Gotham Gazette

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In Brooklyn Democratic Party, Democracy is Healthier Than Some Would Have You Think

seddio via fbook

Frank Seddio & Senator Persaud (photo: Frank Seddio on Facebook)

Democracy in action can be messy, but the election law as well as state and local party rules are clear when it comes to how governments and political parties carry out their business. And despite the cathartic and frantic attempts by the New Kings Democrats to claim that party “bosses” thwarted their attempts to take over the Brooklyn Democratic County Committee, the fact is they did not have the votes.

They are focused on proxies, which allow elected committee members to have their voices heard if they cannot, for one reason or another, attend the semi-annual committee meeting. While the NKD complain that party leaders held the vast majority of proxies, their protestations fail to acknowledge that they worked very hard to collect proxies, mailing to everyone on the County Committee list seeking support for themselves. They failed.

Frank Seddio, the chair of the party’s Executive Committee, thanks to the hard work of many local clubs, received around 600 of those proxies from County Committee members who believed he would best represent their interests. The NKD, despite their best efforts, claimed they had 130.

I say “claimed” because those who complain the County Committee meeting started two-and-a-half hours late – implying there were some nefarious deeds going on behind the scenes to thwart democracy – know that the sole reason for the delay was because the NKD leaders failed to bring in their proxies at an appropriate time. They did not bring their proxies to the meeting hall until 90 minutes after the meeting was scheduled to start. Attorney volunteers had to sort them through a “bar-code system” that forced everyone in the hall to wait, but party leaders agreed to stipulate that they had 130 proxies so the meeting could start without waiting the additional two hours it might have taken to complete entry of the proxies into the system.

Even though many of the NKD proxies turned out to be invalid for a variety of required reasons, that did not change the fact that the party leadership stipulated and allowed the facially defective proxies to be counted. When combined with the votes of members in the room and the proxies each side held, the supporters of the current party leadership far outvoted those who wanted to seize control.

And since the County Committee is an entity whose activities in organizing the party’s structure and business is set out in state election law, failure to complete the committee’s business effectively would have put the party out of business, blocking it from nominating candidates to appear on the party’s line in elections.

The law is clear. A proxy is the voice of a “person,” someone who previously ran for a position on County Committee, but could not attend the meeting for reasons that could include health, work, family responsibilities, etc. I am amazed to hear that it is somehow undemocratic to allow their voices to be heard via his or her proxy, especially when the NKD worked so hard to gather proxies but apparently lack the support among party members to gather enough to alter the voting outcomes.

The NKD activists and leaders fail to mention that party leaders have acceded to virtually every one of their proposals for rules reform, and welcomed a proposal at the most recent County Committee meeting by Assemblymember Robert Carroll, a respected reformer, to change the proxy rules to require they be carried by another committee member from the same Assembly district. That will go to the rules committee for consideration, the same rules committee that approved every one of the reformers’ proposed changes last time they made them. Being open to ideas through robust discourse is not a novel idea. The district leaders have done just that for many years.

Nonetheless, for some it seems as it just feels better to simply not take yes for an answer, and instead to make up for their lack of broad support at the grassroots level by yelling, screaming, and disrupting the meeting.

We understand that Democratic politics has long been marked by factional family fights, a sign that, in the words of the chair, the party is “alive, exciting, and worth fighting over.” And we understand there is a generational challenge to party leadership, since many in the room started in politics as insurgents themselves challenging the party leadership at the time they entered the fight.

But there is an old lawyer expression that seems to apply here. When you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. When you have the law on your side, pound the law. When you have neither, pound the table.

Intra-party fights take place under the rules of the party, and that includes allowing proxies so Committee members who cannot attend have their voices represented. And make no mistake—it is a voice. That is why the NKD worked so hard to collect proxies, and why the party’s district leaders do so as well.

When they have enough votes to elect their chosen leaders, we will graciously respect the results and work with them to elect Democrats in order to push an agenda to benefit the people of Brooklyn, which is why we are all in this together in the first place.

From my perspective, we must continually work harder to reach everyone throughout every corner of the borough and in between, and remember we are all in this together.

Frank Carone, a partner in Brooklyn’s Abrams Fensterman law firm, is the law secretary of the Brooklyn Democratic Party.

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