Babs Siperstein, highest-ranking trans person in Democratic Party, is out.

“And I said to myself, this is the business we’ve chosen …”
– Hyman Roth, gangster, Godfather II, 1974

And it reeks. In these politics, in this Party, you fall in line or you’re out. And that’s fine, if you see political life as little besides turf, accumulation of power, and patronage. But if you’re there for a mission beyond buffing your own self up, retribution comes hard.

Late last night I walked out of a 3-hour local meeting to a storm of texts; Babs Siperstein was kicked off the DNC by Chair Tom Perez. And I’m sorry as hell to see it. Babs has been the highest-ranking out transgender person in the Democratic Party; an advocate, here and nationally, for gay and lesbian people – and especially for trans people. It has become her life’s mission, and she’s done it within the Democratic Party. That’s the main political engine for that kind of change and she knows it. She’s been on the DNC’s Executive Committee for years. But she didn’t vote for Tom Perez for Chair, she voted for Keith Ellison. She made the right choice; Ellison was endorsed by leaders across both sides of the Hillary-Bernie divide; a consensus candidate that made the most sense for a rebuilt party Perez, on the other hand, was recruited by the establishment wing only after Ellison got into the race, to keep someone who’d backed Bernie Sanders from ascending in the party. I was texting with several DNC members, including Babs, during the DNC Chair vote in February. I’d been a Bernie delegate, she strong for Hillary. But she sat down with Ellison, put some hard questions to him, and gave him her vote. In the end, the party establishment held on. Perez, who never intended to run the Party, has his day. And that’s the business we’ve chosen. Retribution if you don’t fall in line:

June 2016: Kumbaya over. John Wisniewski summarily dropped as DNC member for supporting Bernie Sanders

September 2017: Ralph Johnson, relieved of his duties as volunteer coach of Pop Warner football, which he loved, for daring to run against a seated LD-16 assemblyman

October 2017: Central Jersey Progressive Dems turned away from phone bank for Phil Murphy & Dems

Here’s the list of the new at-large members. Babs isn’t on it. In fact, nobody from Jersey is.

Dropping Babs, there will be no trans person at the Democrats’ Exec Committee level.** There is another trans person, Marisa Richmond of Tennessee, and she looks great. But apparently there’s only room for one trans person in the national party. Marisa in, Babs out. That smacks of tokenism, a concept brown and black people are quite familiar with, and I’ll bet trans people are used to being told they’re lucky to have any representation at all.

And there’s one other thing. Tom Perez was just in New Jersey – 5 days ago, for Phil Murphy. Bill Caruso points out, and he’s right, there was ample opportunity for him to tell Babs in person, with consideration and gratitude for what she’s brought to the party. And to say Thank You. He didn’t do that. Because that’s not the way this business works. And it reeks.

** I do note that NJDSC Chair John Currie is now co-chair of the DNC Credentials Committee; which is not the same. 

Comments (17)

  1. Michael Petti

    I was wondering why the Democratic campaign signs in Middlesex County do not have John Wisnieski as running for the state senate. I did not see anything in the papers (print and on-line) about John being dropped. Thanks for giving me the heads-up.

    Reply
    1. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

      Wisnewski’s not running for state senate.

      Reply
  2. Loretta Weinberg

    And John Currie should be speaking up. We have
    A lack of New Jersey representation here. We of the blue progressive state should have a better voice at the DNC

    Reply
  3. David Moore

    Babs is a friend, and I’m certain this article has been miswritten to hell and back as political smear rather than attempting to generate facts regarding the reason she walked out of a meeting. As for representation, there needs to be a lot less Ellison, Konst, and New Jersey at the table anyhow.
    With the Democratic population of transgender being less than 1%, just how much representation should be at the table to be equitable?

    Reply
    1. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

      David Moore, you profess to be a friend of Babs Siperstein? Your comment doesn’t read much like a friend, and it leaves me with some WTF-level questions:

      * Who do you imagine is being “smeared” in this “miswritten” post?
      * What meeting are you saying Babs walked out of?

      If you’re this hostile to Ellison, Konst, and New Jersey, perhaps you stumbled into a wall and hurt your head on the way to finding a blog to read. This is a progressive site, which is not to say dissenting views are unwelcome, but perhaps you need to gather your thoughts a little bit before you crap on people or suggest an author is being less than truthful. In addition, we cover and advocate for New Jersey, so you know, saying there should be less new Jersey at the Democratic table just aint gonna fly here. Peddle the Jersey-hate somewhere else.

      Finally, what you may not realize in making your argument that transgender representation at DNC shouldn’t rise above 1%, is that people on the leading edge of civil rights fights up the ante for everyone around them. The Democratic Party is – and should be – the political catalyst for that kind of forward movement. And new methods of organizing, new alliances, and especially a fresh perspective about the people around us all come out of that. And it very much makes us a stronger party (in a way the Republicans resist ever being). I am white, but I benefit from the organizing and representation by people of color. I am cis-female and hetero and I have learned a great deal from people – like Babs – advocating the rights of people different from me. Boost that to a party-wide scale, and yes I’d be very comfortable with 2 trans people of 2 different generations repping my interests in my party. Give her Donna Brazile’s seat. I can’t fathom why Perez would elevate a former acting chair who as a DNC vice-chair defied the DNC charter by giving CNN’s debate/forum questions to Hillary Clinton, then lied about it for months. I used to have tremendous respect for Brazile, who I’ve met on several occasions. But the fact Perez promotes her after that shows we as a party have some ethics work to do.

      Reply
    2. Babs

      I did not walk out of any meeting! My political mantra is always about showing up! I will be attending my last meeting in the next couple of days and saying my goodbyes to the hundreds of members and staffers I’ve met over the last 8 years. … I don’t run away!

      Reply
      1. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

        Babs, I don’t think David Moore read my post very carefully. I wrote this: “Late last night I walked out of a 3-hour local meeting to a storm of texts; Babs Siperstein was kicked off the DNC by Chair Tom Perez.”

        And somehow, he extrapolated that you walked out of something. I doubt any other reader but him drew the conclusion that you did something wrong.

        Reply
  4. Bertin Lefkovic

    It is very hard for me to feel outraged about this. First and least, Babs was not outraged when John Wisniewski was removed from New Jersey’s DNC delegation by John Currie last summer after John endorsed Bernie Sanders and led his campaign in New Jersey. I say least because John never seemed particularly outraged by what was done to him and did not even seek to leverage any outrage that could have been cultivated by it to drive support for what was still at the time a fledgling gubernatorial campaign.
    I can only imagine that his reason for playing this situation as cool as he did was because he was still auditioning to be Steve Sweeney’s understudy in the Norcross gubernatorial primary and continued to do so for most of the fall.

    Second and far more importantly, Babs has been as successful as she has been at advocating for the LGBT community in general and the transgender community specifically because she has always been smart enough to make the right friends and not make the wrong enemies. With the exception of her willingness to stand up to the likes of Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin in demanding that any employment non-discrimination legislation be trans-inclusive, she has never allowed ideology to marginalize herself and her ability to be an effective advocate.

    That is, until she decided to support Keith Ellison. I am not sure what he said when they met, but even though I was a Bernie delegate to the Democratic National Convention and am firmly committed to his legislative agendy, from the day that Ellison first announced his candidacy to become DNC Chair, I thought that this was the wrong battle for progressives to be fighting.

    Had Ellison won, the changes that he would have brought about with regards to how the DNC operates would have been marginal at best. At best, he would have been progressive lipstick on a pig of an organization. At worst, he would have been blamed for any and all failures to retake the House and Senate in 2018 and probably would have been forced to resign in early 2019.

    If Ellison truly wanted to be a progressive standard-bearer in the Democratic Party, he should have run against Nancy Pelosi for the position of House Minority Leader. Yes, it most certainly would have been a far tougher fight to win, particularly since most, if not all, of the establishment support that he had for his DNC Chair campaign, would have been nonexistent if he had taken on Pelosi.

    However, it is often the toughest fights that are the ones worth fighting and compared to being a progressive fig leaf, beating Pelosi and remaking the legislative agenda of the House Democratic Caucus in the image of Bernie Sanders would have been a far greater and more impactful accomplishment.

    This is why it baffles me that Babs would have put everything that she has worked so hard to accomplish on the line for what would have been a pyrrhic victory for progressives.

    Did she misread the tea leaves and think that Ellison was going to win and wanted to be on the winning side, which is something she has been on for nearly every other internecine battle that the Democratic Party has seen since she first became involved in partisan politics and issues advocacy?

    That said, even though I am not shedding a tear for Babs at this moment over what was done to her by the DNC, I am more than happy to welcome her with open arms into the true progressive community within the Democratic Party.

    For far too long, she and so many others like her have been quite content to straddle the divide between the neoliberal Democratic Party establishment and the always present, but never sufficiently organized progressive insurgency that dormantly waits for the right opportunity to get its act together and fight a real fight for the heart and soul of the party, standing for all the right issues, but never before willing to risk her standing within the party establishment to fight for anything that might have left her on the outside looking in. For good or ill, that is where she stands right now with the rest of us insurgent outsiders.

    Who knows? Maybe this was the mistake that we needed the neoliberal Democratic Party establishment to make that will convince the LGBT community as a whole to stop allowing them to use their issues of concern as political cover, masking their failure to take a stand on a whole host of economic justice and social justice issues.

    For far too long, center-right neoliberal Democrats have been able to use support for marriage equality and other LGBT issues to pinkwash their unwillingness or inability to stand up for the neediest amongst of us, which is not limited to any one racial or religious group, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Hopefully, this is the beginning of the end of that dynamic.

    Reply
    1. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

      TLDR. Bertin, this comment is 12 paragraphs and 834 words. You’ve been asked before not to post over-long comments.

      Reply
      1. Bertin Lefkovic

        No need to be dismissive, Rosi. I don’t comment here often anymore, but when I have something to say, it usually requires more than a few paragraphs/words.

        Reply
    2. Babs

      Bertin I very simply supported the person who promised to embrace the platform that my original candidate put forward! It is just that simple!

      Reply
      1. Bertin Lefkovic

        And Tom Perez was not willing to make similar promises? That in and of itself is very interesting.

        Reply
  5. Joseph Michael Blake

    What has Murphy or Booker said about this?

    Reply
    1. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

      I’m not aware either has spoken publicly about it.

      Phil Murphy’s on the final runway of his campaign; I’d be surprised if he felt in a position to comment. Cory Booker is an LGBT ally who is known and very warmly received by the LGBT Democratic community across the US . At the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, Booker was received like a rock star when he walked in the door at the Democratic LGBT caucus (a huge number of people). And 5 years ago when it looked like Cory might run against Chris Christie, Babs Siperstein was fielding calls from gay rights orgs across the country who wanted to help raise money. If any prominent NJ elected Dem speaks publicly about this, I would expect it to be Cory Booker. His D.C. number is: (202) 224-3224

      Reply
  6. Sean

    Wait, when did Bernie become a Democrat?

    Reply
    1. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

      Who said he was one?

      Reply
  7. Linda

    I have written to the WA State chair and two DNC reps over this issue. In a professional environment we don’t remove someone from a position just because they have an opinion that differs from ours.

    Reply

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