A delegate situation

Cabaldon accused of ‘stacking the deck’ to win party endorsement

Playing the field: Christopher Cabaldon outflanked his opponent with some tricky— some say unethical—campaign tactics.

Playing the field: Christopher Cabaldon outflanked his opponent with some tricky— some say unethical—campaign tactics.

Courtesy Of christopher cabaldon

If you think the Clinton-Obama delegate contest is nasty, check out the Democratic fight for the 8th Assembly District in Yolo County.

There, Christopher Cabaldon—the current mayor of West Sacramento—is being accused of “stacking the deck” with democratic delegates in his primary fight against Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada.

The Cabaldon campaign paid for and coordinated a clever maneuver to increase the number of delegates allotted to the nearly defunct West Sacramento Democratic Club. Here’s the problem: Many of the club’s new members say they never wanted to join the club and had no idea their names were being used to boost Cabaldon over his opponent Yamada.

The delegate maneuver got little attention at first, owing to the arcane nature of small-town party politics. But it gave Cabaldon a lock on the all-important endorsement from the state Democratic Party. Yamada’s camp tried to block Cabaldon’s endorsement, saying the tactics “mock the very values of the Democratic Party.”

The endorsement is a huge boost to Cabaldon’s campaign.

“It means everything. It’s the single biggest endorsement of the primary,” said Afrack Vargas, the new president of the West Sacramento Democratic Club and a Cabaldon supporter.

“It tells voters that the party has chosen them as the candidate who best embodies the morals and mission of the party,” Vargas added.

During the week leading up to the February 5 presidential primary, members of the Cabaldon campaign, along with officers of the West Sac club, hit to phones to get out the vote. During the call, they also asked people to join the West Sacramento Democratic Club, a political organization that was anemic at the time, boasting only a couple dozen active members.

Cabaldon paid the club dues (about $11 a head) for the new members himself, doling out more than $6,000 from his old mayoral campaign fund.

The drive was extraordinarily successful. The club membership suddenly skyrocketed to nearly 750, even surpassing the robust Davis Democratic Club in size and political weight. Most importantly for Cabaldon, the newly reinvigorated club would give him a huge boost in delegates needed to get the Democratic Party endorsement.

On March 13, a caucus vote was held by local party members to measure support for the two candidates. Most delegates were local Democratic club members, along with members of the Yolo County Democratic Central Committee.

Before the membership drive, the West Sac club would have sent only two or three delegates to the caucus. But now it was worth a whopping 34 delegates, mostly chosen by Vargas.

Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada.

The West Sac delegates voted unanimously for Cabaldon. By contrast, the Davis club—which went entirely for Yamada—only had 12 delegates.

Yamada got trounced in the voting, due in large part to the West Sac voting bloc—winning 25 votes to Cabaldon’s 66. The vote was later upheld by a subsequent caucus at the state party convention in San Jose on March 29.

The endorsement itself carries a lot of weight, but it can also open the door for financial support and other resources from the party to fight against fellow Democrats.

“It’s rare that we get involved in a primary,” said the party’s top campaign advisor, Bob Mulholland. “But we have lots of options.”

The maneuver may have helped Cabaldon win the endorsement, but it could hurt him in the north side of West Sacramento. More than 40 residents have signed petitions (circulated by supporters of Mariko Yamada) saying, “I am not a member of the West Sacramento Democratic Club, nor have I attended a meeting of the club within the last year, or at any time expressly authorized payment of club dues on my behalf by Mayor Christopher Cabaldon or any of his representatives.”

Marlis Asprey told SN&R she never heard about the club, until, “One day, I received this letter that says, ‘Thank you for joining the West Sacramento Democratic Club.’” The letter was signed by Afrack Vargas.

Dixie Beam said that a man came to her door shortly before the February primary, asking if she was a Democrat and encouraging her to vote. “He asked me, ‘Would you mind singing this, just stating that you’re a Democrat?’ I thought why not. I had no idea I was joining a club.”

“They should have been more forthcoming. It seems kind of fraudulent,” Beam added.

Ed Hocking told SN&R that his 86-year-old mother, Antonie, was signed up without her knowledge. And Hocking is angry because Mrs. Hocking is in the beginning stages of dementia. “When you take advantage of people who really don’t have the wherewithal to join your club, it just seems like you’re pissing away your integrity.”

Liz Bagdazian had a similar story. Her parents, Theodore and Janet, found out that they had been signed up for the club and decided to ask their politically savvy daughter-in-law about it. “They absolutely said it was not true that they had given permission.”

Bagdazian added that she knows many of the people now on the list of new members, largely drawn from the working class and heavily Latino neighborhoods on the north side of town.

“It just smells to me,” she said. “It’s predominantly Hispanics and elderly folks. I think they targeted certain members of the community who wouldn’t figure out they were being used as pawns.”

Vargas insists that the new registrations were all above-board. “I can’t control it if somebody committed to us on the phone and then changes their mind because somebody from another campaign contacted them or a news reporter contacted them and pressured them and made them nervous.”

Yamada campaign supporters tried to block the endorsement at the March state party convention, but officials there declared the issue “moot” on the grounds that Cabaldon would have gotten more delegates—albeit by a much smaller margin—even without the inflated numbers from the West Sac club.

It’s unlikely, however, that the Yamada crew will let the issue die. “They can say it’s moot. But if you live on the north side of West Sacramento and you’ve been mostly ignored by this mayor and then he used your name to his advantage, it matters a lot,” said Brian Micek, Yamada’s campaign manager.