This diary is a report on a very much insider event: the Democratic County Committee in Brooklyn. But this event used to get very little attention and it needs transparency. For those who want more on this, click here for City and State NY's coverage of last night's event. It is only recently the media even started covering it and generally only due to the fuss the reformers were making.
[By the way...rumor last night had it reform District Leader Lincoln Restler may yet win re-election...but provisional ballots are still being counted!]
Last night was the first Brooklyn Democratic County Committee meeting my wife and I felt accomplished anything. In the past the best we could do was get them to reveal their financial report publicly (something that is now routine) and get them to allow the stack of proxy votes the Party Leader used to dominate the meeting to be scrutinized.
Our first County Committee meeting (sounds so romantic!) was the last before convicted Party Boss Clarence Norman went to jail. We were recruited by a friend and had little warning of what we were in for. My wife was 2 weeks overdue in giving birth to our son (his fault, not hers...he refused to get into position...kind of gave us a sense of his personality right there!). We wondered if his birth might upstage Clarence Norman's last stand...but he held on and was born later.
But the meeting was a farce. A circus. It was literally scripted from start to finish and was as uninviting and undemocratic as could be. The only saving grace was local politician Ken Diamondstone's determined effort to stand up to the farce and at least SHOW that it was a farce. I wish we had been warned in advance. We might have been able to help Ken in showing what a farce the official Democratic Party was in Brooklyn.
Here's the key. I despise corruption. It puts the self interest of a handful of powerful folks over the actual governance of our country, our state, our city. I cannot stand when people put their own self interest so blatantly and completely ahead of the community. That is what Republicans do these days. When I was a kid even Republicans didn't do that quite so much.
I spend a great deal of time fighting Republican corruption. So when I realized that the head of the Democratic Party in my own area, Clarence Norman, was going to jail, it kind of made me feel sick. Seeing County Committee in action made me realize the corruption went deeper than Clarence Norman.
From then on I got to watch the new Party Boss Vito Lopez's machine replace the Clarence Norman machine. I saw no real change. No recognition that the corruption in the Brooklyn Democratic Party was an embarrassment to the Democratic Party in general and was potential ammunition for the Republican Party. I predicted early on that this would mean we would start losing to the Republicans here in Brooklyn because the local Democratic Party was more dedicated to perpetuating the power of a handful of corrupt sleazebags than actually electing Democrats in contested elections.
Now, though the dynamics are more complicated than this, having in many ways to do with developments within a segment of the Jewish community that puts intolerance before community-interest, but the Democratic Party in Brooklyn has indeed been falling apart. We are losing contested elections like crazy, including Anthony Weiner's Congressional seat. The number of contested elections are still small, but the dynamics are changing and the slack and corrupt attitude that I have seen locally in the Brooklyn Democratic Party has meant that we will continue to lose unless we start changing how we do business.
THAT is the most important thing to learn from the last 8 years as well as from last night's meeting. And in last night's meeting SOME people got it and, really, really sadly, some didn't.
Last night was the first meeting of the Democratic County Committee that saw a collaboration between reformers and the machine. In particular Councilmember Lew Fidler, a supporter of the new Boss (and Vito Lopez protege) Frank Seddio and reform District Leader Jo Anne Simon together hit the strong note of binging the county's Democrats together to change how the Democratic County does business and fight back against the right wing, often intolerant Republicans who have been WINNING here in Brooklyn.
People cheered this collaboration, which is good. And the result was a resolution reforming the rules of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, proposed by Councilmember Lew Fidler, seconded with support for amendments by District Leader Jo Anne Simon, and amended by other reformers including Matt Cowherd of New Kings Democrats, was passed overwhelmingly. These rules changes were all reform in nature and worthwhile, though some I talked to thought they were too little. But they are far more than I personally have seen the machine go for in the near-decade my wife and I have been involved with County Committee. Seriously, something big happened last night and credit has to go to incoming leader Frank Seddio, to Lew Fidler, to Jo Anne Simon, to the New Kings Democrats, and to reform District Leader Chris Owens, all of whom had some role in agreeing to the first collaboration I have seen within the party here in Brooklyn.
I hope we can actually have this kind of cooperation in defeating Republicans locally one day! The Vito Lopez machine actually DISCOURAGED taking on Republicans. I am hoping the Seddio machine will do better there.
Councilmember Charles Barron proposed one thing I contemplated proposing myself, though I had some reservations. Barron proposed that the position of County Leader, which is currently elected by the insider machine hacks of the Executive Committee of the County Committee, in the future be elected by the entire body of the County Committee.
I had considered proposing this myself. It would be far more transparent and democratic for the County Leader to be elected by the entire County Committee rather than the carefully selected Executive Committee, and bottom line is I think this is how it should be done. However I will admit that election by the Executive Committee may actually make it harder for an outgoing Party Leader to control the outcome for the next leader because (under current rules, which are in the process of being changed...) the former leader holds massive numbers of proxy votes in the whole County Committee, but not in the Executive Committee (now that Vito's appointed cronies are being dismissed). So which is the reform position in practice is not clear at least under current rules. But which is the more transparent and democratic is clear. The County Leader should be elected by the whole County Committee, not just the Executive Board.
So I support Charles Barron on this particular issue though with some reservations.
Barron was booed by a slew of machine supporters when he pointed out that the corruption in the party has led to an embarrassing situation where we have our previous County leader just out of prison and our current one under investigation by almost every level of government for crimes from massive political corruption to sexual harassment. He pointed out hard facts we all have to face and the party cronies booed him. THAT, my friends, is embarrassing. Seems like at least some machine hacks in the County Committee meeting were in complete denial about how horrible we all look right now.
I stood up, and though I didn't agree with Barron on everything he said (I am, for example, quite curious if Seddio can pull off making himself an apparently reform leader within the machine!), I chastised those in the audience who booed Charles Barron for ignoring the fact that the Brooklyn Democratic Party currently looks like a bunch of corrupt sleazebags who sexually harass young women. Wow...great image we have folks! No wonder we lose to the likes of teabagger David Storobin (apparent sympathizer of the Afrikaner Separatist Movement in Africa)! Maybe if we ignore it, it is BOUND to go away, right?
Clarence Norman served jail time. Vito Lopez is being investigated by the FBI on down and apparently loved groping women. Frank Seddio lost his judgeship in a scandal...and now Seddio is trying to reform himself, but the pattern looks bad...and one participant of the meeting told me I had forgotten to include Meade Esposito, adding yet another Democratic Party Leader in Brooklyn who was blatantly corrupt. Seddio seems to want to break the trend and, at least at today's meeting, it looked promising. But he, and the entire Democratic Party of Brooklyn, has a HUGE amount to prove to voters if we want to stop losing to complete nutjobs like David Storobin. So all of those who booed Barron: aren't you even a little bit embarrassed by the crap our borough has been dishing out in the name of the Democratic Party? I know I am. And it has made it painfully hard for me to write about Republican corruption, one of my national themes.
A lot got done last night and I am genuinely pleased by what Lew Fidler and Jo Anne Simon did with the apparent nod of Seddio. I am suspicious of Seddio but if he genuinely wants to rehabilitate his image, then go for it and let's see what we can accomplish together. I am cautiously optimistic that the current collaboration between the leaders of he new incarnation of the machine and the reformers, something not seen in all the time I have been with the Brooklyn Democrats, will lead at least in the short term to better things. In the long run let's remember that any machine will become corrupt without opposition. So the reformers may split between those who go along with the new version of the machine and those who remain unconvinced. But that is fine. Because we need two things: a more effective party structure, something that we lost some time ago among the corruption and power plays, and an effective opposition that keeps the party mainstream in line.
So...moving forward. Let's recognize that the corruption that has become endemic in Brooklyn has got to stop. Those who tried denying it at yesterday's meeting have to realize the damage they do. Let's also recognize that when people like Storobin start beating us...we need to do a LOT better. We need to unite not as a monolithic machine, but as a diverse, transparent and effective local Democratic Party.