Disenrolling Felder?

LEW FIDLER: Yesterday, I expressed my disappointment in my friend and former colleague Simcha Felder’s decision to caucus with Republicans and asked for an explanation. Through a spokesman, Simcha issued a statement which on its face lacks any substantive credibility.

Throughout the campaign, Simcha had assured the voters—and me personally—that he would sit with whichever party delivered the most for his district. Transactional for sure, but apparently honest. I took him at his word as did most voters.

Simcha’s explanation yesterday was a subtle yet wholly significant explanation from what he had promised. It waxed poetic about philosophies and abounded with some nonsense about the Republicans in the Senate being compassionate towards the poor and for the middle class.

That begs the question: When did Simcha Felder come to understand the philosophies of the political parties? What changed about the philosophies of the parties since the election that Simcha was not aware of before the election? If he knew, the philosophies of the parties before the election, why did he not state publicly that he would sit with the Republicans? That is the true issue here…..was Simcha Felder being honest with the voters of the district? Since it would be hard to imagine that Simcha learned anything about party philosophy after the election, Simcha did a disservice to the voters of his Senate district. Surely, countless thousands chose him over his Republican opponent because he was the Democratic Party candidate.

Therefore, Simcha—and not his spokesman—owes an answer to those questions—and specific answers, not pabulum—to those questions.

Additionally, if Simcha chooses to revert to his transactional answer, then he needs to tell people what pieces of silver were offered and by whom. Whatever was promised is being paid for out of the public till and the public has a right to know that as well.

I applaud the statement made by my friend and County Leader Frank Seddio. To those that differ, I would suggest that there is a huge difference between endorsing candidates of other parties from time to time and running on a party’s line and then without any intervening event, indicating that the other party is more consistent with the candidate’s own philosophy and organizing the legislative body with the other side. Simcha is correct that the parties are not a religion, nor should they be. But being open and honest with the voters should be.

Simcha needs to answer those questions. If he can’t, and does not think he can philosophically be a Democrat, he ought to do the right thing and change his party enrollment. As Democrats, we are free to—and should—disagree on issues all the time. But when you believe that the other party shares your philosophy of government more than your own, then you should change  

Several years ago as a member of the City Council, Simcha agreed to support a candidate for Speaker and then conveniently went to the men’s room at the time of the vote. I’d much prefer that behavior to the overt choice to mislead. Simcha and I will, I hope, continue to be friends….but he needs to answer the questions or they will haunt him from the first day he takes office.

GEORGE ARTZ: “We’re looking at the rules — the Kings County organization rules and the state Democratic organization — to see if there is a provision for expulsion…If not, we would explore proposing such a provision.”

I sympathize with much of what Lew Fidler says.

On the other hand, I think that during his campaign for State Senate, Simcha Felder did everything he could to telegraph that he would caucus in the Senate with whoever was in the Majority, and that, if his vote was the decisive one, he would caucus with the GOP.

I said so when I endorsed him, and I endorsed him anyway, because a civil conservative DINO was clearly preferable to a vulgar and offensive crypto-fascist.  

I had no delusions and still harbor no regrets for backing Mr. Felder, and I suspect that, mistaken about Mr. Felder’s intentions though he may have been, Mr. Fidler would not take back his support either.

Since I am not privy to what Felder said privately, I won’t call Fidler naïve, and I will add that Fidler is right on the money about the idiotic and insincere statements that the Senate GOP press office has issued under Mr. Felder’s name.

Though I could and will quibble with a few details offered by Mr. Fidler, what the lyrics sometimes lack is made up for by the fact that Fidler’s gotten the tune pretty close to perfect.

The statement of Mr. Artz, the Brooklyn Dems’ flack, is a different matter.    

The rules of the Kings County Democratic Party and the State Democratic Party have no effect upon who may or may not be allowed to maintain their membership in the Democratic Party.

The matter of who may call themselves a Democratic, and how they may be curtailed from doing so, is entirely a creature of State law and not of a Party’s rules.

The New York State Election Law allows parties to bring a disenrollment proceedings against party members for being disloyal to the party or for lacking sympathy with the party’s principles (such as they are).  

Back in 2002, then State Senator Pedro Espada announced he was switching parties. He signed a buff card changing his enrollment to Republican, held it up at a press conference announcing his desertions, and then voted with the GOP to organize the State Senate.

Espada, knowing he could not win re-election as a Republican, never filed his buff card. He remained enrolled as a Democrat and filed to run in the Party primary.

The Bronx Dems bought a disenrollment proceeding based upon Espada’s vote to organize the Senate.  

The problem was that Espada’s actions on the Senate floor were protected by the State Constitution’s “Speech and Debate” clause, which prevents legislative “speech and debate” from being used as evidence.  

The Court of Appeals ruled that you cannot use a vote, speech in committee or on the floor, Senate directory or a legislative act as evidence in a disenrollment proceeding. The Court of Appeals remitted the matter to the Bronx Party Chair for a new finding based on non-excludable evidence. The Court made clear that such evidence would be sufficient.

Such evidence existed.

There were quotes Espada gave to newspapers saying he was becoming a Republican and there was a video of his press conference with Joe Bruno where Espada said "Today I am joining the Republican Party."

However, on the remittal, the Bronx Dems screwed up badly.

As a result, Espada was allowed to remain a Democrat, and the Bronx Dems were forced to run against Espada in the primary the only Democrat who could the beat Espada.  

The good news was that we won.  

The bad news was that we won by running Ruben Diaz Sr. 

Ever since Espada, the Senate Republican lawyers counsel turncoats as to what to say outside the Senate---i.e., "I'm still a Democrat" "I'm not a Republican."  

Even Espada talked that way during his second and third turn-coat episodes in 2009.  

It is exactly how Felder is talking now.  

Lew Fidler is right that “there is a huge difference between endorsing candidates of other parties from time to time and running on a party’s line and then without any intervening event, indicating that the other party is more consistent with the candidate’s own philosophy and organizing the legislative body with the other side.” 

But unfortunately, that can’t be the basis for a disenrollment.     

So what evidence is there to dis-enroll Felder? 

Well “endorsing candidates of other parties from time to time” may arguably suffice.  

This year, Felder endorsed Mitt Romney. In 2009, he endorsed Mike Bloomberg. That’s twice, which might be enough.   

Of course, a disenrollment proceeding would first require an affirmative vote of the Brooklyn Dems’ Executive Committee.  

That Committee has a member named Vito Lopez, who, while serving as a member of the County Party’s Executive Committee, endorsed Rudy Giuliani, George Pataki and Al D’Amato.

Even more incredibly, while serving as County Leader, Lopez endorsed a Working Families Party candidate for the City Council against the choice of the voters in the Democratic Primary.  

Lopez’s co-leader in his Assembly District, Maritza Davila, was that Working Families candidate.  

“Reformers” are also not immune to such conduct.

While serving as a member of the Party Executive Committee, Chris Owens endorsed a Working Families Party candidate for Assembly against the Democratic nominee. Prior to his election, Owens also endorsed a WFP candidate for Supreme Court and a Green Party candidate for Borough President.  

The legal sine qua non of being a Democrat in New York State would seem to be support for the Party’s gubernatorial candidate.  

Support for the Party’s gubernatorial candidate on the Party's line determines whether the Party continues to have automatic ballot status, whether it qualifies to appoint a Commissioner of the Board of Elections in every County in the State, the Party’s position on the ballot, and the weighted vote the Party’s State Committee Member in any Assembly District gets to cast in votes at the Party’s convention to designate candidates.  

It is definitionally all important.  

Yet, Mr. Lopez is not the only member of the Kings County Democratic Executive Committee guilty of desertion on this all-important matter.  

In 2010, Inez Barron, while sitting as a member of the Kings County Democratic Executive Committee, endorsed the candidate of a different Party for Governor.  

Her husband Charles, currently a member of the Executive Committee, was not such at the time.  But he was the gubernatorial candidate of such a Party himself.  

(While this is also true of Andrew Cuomo in 2002, it should be noted that, though Cuomo was stuck as the Liberal Party candidate for Governor, he endorsed the Democratic, Carl McCall, Further, Cuomo remained as the Liberal candidate, even though the he could have agreed to be nominated for a judgeship and replaced, because McCall and his allies wanted him to remain on the line, so that the Liberals would not attain the necessary votes to continue have a line on the ballot.)  

Further, since 2002, multiple Party Executive Committee members in Brooklyn have urged voters to vote for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate on the WFP line.  

While they’ve endorsed the Democratic candidate, they’ve helped to undermine the efforts of Democrats to earn the first line on the ballot (sometimes successfully).  

This too is technically a desertion.  

And they are not the only traitors.  

Multiple Democratic Party Leaders have endorsed GOP candidates, whether it be southern Brooklyn reactionaries backing Marty Golden, reformers backing Margarita Lopez Torres for Supreme Court, or Bay Ridgers backing Republican-Conservative Jim McCall for Judge against the duly nominated winner of the Democratic Primary, Noach Dear.  

One member of the Party Executive Committee, Dov Hikind, has at various points, while sitting as a member of the Kings County Democratic Executive Committee, endorsed not only Romney and Bloomberg (like Felder), but also Bush, McCain, Giuliani, Pataki, D’Amato, Golden, Bob Turner, and dozens of Republican Congressional candidates all across the country.  

One cannot take action against Simcha Felder based upon his endorsements (even as a pretext) and leave Dov Hikind alone.  

Even if one doesn’t disenroll Hikind it seems ludicrous to dis-enroll Felder while leaving Hikind and the Barrons as members of the Democratic State Committee.   

Hikind would seem to agree.  

"If you're going to do it for caucusing, why not do it for other things?"

Why not indeed?

Why is Mr. Felder’s assistance to the GOP in attaining a majority by contributing his vote on the Senate floor considered worse that Mr. Hikind’s assistance to the GOP in attaining a majority by contributing his endorsement and troops to Marty Golden in an election campaign?

Does it really matter that Mr. Felder screws us in the missionary position while Hikind does a reverse cowgirl?

Hikind even upped the ante 

“Please beg that I be included in that," 

I think we should respect the man’s wishes and throw in the Barrons for balance.   

Hikind sees hypocrisy here, and he may not be entirely wrong.  

But we have a new Democratic County Leader in Brooklyn who is committed to change.  

Change would seem to be a good idea.

The worst argument against change is that we used to do things differently, so changing things would be hypocritical.  

That’s just an excuse for the status quo being maintained in perpetuity.  

You stop evil by stopping evil.  

Now I don’t deceive myself. Expelling Felder from the Party is probably doing him a favor. His voters probably would prefer voting for him on the GOP line.  

For Hikind, it would be a mixed blessing, since he’d prefer to caucus with the Assembly Dems for the same reason Willie Sutton liked to rob banks.  

On the other hand, denying the Barrons the Dem line would likely be the end of the line for them.   

But even if Felder and Hikind would laugh at being expelled (and I don’t think Hikind would), it would still be worth it.

A zero tolerance policy for deserters would ultimately result in fewer deserters.    

For practical reasons, a zero tolerance policy requires a statute of limitations at its point of implementation.  

In order to expel the most recent malefactors, we needs a quorum on the Party’s Executive Committee, and if we expelled all the past sinners, that might not be possible. 

I’d go back to 2010. It's the most recent gubernatorial election and , as I've noted, gubernatorial elections are definitional. 

And I’d enforce it going forward.

You want to stop what Simcha Felder is doing?  

Zero tolerance going forward, and starting right at the body doing the enforcement.