They’re open to discussion.
Kings County Democratic Committee leaders reluctantly committed to implementing a dedicated time slot for open discussion and new business at future meetings, after reform-oriented groups demanded more opportunity for input at the party’s twice-yearly get-together.
“We will take questions and we will take new business,” Kings County Democratic Committee Chairman Joseph Bova told the hundreds of local Dems who packed Greenpoint’s Brooklyn Expo Center for the Tuesday event.
Reformers within the borough’s Democratic party crave more transparency between its leadership and approximately 4,000 rank-and-file members, because the lack of open conversation stymies reforms during a time of growing grass-roots activism, according to the leader of a self-described progressive club.
“For a party not to be engaging its members in any shape or form at this stage is not conducive for what we’re trying to do as Democrats. There’s a ton of activism that’s happening, and when it comes to the party itself, it’s more like them dealing out power,” said New Kings Democrats president Brandon West.
Bova’s promise to make time for new business came at the tail end of the meeting, which started half an hour late due to organizers scanning members’ proxies through only two computers, up one from the last get-together in September.
The summit lasted more than two hours, almost all of which featured a forum of hopefuls running for the city’s open public advocate seat, and a subsequent straw poll among committee members to vote for their favored candidate.
But just as Bova, the emcee, attempted to wrap the event up, audience members protested with shouts of “new business,” demanding time to voice their issues.
Bova acquiesced, granting five minutes for questions, during which West asked for him and the party’s Brooklyn boss Frank Seddio to commit to setting aside a portion of future meetings for new business, as per the party’s own rules, which the progressive-club leader said would encourage a more engaged party.
“Will you make a commitment to work with us in the lead up to the county committee meetings in terms of making sure that we have a process that actually leads to a more engaged, collaborative session — like a new business or open portion that could be a little more than five minutes, and actually be a full hour,” the activist said as the audience applauded.
But instead of directly answering the question, Bova generalized that the party would maintain unity by working together.
“I would say that we work in a collaborative effort, we’re all Democrats, and you know, we will go through the rules and make it one united party, absolutely,” he said.
His response drew more audience protests, with one committee member from the 42nd Assembly District, Melissa Gradel, demanding Bova answer West’s question.
Eventually, the chairman relented, making his promise that the next meeting would include new business and questions.
His assurance, however, didn’t quell some attendees frustrations, forcing Seddio to take the mic and address the crowd, telling the Dems that the local party’s 42-member executive committee of District Leaders would maintain the dialogue with the rank-and-file members until the next meeting in September via e-mail and the party’s website.
“We have 42 members of the executive committee, and everything that comes out of these meetings, we give to them. Everything that you present to us between and the next 180 days, will be addressed by the executive committee, and we will put it online so we can make sure you saw it, and have that dialogue back and forth, not just once every 180 days. We will welcome whatever you have to offer,” Seddio said.
And in addition to responding to questions, committee members can now also put their names forward to fill the dozen-plus standing committees, many of which remain empty, Bova said.
West and other reform-oriented party members and District Leaders want more time to discuss new business in order to debate such issues as the controversial proxy vote system, which allowed Seddio to consolidate his power at the last meeting in September.
Most committee members expressed hopeful optimism about Seddio’s and Bovas’s offers at the end of the recent meeting, but one Park Slope District Leader cautioned that the party has a spotty track record when it comes to responding to e-mails.
“That was the first time I had heard that said, and I know that historically the response from party leadership has been bad,” said Douglas Schneider. “I have committee members who have sent several e-mails over the last few months, and have not reported to me that they have gotten a response.”
But members of Schneider’s district reached out the next morning to join the standing committees, correspondence he said will be a litmus test for the leadership’s responsiveness.
“Some people from my district sent an e-mail the next day so we’ll see if they hear back,” he said. “I will say that I view that e-mail as that test, let’s see how long it takes.”