If all you knew about the San Francisco Mayor’s Race was what happened last night at the Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC), you’d have no idea that Ed Lee is 25 points ahead in the polls. After all, he only got two votes. Of course, those who vote on this endorsement are local Party insiders – precisely the people most angry at Lee for entering the race. But all things considered, it is far better for candidates to have the DCCC endorsement than to not have it – as now they can campaign to voters as the “choice” of the S.F. Democratic Party. For that reason, John Avalos got a major momentum boost for his campaign last night – as the DCCC endorsed him as their #1 pick for Mayor. Dennis Herrera got the #2 slot, and Leland Yee’s failure to get chosen for #3 (losing out to “no endorsement”) is a set-back. In the District Attorney’s race, David Onek scored a big victory as the Party’s #1 choice – with Sharmin Bock as #2. And in the race for Sheriff, Ross Mirkarimi received the sole Party endorsement.

The San Francisco Democratic Party is the most closely watched and fiercely contested endorsement vote in local politics. In June 2008, progressives won enough seats on the DCCC to endorse their slate of local candidates. With voters turning out for Obama that November, they parlayed that to sweep the 3 toughest races for Supervisor. After that election, it was obvious how important the official Democratic Party endorsement was in affecting local outcomes.

In 2010, however, the DCCC’s progressive majority again endorsed a slate of local candidates – Janet Reilly for District 2, Debra Walker for District 6, Rafael Mandelman for District 8 and DeWitt Lacy for District 10. Despite the Democratic Party endorsement, all four of them lost. But those who crow about last year’s results are mistaken if they think DCCC backing is a liability. It's better to have the Democratic Party endorsement in San Francisco than not.

Last night’s meeting was a political junkie’s ritual – as Party Chair Aaron Peskin swiftly ran through the roll-call votes, as dozens of audience members followed along with their crib-sheets. “This is the fun we’ve all been waiting for,” he declared. Candidates must get a majority of the vote on a ballot in order to be endorsed. But whether a DCCC member abstains or votes “no endorsement” on a particular ballot affects the necessary threshold required to win the endorsement – and can play a decisive role in the outcome.

On the initial ballot for Mayor, Supervisor John Avalos came in a solid first – but only with 11 votes, or not enough to win the endorsement. So on the second ballot, DCCC members Hene Kelly and Jane Morrison switched their votes from Dennis Herrera to Avalos – while Eric Mar and Alix Rosenthal switched their support from David Chiu. At 15 votes, that was now enough for Avalos to get the Party’s #1 nod for Mayor.

Next came the balloting for who would get the Party’s “second-choice” (or #2) slot in the Mayor’s race. City Attorney Dennis Herrera finished ahead, with 13 votes. But because only six members abstained, the threshold for victory was 14 votes. So other candidates were eliminated, and the DCCC voted again – but Herrera still came short. On the third ballot, Leslie Katz switched from “no endorsement” to “abstain” – which thus lowered the bar for victory, and thus gave Herrera’s 13 votes enough to win the endorsement.

With Avalos and Herrera having secured their spot, next came the question if the Party would also make a “third-choice” endorsement for the Mayor’s race. Some progressive members who voted for Avalos as #1 and Herrera as #2 switched over to Leland Yee on this ballot – but it wasn’t enough. Yee got 8 votes, but “No Endorsement” got 14 votes. Given how much Yee has courted other candidates’ supporters, this must be a set-back.

So what does this mean? The average voter will never know (or care) the machinations of last night’s vote – so it’s pretty irrelevant that Leslie Katz “saved the day” for Herrera.

But what Avalos and Herrera can now claim to voters (which no one else can) is that they are the “choice” of the S.F. Democratic Party, and that will count for something to casual voters who are overwhelmed by all the choices. And for John Avalos, who has always been an underdog in this race, getting the top nod for Mayor will be especially helpful.

David Onek Gets Similar Boost for D.A.’s Race

In the race for District Attorney, it was clear where a majority of DCCC members stand – “Anyone But George Gascon.” On the first ballot, David Onek got 13 votes – followed by 9 votes for Sharmin Bock, 2 for George Gascon and 1 for Bill Fazio. This was not enough for Onek to get the endorsement outright. But on the second ballot, two Bock supporters (Michael Goldstein & Alix Rosenthal) switched their votes to Onek – which gave him the 15 votes necessary. Bock then easily got the “second-choice” endorsement.

Onek has been in the D.A.’s race longer than any other candidate – months before Mayor Newsom surprised everyone by appointing ex-Republican George Gascon. Having campaigned as a lifelong Democrat, the DCCC endorsement will be an essential boost to his campaign. And the fact that Sharmin Bock’s supporters helped put him over the top suggests that Onek and Bock may team up over the next few months, as voters pay closer attention.

Mirkarimi Gets Sheriff’s Nod; DCCC Endorses in Propositions

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi got the DCCC endorsement last night, in a race for Sheriff that has proven tougher than expected. Democratic Party support should help Mirkarimi’s chances.

In other news, the DCCC endorsed a “yes” on Propositions A (school bond), “yes” on Prop B (street safety bonds), “yes” on Prop C (the “consensus” pension reform measure), “no” on Prop D (Jeff Adachi’s pension reform measure), “no” on Prop E (Scott Wiener’s measure to amend ballot initiatives), “no” on Prop F (campaign consultant disclosures), “yes” on Prop G (the sales tax measure) and “no” on Prop H (school assignment policy.)