Characterizing County Democrats As Racists, Irving Resigns From Party Central Committee

Victorville Councilwoman Leslie Irving on February 8 resigned as a member of the San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee, characterizing at least some of her fellow and sister Democrats and the county’s party structure as “racist.”
Irving’s resignation is significant on multiple levels. She stood in the fourth position among the county party’s hierarchy as the third vice chair of the central committee. She was among a wave of African American women who came into prominence in the party during a substantial reorganization and realignment last summer that saw the county party’s leadership change. Her election to the Victorville City Council in November, in a contest which one incumbent Republican lost, one incumbent Republican did not seek reelection and one incumbent Democrat was reelected, resulted in Victorville transforming from a municipality governed by a Republican majority city council to one ruled by a Democratic majority council as well as one which is composed entirely of women.
Irving, who had a mixed political career in Los Angeles County before she relocated to Victorville, unsuccessfully vied for the Victorville City Council in 2018. Her win in last year’s election was seen as a breakthrough in minority and women empowerment. Her elevation to the Democratic Central Committee’s third vice chairwoman position appeared to advance her into an enviable spot politically, as she held the bully pulpit of being an elected official in what is San Bernardino County’s fifth largest city and the High Desert’s largest city, while exercising a not inconsiderable degree of influence over the local Democratic Party’s application of its electioneering influence, even as the Democrats have taken a commanding 460,387 or 40.9 percent to 334,233 or 29.7 percent lead over the Republicans in terms of voter registration countywide. Thus, Irving’s prospect for remaining in municipal office in Victorville beyond 2024, when she is scheduled to seek reelection to the council, appeared to be solid, and she was well positioned to seek election to higher office such as the California Assembly or the California State Senate as early as 2022 or perhaps beyond that.
For that reason, what from the outside looked like an abrupt decision early this week to leave the Democratic Central Committee was surprising.
Last year, in the election corresponding to the March 3, 2020 Presidential Primary, voting to fill positions on both the Republican and Democratic central committees for San Bernardino County took place. Republicans compete for the central committee posts in districts that match the boundaries for the county’s supervisorial districts while the Democrats choose their central committee members in districts that are either indistinguishable from the entirety of the assembly districts fully contained within the county or encompass those portions of the assembly districts lying within the county’s borders when those districts straddle both San Bernardino County and a neighboring county. As a resident of the 33rd Assembly District, Irving competed against 13 vying for six positions representing that jurisdiction on the central committee, finishing sixth, thus earning a berth among those entrusted to lead the Democratic Party in California’s largest county geographically and fifth largest population-wise.
Since 2012, the San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee had consistently elected Chris Robles to serve as county party chairman. There was growing discontent among the central committee’s members with Robles’ leadership, in that during his tenure, despite voter registration numbers trending consistently in favor of the Democratic Party in San Bernardino County, the Republican Party and its candidates have consistently outhustled the Democratic Party and its candidates such that greater Republican voter turnout has occurred, leaving the Democrats neck and neck with the Republicans in terms of the numbers of elected officials representing San Bernardino County at the state and federal legislative level in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., and the Republicans holding the lion’s share of the elected positions at the county and municipal levels as well as on school districts and water districts around the county. After Robles was reelected as county party chairman after the 2016 election, a concerted effort to displace him formed among what was at first a minority of the central committee’s members. No fewer than three moves to depose him as chairman occurred in 2017 and 2018. Last summer, after four election cycles of continuous dysfunction by the Democratic Party in San Bernardino County, a move to oust Robles in favor Kristin Washington, who was previously active with the Redlands Democratic Club in outgunning the Republicans in her neck of the woods, took hold. A support network coalesced around her, and in July Washington was chosen as party chairwoman. Thereafter, most of the cabal that had kept Robles in power over the previous several years that yet exists within the central committee, which includes Ralph Trujillo, Wendy Eccles, Mary Feeney, Christina Marquez, Mark Westwood, Nancy Glenn, Sean Houle and Robles himself, was marginalized, and a new set of party functionaries were given positions of prestige within the central committee.
With Washington’s ascendancy, individuals in the party aligned with her captured most of the key posts in the committee as members of the executive board. These included Stacey Ramos as a candidate for first vice chair, Irving as third vice chair, Nancy Glenn as secretary, Martina Ortega as treasurer, and Nicholas Christensen as corresponding secretary. The lone exception to that was Jim Gallagher, whom Robles had installed years ago as a member of the committee’s executive board and who remained loyal to him on and off in more recent years, who has taken up the position of second vice chair.
With Washington in place, Irving saw her political reach increase. As the November 2020 election approached, Irving and Lizet Angulo, Gallagher, Christina Marquez, Scott Brown, Curt Lewis, Aaron Bratton and Nancy Glenn were named to the central committee’s panel to evaluate the candidates for office in the upcoming election to determine who would get the county party’s endorsements. This provoked some degree of controversy, since Angulo and Irving were candidates for city council in Victorville in that election as was Gallagher for city council in Chino Hills. An effort to attenuate this conflict was instituted by which the candidates were not allowed any say in the evaluation of their own candidacies.
On February 8, Irving tendered her resignation as a member of the San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee, stating there was a “pervasive stream of racist acts” ongoing in the local Democratic Party that had prompted her to leave.
Sources within the San Bernardino County Democratic Party viewed Irving’s departure from the county central committee with alarm, saying it may presage a crippling split between the party’s Hispanic and African American members.
Irving’s resignation came in the immediate aftermath of a statewide vote held by the Democratic Party in which representatives to the California Central Committee were selected. In the Democratic Party, state central committee members are elected from within their respective Assembly district boundaries to represent the Assembly district in which they reside.
The Democratic Party further conditions its selections to the state central committee in a way intended to derive a gender balance, with the same number of men as women being chosen to serve on the committee from each district. Thus, under the Democratic rules, “self identified females” compete against one another and “other than self identified females” run against one another in the contests for the California Central Committee.
Irwin is a resident of Assembly District 33 and was competing in this year’s race for the California Central Committee. While all Democrats residing in the 33rd District were eligible to run to represent the 33rd District on the state central committee and vote in the election, those seeking a position had to register as a candidate by December 15 and those wanting to vote had to mail in a request for a ballot by January 11. There were 21 women – or those self identifying as women – running for the California Democratic Central Committee to represent Assembly District 33, and 16 men – or other than self identifying females – running to represent the 33rd Assembly District on the California Democratic Central Committee. The top seven finishers in either gender category received a berth on the state central committee.
According to Democratic Party sources, a group of Hispanic Democratic Party members in San Bernardino County undertook a concerted and highly energetic effort to elect a slate of what was described as exclusively Latino and Latina candidates.
“The race for the state central committee requires a highly specialized campaign,” a party insider told the Sentinel. “To win, you need to work hard to get people to register to vote in the election and then get them out to vote for you. Just like last time, a relatively small group of Hispanic candidates and their people outhustled everyone else. Their slate was not balanced. It was not equally proportioned with Hispanic, white and black candidates. The campaign was organized so Latinos and Latinas would win.”
The seven top vote-getters on the female side were Sabrina Cisneros, Angela Mayo, Lesia Oneido Louro, Stephanie “Vida” Pazarin, Valerie Little, Yvonne M. Molles and Alexis Ileen DeJesus. The seven top finishers on the male side were Fernando Hernandez, Harold Hines, Michael Brian Mayo, Martin Gerardo Gonzalez, Valentin Godina, Mark Andrew Melendez and Brian Conley.
Several African American candidates finished out of the running in both races. On the distaff side, Leslie Irving, her sister Kellie Irving, Adelanto Councilwoman Stevevonna Evans, Apple Valley Unified School District Board Member Maria Okpara and Ramla Kimbrew, all of whom are African American, were unsuccessful in their state central committee candidacies. Also losing in the contest were a few Hispanic politicians who currently hold office, such as Victorville Councilwoman Blanca Gomez and Victorville Councilwoman Rita Ramirez.
Several of those running, including Leslie Irving, had hoped to get onto the California Central Committee to enhance their chances in vying against the current 33rd District Assemblyman, Thurston Smith, a Republican, who must stand for reelection to the Assembly in 2022.
The state central committee by-mail voting deadline had originally been set for January 27, but was extended one week to February 3. There was a several day delay while late-posted ballots were received and counted. It was in the immediate aftermath of the announcement of those voting results, in which Irving finished tenth among the women, that Irving made her resignation announcement.
“Leslie was being reactionary to losing,” the Democratic Party insider told the Sentinel.
The development of a schism between African American and Hispanic members of the San Bernardino County Democratic Party could have dire consequences for the Democrats, as they are up against the San Bernardino County Republican Party, which has historically been cohesive and well-coordinated in its electioneering efforts.
Word spread quickly, and the following day, Tuesday, February 9, Washington sent out an email to the central committee’s members, many of whom were shocked at the resignation and Irving’s contention about what had driven her to it.
“As you may have heard, our 3rd vice chair, Leslie Irving, resigned her seat on the central committee on Monday, February 8,” Washington wrote. “I wanted to update you and let you know that her resignation has been accepted. We thank Council Member Irving for her work on the executive board, most notably with our candidate endorsement process in August. We wish her much success in her new seat on the Victorville City Council.”
Washington continued, “In her resignation letter, Council Member Irving referenced a ‘pervasive stream of racist acts within the San Bernardino County Democratic Party.’ Since she did not share any other details with us about those acts, I have no further information to offer you.”
Washington, who is herself African-American, stated, “I want to be clear, though, that I take accusations of racism seriously and have zero tolerance for racist behavior in any form by any member. Meetings and events by the San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee and our chartered clubs should always provide a welcome and inclusive space for political work by Democrats of every race. We must all work together if we expect to elect more Democrats in our county. So, if you have seen, heard or been subject to racist acts within this county party since our reorganizational meeting on July 18, 2020, please let me know, so that those acts can be properly addressed.”
The Sentinel today, Friday, February 12, emailed Irving in an effort to obtain clarification from her with regard to the circumstances she referenced in making her exit from the central committee.
In asking Irving to elucidate what she meant, the Sentinel inquired if her statement was intended to apply generally to the Democratic Party on a national or statewide level or specifically to the party within San Bernardino County, and whether she was still a registered Democrat.
The Sentinel asked Irving to delineate the specific acts of racism she referenced in taking her leave of the central committee.
The Sentinel asked Irving if she intended her action and announcement to serve as an indictment of the entirety of the county party, including its leadership, or if her statement applied to only a specific individual or set of individuals.
The Sentinel sought from Irving why, if the racism she referenced was indeed limited to a relative handful of people in the central committee, it would not have been better for her to remain in the organization to guide it around the pitfalls those members and their actions represent.
Irving had not responded to the email by press time.
There has been some degree of controversy in Irving’s political career previously, to the point of raising in at least one case, extremely complicated if not unique questions with regard to the legal and electoral actions of a candidate who becomes an elected official under a circumstance deemed improper or through electoral means held to be illegal.
As a politician in Los Angeles County before her move to Victorville, Irving held the distinction of being elected but then being denied the right or ability to take office.
In 2001, as a resident of Compton, Irving successfully vied for a position on the Compton City Council, posting a victory over her opponent, Melanie Andrews. Before Irving was sworn in to that office, however, accusations of voter fraud against her surfaced. A challenge to the outcome of the race, as well as that one for Compton mayor in the same election, was lodged in Los Angeles Superior Court.
The matter was heard by Superior Court Judge Judith C. Chirlin. After weighing all of the evidence and based upon what Chirlin and the California Second District Court of Appeal called substantial and credible testimony, a conclusion was reached that Irving had engaged in election fraud. Nine witnesses, at least six of whom did not speak English, testified against Irving, stating that she or her campaign had registered them to vote, even though they were not citizens. The most devastating witness against Irving was Elvita Andrade, whose testimony replicated in many respects that of the other eight witnesses. Andrade testified that although she had spoken with Irving through a translator, she had also spoken directly with Irving in English. Andrade stated she had told Irving, in English, that she was not a United States citizen. Andrade claimed that Irving’s response was “that citizenship had nothing to do with it, that it had nothing to do with the government, so that it would not [a]ffect my citizenship.” Andrade said she had been told to sign an absentee ballot application, which she did, and that either Irving or the translator would pick up the absentee ballot from her when it arrived. Andrade stated that when the translator came to pick up the absentee ballot, she had signed the ballot and gave it to the translator without marking or punching it. Someone other than Andrade, after she had given it to one of Irving’s campaign workers, marked and submitted Andrade’s absentee ballot, which was demonstrated to the court to have been counted in the election, according to evidence and testimony in the case.
Judge Chirlin found, and the Second District Division 1 California Court of Appeal confirmed, that Irving “either personally or through her agents, (1) knowingly solicit[ed] nine non-citizens to register for absentee ballots in violation of section 18100, subdivision (a);  (2) [was] present in the nine absentee voters’ homes while they were voting and telling them how to vote, in violation of section 18371, subdivision (a);  (3) fraudulently register[ed] nine non-citizens and assist[ed] them to vote or complet[e] their absentee ballots for them, in violation of section 18500;  and (4) solicit[ed] illegal votes from the nine nonqualified voters, in violation of section 18561.”
The trial court also disqualified Irving, under the provisions of section 18501, from ever holding office in California.
Irving appealed Judge Chirlin’s ruling to the Second District Court of Appeal, which in March 2003 ruled that Irving had indeed engaged in the “commission of offenses against the elective franchise” Chirlin had adjudged Irving to have been involved in and that Irving’s 2001 Compton City Council election was properly annulled. The Court of Appeal, while finding that Irving was disqualified from seeking or filling the council seat she had sought in the 2001 election for the remainder of that 2001 term, determined that because the case Chirlin was adjudicating was an electoral challenge rather than a criminal matter, the lifetime ban on Irving ever holding office again in California was improperly imposed. The Second District Court of Appeal ruling allowed Irving to run for and hold elective office thereafter.
Washington in her February 9 email to the members of the central committee said, “I will announce the steps for filling the vacant 3rd vice chair seat at the February general meeting on Thursday, February 25.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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