CHAPTER AND VERSE: DSA members pursue power at the polls

More than 35 DSA members ran for public office November 5. Twenty of them won. Others fell short. But all came away with valuable experience promoting their politics to voters. Election Day this year fell on the birthday of socialist visionary Eugene Victor Debs. Debs ran for president five times. He never made it to the White House. But his ideas—minimum wage, public old-age pension (Social Security), municipal utilities—won in the end and are one of the enduring legacies of our socialist movement. 


San Francisco DSA member Dean Preston ousted the incumbent in a nail-bitingly close race for Board of Supervisors. A tenants’ rights attorney and the founder of the statewide group Tenants Together, Preston led a successful DSA-backed 2018 initiative campaign guaranteeing access to a city-funded attorney to renters who face eviction. For supervisor, he campaigned as a socialist on a platform of affordable housing, free public transit, clean public power, public banking, and an end to homeless sweeps. It was Preston’s second run for the seat, after losing in 2016. Memorable moment: When the local Democratic Party endorsed his opponent, Preston’s campaign manager gave them the middle finger.


Central Connecticut DSA had not one but five members win public office. Darnell Ford, a child services worker and executive board member of SEIU 1199 New England, won a seat on the Middletown Common Council. Kellin Atherton won a seat on the Middletown Planning and Zoning Commission. They join three incumbent DSA electeds who were re-elected to city council seats: Charles Decker in New Haven, Justin Farmer in Hamden, and Gina Morgenstein in Wallingford.


Boston DSA member Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler placed fifth out of 22 candidates, winning a seat on Cambridge City Council by a comfortable margin. (The election used ranked-choice voting, and the top nine vote getters won.) A tenant organizer and renter, he ran on a platform of tenants’ rights, rent control, fare-free public transit, municipal broadband, and free, in-state higher ed tuition for public school graduates, financed by contributions from MIT and Harvard. Fellow Boston DSA member Zac Bears also won election—to city council in nearby Medford, Massachusetts, placing fifth in a 14-way race for seven seats.


Metro Detroit DSA ran a slate of members in Ferndale, a town of 19,900 just north of Detroit. Mayoral candidate Brian Stawowy and city council candidate Nada Daher came up short. But in nearby Westland, chapter member Mike McDermott won one of four city council seats.


Columbus DSA member Liliana Rivera Baiman — an immigrant, working mom, and longtime labor organizer — placed seventh in an eight-way race for four at-large seats on Columbus City Council. Her campaign—which stressed opposition to corporate tax abatements—was backed by the Working Families Party and unions, but failed to beat out four incumbent Democrats.


Kendra Brooks ran as a Working Families Party candidate for one of two Philadelphia City Council seats reserved for minority parties …and won big, by over 10,000 votes, becoming the first candidate from outside the Democratic or Republican parties to win in more than 60 years. It was a major mobilization for both Philly and for national DSA, which mobilized DSA members regionwide to knock on doors.


Charlottesville DSA co-founder Michael Payne—also co-founder of Indivisible Charlottesville—won a seat on Charlottesville City Council on a platform of building community wealth, funding affordable housing, police accountability, and becoming a carbon neutral city.


Seattle DSA member Shaun Scott came up short in a city council race, with 46.2% of the vote. But he publicized an openly socialist platform that called for public housing, municipal broadband, and a Green New Deal funded by congestion pricing and taxing the rich.