The California Democratic Party declined to endorse Senator Dianne Feinstein for re-election, selecting state Senate leader Kevin de Léon by a margin of 54-37%. Although neither candidate reached the 60% majority required to make it official, De León declared victory, calling it “an astounding rejection of politics-as-usual, and it boosts our campaign’s momentum as we all stand shoulder-to-shoulder against a complacent status quo.”
Feinstein, running for her fifth full term in the Senate, will be 85 when the next Congress takes session on January 3rd. She has more money and name recognition than De León, but the state convention, which sees more attendance from activists and the far left than from those in the center, chose him despite Feinstein’s shattering blow to Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham last month when she released the Fusion GPS memo. While the lack of an endorsement may not matter come November, it’s still a rebuke of the centrist Senator from the party’s far left wing.
What makes this moment rankle, however, is not that progressives preferred De León over Feinstein: It’s the incredibly inappropriate way a choice few of them expressed it. As Mrs. Feinstein reached the end of her speech, the band cut her off. She stood there like an Oscar winner being played off by an over-eager conductor, and said, “I guess my time is up.” Suddenly, a smattering of De León supporters began shouting “Time’s up! Time’s up!” as she left the stage.
The irony of using this phrase against a woman could not have been lost on those chanting it. Since the revelations of Harvey Weinstein’s misconduct, “Time’s Up” has become a rallying cry for women and progressives seeking to end the era when his behavior was either explicitly condoned or ignored (and thus implicitly condoned) by other powerful men. And even if this was meant only as a play on Feinstein’s words, and not as men intentionally appropriating a feminist slogan against a woman, it still doesn’t reflect well on De Leon’s supporters, since he himself has been caught up in a sex scandal for the past three months involving his one-time roommate and fellow State Senator, Tony Mendoza.
In September, three of Mendoza’s aides – chief-of-staff Eusevio Padilla, legislative director Adriana Ruelas, and scheduler Stacey Brown – reported on their boss’s behavior to the Senate Rules Committee, which De León chairs. They claimed that he had repeatedly invited an intern from Sacramento State University back to the apartment he shared with De León to “review resumes.” He had also been accused of “flirtatious” text messages and inappropriate hugging with past aides. But rather than immediately investigate these charges, the Rules Committee fired all three staffers, who received termination letters on Senate Rules Committee stationary with De León’s name on the letterhead.
The next month, 140 women signed an open letter denouncing sexual harassment in the state capitol, saying, “Men have groped and touched us without our consent, made inappropriate comments about our bodies and our abilities. Why didn’t we speak out? Sometimes out of fear. Sometimes out of shame. Often these men hold our professional fates in their hands.” Although they are not among the signatories, one imagines Stacey Brown and Adriana Ruelas would agree.
By November, the harassment charges against Mendoza went public. De León claimed he didn’t know about his behavior and distanced himself from his former friend and colleague immediately, moving out of the apartment they shared and stripping him of his positions on the Rules Committee. Although he stubbornly refused to leave, Mendoza finally got the message last Thursday, when he resigned before De León could enact a vote of expulsion. He still plans to seek re-election.
De León still claims that he didn’t know about Mendoza’s behavior, but such remarks should be taken with a grain of salt. San Jose State professor Larry Gerston said in an interview after the scandal broke, “It’s unfathomable that someone in that position would not know what’s going on. It’s beyond belief. It’s beyond comprehension.” He may have gotten more votes than Feinstein this weekend, but in today’s climate, it’s hard to imagine his opponents ignoring this.
Maybe the De León supporters yelling “Time’s Up!” had no idea any of this had gone down, given that he’s still not well-known even within his home state. But to yell “Time’s Up” at a woman who has spent her career breaking down gender barriers while supporting a man who could be complicit in harassment only further codifies the problems of sexism and misogyny that have plagued the far left since the 2016 primary.
And if any of them tell you that Feinstein is “too old” to run for Senate again, just remind them that Bernie will be 79 in 2020 and see what they have to say about that.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.