Silicon Valley Democratic Club Elects Whole New Slate of Diverse, Progressive Leaders

The South Bay’s largest, most influential Democratic Party faction went through a dramatic shakeup Monday night. In a packed room at Harry’s Hofbrau in San Jose, the Santa Clara County Democratic Club voted overwhelmingly to replace an entrenched executive board led by Herb Engstrom and Rob Means with an entirely new slate of progressive, considerably more diverse activists.

It also rechristened itself the Silicon Valley Democratic Club, partly because the name carries more cultural cachet. Another reason? To avoid getting confused for the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee (DCC), which, by several accounts, was so sick of hearing complaints about the group’s leaders being unwelcoming, obliviously misogynistic and otherwise out of touch that it considered revoking the club’s charter.

News of the results prompted incredulous gasps, which gave way to ecstatic cheers, high-fives and hearty embraces by Stanford University law professor Michele Dauber, of Recall Persky fame, and some of the other newly elected cohorts, including Art Cohen, who sued Donald Trump over his fraudulent “university,” and Bay Area Women’s March impresario Jennie Richardson.

After posing with the group for a few snapshots to memorialize the occasion, Richardson reflected on the parallels between their victory and the leftward pull on the Democratic Party nationwide as more women, people of color and LGBTQ folks join the ranks.

Dauber—clad in a white-and-black Beto O’Rourke-for Senate tee—echoed her colleague’s observation, saying the club’s transformation stems from a new generation of Democrats who want the party to address issues like climate change, economic inequities and sexual violence with more urgency than ever before.

“But you can see what they’re up against,” she added in a phone call the next day.

No kidding.

Monday night’s showdown capped months of turmoil that Means characterized as a “battle for the culture of the club” and Engstrom cast in more sensational terms, inflaming simmering tensions between the old guard and the new.

In emails with members obtained by Fly, Engstrom called the largely female groundswell a “takeover” by Dauber “to promote her own agenda of women’s issues.” When a fellow Dem tried to assuage his fears by crediting Dauber with “some good ideas,” Engstrom replied that people “with nefarious motives can also have good ideas” and cited Adolf Hitler as an example because he invested in the Autobahn.

That didn’t sit well with other members, let alone Dauber. After debunking the Hitler-Autobahn claim, she highlighted the underlying sexism of Engstrom’s statement.

“One point that has been lost in your terrible behavior is the fact that promoting an ‘agenda of women’s issues’ is not a nefarious motive,” she wrote. “In fact, promoting women's issues is a Democratic Party objective.”

The email chain got pretty intense leading up to Monday’s election. Several people demanded an apology from Engstrom, including DCC Chair Bill James. Cohen, among others, called the tone-deafness another reason to support the ultimately victorious 18-member slate endorsed by Congressman Ro Khanna, Councilman Don Rocha, county Supervisor Cindy Chavez and former Santa Clara Councilman John McLeMore.

But Engstrom doubled down.

“The mention of Hitler’s name evidently causes some people anguish,” he mused in an email before concluding that people’s emotional reaction must’ve caused them to miss the point. Lost on Engstrom, it seems, was that many members took offense precisely because of his point.

And as a resounding rebuttal, they voted him out.

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The Fly is a weekly column written by San Jose Inside staff that provides a behind-the-scenes look at local politics.

16 Comments

  1. Sure wished you would have qouted some of those new “diverse” leaders fly. Why write an article about the change in a Dem club to only qouted the same privileged people?

  2. I’m mostly happy with the new slate but sickened by the demagoguery used to oust Herb Engstrom by Art Cohen. I don’t care whether Herb is voted out but this type of politics should have no place in the Democratic Party or the anywhere else for that matter.

  3. So Dauber has learned the ins and outs of how to stage a hostile takeover. How nice. Engstrom was of another age and faced the cruelty of the young. Herb was the last of the true party workers who tried to keep the party traditions alive, but Dauber had a hungry belly for ambition and Herb was in the way. Bill James should read The Ninth Wave by Eugene Burdick, for he should consider the fact that he will be next. Dauber is the darkness reaching out for the darkness and sooner or later it is a question of you or her.

  4. Lol @ Michele Dauber, the same “feminist” that endorsed a lazy male for county Supervisor instead of the totally qualified woman in the race who won big, and who is also a democrat like Dauber. Those special interests tug at the strings. Cannibals, all talk.

  5. I cannot ever condone the use of Hitler as a comparison. It is horrible use of an analogy, so as much as I respect Herb, I have to really condemn that. But the fact that Lenin and others used the idea of a party elite purging people is what Dauber believes in, and that is wrong. These are not progressive idealists, just Trotsykites with their own agenda.

  6. The Fly say that “by several accounts” the SCCDC considered revoking the charter of the Santa Clara County Dem Club because the groups leaders were “out of touch”, “misogynistic” etc. NOT TRUE. The SCCDC does not meddle with the leadership of local democratic clubs. The county party has asked the club for years to change its name because of confusion – Santa Clara County Democratic Committee vs. Santa Clara Democratic Club is too similar and both go by “SCCDC” for short. Months ago the party told the club would lose their charter unless they changed the name. It had nothing to do with this internal struggle over who will lead the club.

    • > NOT TRUE. The SCCDC does not meddle with the leadership of local democratic clubs.

      Well, how about the Russians? Didn’t the Russians buy ads on Facebook to meddle in the election?

      What better way for the Russians to meddle than to create a division between the Santa Clara County Democratic Committee and the Santa Clara Democratic Club.

      It’s obvious.

  7. > “One point that has been lost in your terrible behavior is the fact that promoting an ‘agenda of women’s issues’ is not a nefarious motive,” she wrote. “In fact, promoting women’s issues is a Democratic Party objective.”

    Maybe I’m just overly sensitive, but it sounds to me like an ‘agenda of women’s issues’ includes a huge amount of ‘male shaming’.

    Is ‘male shaming’ a Democratic Party objective?

    I think the white working class thinks as much.

    Ditto for “white shaming”.

  8. Trump is the “Final solution” to the Progressive, leftist swine agenda.
    The Democrats require a “centrist / conservative” to compete.
    David S. Wall

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