Alameda County Dems re-elect long-time chairperson after insurgent’s bid narrowly fails

Alameda County Democratic Party Chair Robin Torello and Vice-Chair Andy Kelley.

Alameda County Democrats are sticking with party Chair Robin Torello. The long-time party boss, however, had to stave off a strong insurgent bid Wednesday night by Andy Kelley, the Central Committee’s vice-chair. Torello topped Kelley by four votes, 21-17. Five members were absent, while three members submitted blank ballots.

For the most part of the last year, as internecine battles between Berniecrats on the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee and establishment Democrats repeatedly flared, Torello had privately given signals she would step away from the chair position within the next two years. Torello called it “misinformation,” prior to Wednesday’s vote. Adding, she never officially announcing she would not run for re-election this year or next. Torello has served as chair since 2001.

Touting a long string of successes in building and maintaining Alameda County’s deep blue strain of politics, Torello pledged to continue a focus on getting endorsed Democrats elected to office in Alameda County, expanding upon candidate forums the party currently hosts in Oakland to other cities, and registering more Democrats in the Tri-Valley, areas in Oakland, and Fremont, “as there are less Democratic voters in Fremont nowadays,” she said.

“Over the past two years, I’ve done a good job of keeping the party together in a very divisive time,” Torello told Central Committee members.

Our enemy is not in here. Our enemy is out there.”-Andy Kelley urging for unity among Alameda County Democrats and a refocus on opposing Republicans.

Similar to other left-leaning areas in the state over the past two years, supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s brand of progressive politics has created friction at the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee.

In addition, the lack of headway made by Alameda County Democrats with voters in areas like the Tri-Valley has also long been a criticism of Torello’s tenure as chair. Both criticisms were highlighted earlier last year during the contentious campaign waged by Central Committee member Pamela Price against Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley.

During several committee meetings last spring and summer, Price railed against the Torello-led Central Committee’s and accused them of a lack of transparency, particularly when it came to contributions received by the committee from O’Malley’s campaign after her victory over Price last June. The party, despite pushback by Berniecrats, had earlier endorsed O’Malley for DA.

But the affair became further inflamed last October when O’Malley made a controversial endorsement of Tri-Valley Republican Assemblymember Catharine Baker over Democrat Rebecca Bauer-Kahan. The 16th Assembly District was the only GOP-held assembly seat in the Greater Bay Area and was highly sought after by local Democrats since 2014. Despite the O’Malley endorsement, Bauer-Kahan rode a wave of anti-Republican sentiment in the district to post the biggest election upset in the East Bay last November.

In Kelley’s remarks to Central Committee members, he said, “I’m running for chair of the [Alameda County] Democratic Party because we need change, transparency, and impact.” In a nod to the fractured nature of the Central Committee in recent years, Kelley said, “Sometimes it’s important to remind ourselves that there’s a spectrum in the room and that we are all Democrats. Our enemy is not in here. Our enemy is out there.”

He slammed Torello’s lack of a response to O’Malley’s ingratitude to the party who had supported her just months previously, in addition, to saying its bylaws should be amended to require resignation from the central committee if endorsed candidates back Republicans against fellow Democrats.

Torello should have made a public statement denouncing the endorsement, said Kelley. “Part of it is calling people out loudly and resistantly.”

In response to question from a committee member about O’Malley’s endorsement of Baker, Torello said, with exasperation, “Yes, that was fun,” and added, “We do give them a hard time.”

Despite the challenge for Torello’s chairpersonship, the relationship between her and Kelley has been collaborative and friendly. After the results of the election were announced, Kelley congratulated Torello on social media. Their camaraderie will be important since the Central Committee later re-elected Kelley as its vice-chair. Oakland resident Kathy Neal was also re-elected as corresponding secretary and Alameda resident Cheri Johansen was elected recording secretary.

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