The Very White Knights of Brooklyn Reform (Part One)
It was announced last week that a group of “Reform-oriented” Brooklyn political clubs announced the formation today of a new group called the “Brooklyn Reform Coalition.”
The group includes:
The New Kings Democrats (NKD): elects a leader in the 50th AD; it also thinks it’s in the 53rd AD, where it’s run leader candidates, and sometimes the 54th, 52 and elsewhere. However, much of the press is under the impression that NKD is a countywide organization and all the other Brooklyn reformers are part of them.
Independent Neighborhood Democrats (IND): it elects the Assemblymember and a leader in the 52nd AD (although it has more members from Bay Ridge, outside the 52nd, than it does in the 52nd’s substantial Park Slope portion)
Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats (CBID): 44th AD (although it’s membership from the large area of the district south of Church Avenue could fit in a phone booth and still have room for Gene Berardelli) where it elects the Assemblymember, and begrudgingly endorses the Leaders; also operates in the Slope’s portions of the 52nd (where it elects a Leader and supported the Assemblymember), and 57th, where its endorsement is largely ornamental.
Bay Ridge Democrats: Elects a leader in the 60th AD’s Brooklyn portion; active in all the ADs coming into Bay Ridge.
The newly Southern Brooklyn Democrats: Seems to have ambitions to be of relevance in the southern Brooklyn ADs outside of Bay Ridge.
Lambda Independent Democrats (LID): Brooklyn LGTB people and the politicians who love them, but mostly in the ADs covered by the clubs already enumerated, and overlapping membership with most of them (in fact, most of these clubs have overlapping membership with each other, especially at endorsement meetings).
BROOKLYN REFORM COALITION TAKES AIM AT BOROUGH CORRUPTION WITH CAMPAIGN TO RECRUIT POLITICAL CANDIDATES TO RUN FOR LOCAL OFFICE
New Wave of Reformers Aims to Inspire, Train Brooklyn Democrats to Run for County Committee Seats in Direct Challenge to Party Boss Vito Lopez
A new coalition of Brooklyn Democratic clubs announced today that it would seek to reform the Kings County Democratic Party from within by recruiting an unprecedented number of candidates to run for County Committee, the grassroots body of the Democratic Party, which can play an important role in our Borough’s politics – when there is a middle of term vacancy in a state elected office, it is the County Committee who determines the Democratic candidate whose name will appear on the ballot. Party boss and Assemblyman, Vito Lopez, has used this often overlooked power to expand his control of elections throughout Kings County.
The new alliance, known as the Brooklyn Reform Coalition, unites many of the borough’s reform-motivated political clubs, including New Kings Democrats, Independent Neighborhood Democrats, Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, Lambda Independent Democrats, Bay Ridge Democrats, and the Southern Brooklyn Democrats. The goal of the coalition is to clean up Brooklyn Democratic politics, which has been marred by countless scandals for decades, including the recent guilty plea of Senator Carl Kruger, the multiple arrests of Assemblyman William Boyland, and, on a larger scale, the indictment of three of the last four chairmen of the Kings County Democratic Party on corruption charges.
The coalition is aiming to recruit, train, and help elect hundreds of enrolled Democrats to the County Committee. County Committee members constitute the grassroots level of leadership within the local Democratic Party. Generally, they represent just the few blocks around their homes, or roughly 700 to 1,000 registered Democrats. For each of these “Election Districts”, there are two or four County Committee members (depending on population), equally divided between male and female representatives. The vast majority of the 5,000 county committee seats across Brooklyn go unfilled, which means that if only one candidate were to run for them, he or she would win automatically.
“Running for County Committee is quick, free, easy, and fun – and the benefits of doing so are enormous,” explained Alex Low, the president of New Kings Democrats. “By investing just a few hours of your time, you can become a real elected official and have the power to vote Vito Lopez and his cronies out of office. I urge every Brooklyn Democrat who cares about political reform and social justice to reach out to our coalition to find out more about this important initiative.”
In 2010, when the last biannual County Committee elections took place, New Kings Democrats successfully elected over 100 County Committee Members, the vast majority of whom had never run for office before – nor ever thought of doing so. This year, by using social media, community organizing, and word-of-mouth outreach, the Brooklyn Reform Coalition hopes to increase tenfold the number of reformers elected to the County Committee.
“This is grassroots politics at its finest,” said Lincoln Restler, a Democratic District Leader, who represents Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and Fort Greene. “We’re asking you, your spouse, your roommates, your friends, your family members, your neighbors – every Democrat in Brooklyn – to run for office. Why? So that the most important decisions affecting our democracy aren’t made in the backrooms and the clubhouses – they’re made by you.”
A few comments seem in order.
The first is, besides Chris Owens (who is leader in an AD which is about 85% white); do these folks know any black people?
I am reminded of a late great Jersey State Senator named Ray Garramone, who, appointed to a State Commission to investigate ways of cleaning the Hudson, interrupted the meeting to ask, “How the hell do you clean half a River?”
Still, this is an improvement. “Reformers” are now operating in more places, and running County Committee candidates is useful grassroots training. But, mostly it is little else, even though NKD and most of its allies seem convinced that electing people to County Committee augurs the return of the Paris Communes.
Better they should run District Leader candidates (except in cases where they decide to take strategic dives) with County Committee candidates on their petitions.
There also seems to be blindness here to how the County Leader is chosen.
ALEX LOW: By investing just a few hours of your time, you can become a real elected official and have the power to vote Vito Lopez and his cronies out of office.
Actually, no; not unless you are running candidates for Leader.
Technically, if one elects enough County Committee members, one could change the Party rules and have the County Committee elect the Leader, but if one aims to do that, one had better find a few black friends.
Still, the emphasis on County Committee, rather than upon the positions where the power lies, seems more ideological than practical, as does the insistence of most of these clubs to refuse to organize based upon Assembly District lines.
“We think we should be playing tennis, so we’re going to dress for tennis, even though the other side is playing football.”
Of course, County Committee meetings are better theatre. You can bring your 200 friends and watch them get outvoted by one man with a pile of proxies.
Such scenes would be embarrassing, if one had a County Leader capable of being embarrassed.
Of course, all Vito would need to do to overcome even that small annoyance would be to rent a few busses and tell people they were going for a picnic in Sunken Meadow Park.
Hopefully, this new Coalition will run some leaders or make some allies in areas outside their quadrants of strength. Having people in the room is useful, even when one isn’t winning most of the battles. Sunshine alone is a great disinfectant, and one day someone might just need your vote, and some sort of reform just might be part of the bargain.
One also should wonder about the continued prominence of Morgan Pehme among this group’s leadership.
Morgan used to be partner with political consultant Gary Tilzer. In 2009, Pehme and Tilzer, ran splinter, sure loser candidates for two Brooklyn council seats, in two Brooklyn Council races, helping Vito Lopez win one (Steve Levin) , and nearly delivering him victory in the other (which Diana Reyna barely pulled out) with a candidate Vito had urged to run.
Pehme then went to work for civic gadfly Henry Stern, who last year tried to revive the stinking corpse of the old corrupt “Liberal” Party to endorse Bob Turner for Congress. Tilzer also supported Turner.
"If Bob Tuner wins" in the special election to replace Anthony Weiner in Congress, "and Jesus wins that would be a humongous blow to Vito…If you can't demonstrate you can win, that is the death of the party boss."
In what can be called true poetic justice, when Pehme got his wish, Vito’s sycophants rightly claimed Vito had won every race he really cared about, and Vito ended up being voted “Winner of the Week,” in City hall News, with the defeat of David Weprin providing a point of favorable comparison for Vito with poor Joe Crowley.
Naturally, Pehme was at the center of the new group’s first controversy, and naturally, idiocy reigned supreme.
Liz Benjamin reported that a memo sent by Vito Lopez this week to members of Congress, the Senate and the Assembly urged them to get their checks in to reserve their spots on joint designating petitions:
As of this writing, it seems likely that the first day to circulate designating petitions is Tuesday, March 20, 2012…That is two weeks from today. It is therefore necessary for you to respond immediately in order to facilitate the timely processing of your petition requirements.
Liz also noted this might amount to a false alarm. While, by Court Order, the US Senate and House primaries will be held on June 26, nothing else is certain, and nothing has been agreed.
As Chris Bragg noted, a June primary might mean that county committee races across the state would be canceled.
Brooklyn Democrats’ Executive Director Jonathan Yedin noted ,it would take the New York City Board of Elections six weeks to draw up Electoral Districts once new legislative lines are drawn, which would be well after the date petitioning started (March 20).
For months now, good government groups have been urging the legislature to save taxpayers a tremendous amount of money by changing the law so that the State can hold the primaries for the legislature (and some local public and party positions) on the same day as the US Senate and Congressional primaries.
But saving millions better put to use for human needs is not good enough for Morgan Pehme, because having an election for County Committee has a value higher than rubies.
Morgan Pehme called the effort to have one primary day a“brazen, dictatorial power grab by Vito Lopez” and a “tactic we are used to seeing employed by third-world tyrants.”
Some observers were livid:
HESH RABKIN: What a bunch of self-centered yuppies. They really think the State Legislature is going to change the Primary date because Vito is worried about the County Committee.
As expected, Pehme was joined in his meltdown by Tilzer:
“The Great Brooklyn Boss Dictator Vito Lopez Coup d'état Attempt of the Kings County Committee.”
Pehme’s blather was also echoed by New Kings Democrats President, Matthew Cowherd
“ED’s are tiny districts divided up merely by population, They are the non-controversial building blocks of an Assembly District that can be generated in a matter of days. It’s like claiming that you need several months just to gather the nails before you can build a simple birdhouse.”
Actually, under the VRA, three NYC Counties, including Kings, require Justice Department preclearance to make for even the most minor changes. In addition, pursuant to an ancient Court decision, a Brooklyn Judge reviews every single polling place change in the City for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws impacting the rights of the disabled.
I can personally attest to both these facts, having (1) in 1991, reviewed Board of Elections submissions to the Justice Department changing Election District lines as part of the election law case seeking a re-count in Anthony Weiner’s first primary for City Council; and 2) having interned in 1989 with the Judge who reviewed (and still reviews) all polling place changes.
By contrast, Mr. Cowherd apparently acquired his knowledge of this esoteric subject by pulling it out of his posterior.
In actuality, it would be nice to have the County Committee elections held this year. After, their initial organization, the only real function of the Committee members is to nominate the Party candidates in certain special elections. Since the old committee members would be elected from districts which no longer exist, and may have been radically re-altered, it seems unlikely they would be able to fulfill this function should the need arise.
One suspects that instead the job would somehow revert to either the District Leaders in the constituency (casting their votes proportionately), the County Executive Committee, or the County Leader.
As bad as the County Committee system is to choose nominees, this would be worse.
If the County Committee elections can’t be held this year, I propose they be held next year (the Mayoral elections will ensure a healthy turnout) for a one year term.
But Pehme, Cowherd and the other should stop propounding crackpot conspiracy theories about Vito Lopez.
If the truth is a not sufficient for them to fight their battles, then they must be doing something wrong.
But even if the “reformers” were doing everything right, they have a daunting task ahead.
None of these clubs operate in any real sense in any of the black majority ADs.
They cover, at best, two of the three Latino ADs, and that probably exaggerates the truth by one and a half.
Unless the new Southern Brooklyn Democrats turn out to be an unexpected powerhouse, great swaths of white Brooklyn also seem unrepresented in this “coalition.”
In the 50th, NKD must compete with a rival club backed by the other District Leader, with the support of the local Councilman, Vito Lopez, and the majority of the local Hasidim. (Still, NKD gets special kudos for agreeing to support Hakeem Jeffries for Congress, solely on the basis of qualifications and commitment on issues, even though Jeffries is a Lopez ally, and incumbent Ed Towns a Lopez enemy).
The County Committee allotment in the 60th is small, because Brooklyn covers less than half the AD. And they are in competition with another club there. Perhaps they will obtain some slots in the other Bay Ridge ADs, but they will likely come of that sufferance of the leaders from those clubs. Even with their good intentions, too many in Bay Ridge Dems are too I institutionally tied to trod anyone’s toes outside their major turf.
In the 44th, most of the County Committee slots south of Church will be divided between the two regular (albeit liberal) clubs.
The intent or appeal of Southern Brooklyn Dems, and their willingness, or not, to engage in battle with or cooperate with the established local leadership remains a matter of speculation (I bet some of the regulars would gladly hand them off as many seats as they could qualify), but their turf is large and it is unlikely they will obtain a meaningful portion of seats in so large a turf.
LAMBDA does not run its own petition operations, most likely cooperating with other clubs (including some of the regulars).
Then there is the mess called IND.
It is my considered opinion that, because of internal divisions, IND may this year end up ceasing its existence, or, if it does not, it may no longer end up an ally of “reformers.” Even should it survive in some form as a reform club, its County Committee slate will surely contain a substantial portion of Lopez allies.
But, that is a discussion I will leave for part two.
Post new comment