Brooklyn Dems form task force to address party gender rules

Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Rodneyse Bichotte.
Photo by Paul Frangipane

The Brooklyn Democratic Party formed a new task force on Aug. 6 to examine whether gender parity rules for hyper-local elected offices discriminate against gender-non-conforming people.

“As a new county chair my first priority is to expand voting rights and the ability for all to participate in our democracy and run for office, and that very much includes individuals in Brooklyn regardless of identification as binary — male or female, non-binary, gender fluid, genderqueer, or transgender,” said party boss Rodneyse Bichotte in a statement.

The 14-member panel — first reported by the Daily News — will formulate recommendations for the executive committee of the borough’s party.

They will focus on County Committee positions, the lowest rung of elected office representing a handful of blocks known as Election Districts. Each such district has either two or four seats, half of which have to be occupied by male or female members, according to party rules.

The party regulations are based off of a 1938 State Constitution amendment, which originally intended to encourage more women into the political fold.

Despite those original intentions, the quotas now disenfranchise women, because more female Kings Countians run for elected office in the borough than men — but half of the seats in each district have to be occupied by guys, leading to some of the male positions remaining vacant, according to party officials.

The new task force is chaired by election law attorney and former legal counsel for the city’s Board of Elections Aaron Maslow, and several of its members are brand new local district leaders who ran on transparency platforms, including Samy Nemir-Olivares, Jesse Pierce, and Julio Peña.

Nemir-Olivares, a Bushwick resident who identifies as genderqueer and uses the pronouns “he” and “they,” said this issue was personal, because the current rules discourage gender-non-conforming Brooklynites from the political sphere.

“I don’t believe that my work in the community should be labelled by gender,” Nemir-Olivares said. “In 2020, there’s no reason why one of the largest and most diverse parties in the country should exclude people based on gender. It’s archaic and outdated.”

The group also includes Jared Arader, the president of the Brooklyn LGBTQ political club Lambda Independent Democrats, recently nominated Bushwick Council candidate Darma Diaz, and several more district leaders.

The new move by Bichotte — who also serves in the Assembly representing Flatbush – comes after six non-binary candidates for County Committee sued the Brooklyn Dems in April to drop its gendered designations, but a Brooklyn Supreme Court judge tossed the case out on technicalities.

The reform-oriented political club New Kings Democrats organized that lawsuit, and the group’s Vice President of Political Affairs said she was encouraged to see the party make a move and include the new politicos, but urged them to address the issues in time for the September meeting of the party’s rank-and-file.

“This task force is excellent and we are very proud to see some of the newly-elected, particularly queer, district leaders included, but let’s move this along,” said Jessica Thurston, who also called on Bichotte to appoint the six candidates who sued the party in the spring, along with other candidates who didn’t make the ballot because of their gender identity.

“What we believe is very important is that the plaintiffs and anyone else that didn’t run because they didn’t see a place for themselves in County Committee because of the binary system to be appointed by the September meeting,” she said.