Anthony Weiner screwed Brooklyn, twice.
The sexting and lies aside, Weiner’s resignation paved the way for a special election on Sep. 13 which empowers the chairman of the Queens County Democratic Party, not Brooklyn voters, to designate the Democratic nominee for Congress. Since we live in an overwhelmingly Democratic borough, the party boss’ selection basically guarantees the election.
But Weiner is just the tip of the iceberg. There are currently six vacancies in the New York State Legislature. According to a study by Citizens Union, by the end of 2011, one-third of our state representatives will be selected via special election. This farce of a process ensures that legislators are more loyal to the party bosses than their own constituents.
In recent weeks, editorial boards and good governance groups alike have come out against the corrupt special election process, which gives party bosses singular influence in selecting the candidates for a special election. Currently, the law allows the local political machine to select their nominee. When there is a vacancy in a district which includes multiple counties, such as Weiner’s Congressional District, the Democratic Party bosses from the affected counties — in this case Brooklyn’s disgraced party boss Assemblyman Vito Lopez and Queens Congressman Joe Crowley — select the candidate. Since Queens is home to the majority of the district, Congressman Crowley had full authority to make his own choice. This is how Democrats ended up with Assemblyman David Weprin, widely praised for his “loyalty” to the Queens machine, rather than any variety of qualities we might hope for in our newest Member of Congress.
Consider another case: the open state Assembly seat in Brooklyn’s 54th District, which includes Bushwick, Cypress Hills and parts of East New York and Bedford-Stuyvesant. Jesus Gonzalez is a progressive Democrat who grew up in Bushwick, where he works as a community organizer. Although he’s been endorsed by the Working Families Party, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, and the reform democratic organization, New Kings Democrats, the Brooklyn Democratic machine has designated a party loyalist as its nominee. As a result, Gonzalez is forced to challenge the Democratic machine on a third party line instead of voters getting to decide who the Democratic candidate should be.
It’s time to change the law so that voters, not party bosses, determine who will represent us. That’s why I’m supporting a bill sponsored by Brooklyn legislators Hakeem Jeffries and Daniel Squadron to create open special elections, where multiple Democrats can appear on the ballot together.
But it’s not enough. Short of that happening, I am leading an effort to amend the by-laws of the New York State Democratic Party, which not only empowers local bosses to choose their candidates in districts spanning multiple counties, but allows for each of the 62 Democratic county organizations across New York State to establish its own Byzantine process for selecting candidates in special elections.
As a representative for Brooklyn to the New York State Democratic Party, I am actively pursuing this urgent reform of our undemocratic special elections to ensure voters pick our Democratic nominees – not the party insiders.
Brooklyn is a progressive beacon and it’s up to us all to shine a light on corruption and fight for democratic values. That’s why I ran for office in the first place, and that’s what I’ll continue to do.
Lincoln Restler is a Democratic District Leader and State Committeeman representing Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Williamsburg and Greenpoint.