band, complete with sousaphone, joined them.

As pods of screaming Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris supporters rode up the escalators, equal numbers of fair-housing advocates wearing red “Gentrification Sucks” T-shirts rode down for their turn on the crowded lobby floor.

It was like a liberal M.C. Escher painting come to life.

Kamala Harris outside the California Democratic Party convention at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, May 31-June 2, 2019. (Photo/Dan Pine)
Kamala Harris outside the California Democratic Party convention at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, May 31-June 2, 2019. (Photo/Dan Pine)

Democrats like to say they are the party of diversity, and the crowds reflected that. Hijab-wearing mothers pushing babies in strollers, veterans in military caps, college students waving signs for Harris, Warren, Bernie Sanders and other favorites, men and women of color, disabled people on scooters — all crowded into the cavernous lobby.

Once in the main hall, people got what they came for, hearing directly from 14 of the 23 Democratic presidential contenders — with former Vice President Joe Biden a notable no-show — as they took the podium one after the other in seven-minute installments to serve up red meat to blue Democrats.

Massachusetts Sen. Warren touted her proposed wealth tax. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker promised to take on the gun lobby. California Sen. Harris pledged to achieve gender pay equity. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, attacking the Trump administration’s immigration policies, vowed to end “racism at the border.” And all indicated support for some form of universal health care, especially the proposed Medicare for all.

Supporters of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren at the California Democratic Party convention in at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, May 31-June 2, 2019. (Photo/Dan Pine)
Supporters of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren at the California Democratic Party convention at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, May 31-June 2, 2019. (Photo/Dan Pine)

Those who said they opposed it — former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney — were roundly booed, the latter so much that it prompted a scolding from the podium by state party chair Alexandra Gallardo-Rooker.

On issues of concern to Jewish voters, candidates said little regarding foreign policy and nothing concerning Israel, its neighbors or Judaism. Anti-Semitism was condemned, but as part of a long list of social prejudices — including Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia and racism — that the candidates say have worsened since President Trump took office.

J. later spoke with four of the candidates face to face to ask about issues of Jewish interest.

Eric Swallwell speaks to J. at the California Democratic Party convention at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, May 31-June 2, 2019. (Photo/Dan Pine)
Eric Swallwell speaks to J. at the California Democratic Party convention at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, May 31-June 2, 2019. (Photo/Dan Pine)

Alameda County Rep. Eric Swalwell expressed strong support for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, and he blasted Trump for putting “nepotism above stability” in appointing son-in-law Jared Kushner to head up peace talks.

“Where we have showmanship now, I would bring leadership,” he said.

“I’m going to insist on no more geographical changes in the region that we would honor until there is a two-state solution,” Swalwell said, referring to Israeli settlement expansion. However, “Israel is our closest friend in the Middle East. We need them to be safe, secure and to thrive. But the people in the Palestinian areas are worthy of prosperity and security, so I would put back in place the money the president has pulled from the Palestinian people, and put the United States back in the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.”

Of course, the anti-circumcision "intactivists" were there (Photo/Dan Pine)
Of course, the anti-circumcision “intactivists” were there (Photo/Dan Pine)

A former county prosecutor, Swalwell condemned the resurgence in anti-Semitism, saying he would increase Department of Justice funding to expand prosecution of “domestic terrorism crimes, particularly against white nationalists who are violent and anti-Semitic.”

In response to a question from J. at a Saturday press conference, Harris said, “I strongly believe that the only real resolution to the conflict that is reasonable, fair and right is the two-state solution. So that will be my goal as president.

“We should all support Israel, which has been a friend to the people of the United States, with our shared values, such as democracy,” the former San Francisco district attorney said. “So I will always support the need to protect Israel’s safety in a region where it can be hostile.”

Julián Castro speaks to reporters at the California Democratic Party convention at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, May 31-June 2, 2019. (Photo/Dan Pine)
Julián Castro speaks to reporters at the California Democratic Party convention at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, May 31-June 2, 2019. (Photo/Dan Pine)

Former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro told J. he’s been “alarmed by the spike in anti-Semitism that we’ve seen in this country in the last two years. I’m glad that many voices from different quarters have spoken out against it. This president has not helped with his rhetoric or his conduct. That’s one of the reasons we need new leadership in this country.”

On Middle East peace talks, Castro said, “We need to go from symbolism to seriousness. We need to go back to the kinds of constant diplomacy that [former Secretary of State] John Kerry was doing with both sides. Right now, Israel is going to have new elections, because for the first time an incoming prime minister was unable to secure a governing coalition. That gives us an opportunity to reset, and look for a path to peace.”

Though she had only a few moments, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard told J. that “the current leadership,” namely Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Trump, “is unfortunate, taking us further from the prospects of peace. This has to be decided by the Israeli and Palestinian people.” As president, she said, “I would undo some of the damage done by this administration.”

Tulsi Gabbard thronged by supporters at the California Democratic Party convention at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, May 31-June 2, 2019. (Photo/Dan Pine)
Tulsi Gabbard thronged by supporters at the California Democratic Party convention at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, May 31-June 2, 2019. (Photo/Dan Pine)

Speaking from the main stage, only one candidate made a Jewish reference, and it was notable for its subtlety.

In a withering condemnation of America’s epidemic of gun violence, Booker described a plaque installed at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.

Engraved on the plaque is a passage from the Torah (Genesis 37), which Booker quoted: “They said one to another, behold, here cometh the dreamer… Let us slay him… and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a J. staff writer. He retired as news editor in 2020. Dan can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.