Inside the Brooklyn Dem. Party’s ‘undemocratic’ voting rules

The Brooklyn Democratic Party is encouraging its members not to vote — at least not on internal matters.

Leadership is sending letters to the party’s county committee members that imply they should not show up to meetings, and instead suggest they let county boss Frank Seddio use their votes to call the shots, insiders say.

“It basically suggests you don’t need to go to the meeting — or you shouldn’t even go to the meeting,” said committee member Chris McCreight. “I get a lot of people e-mailing me very confused when they get those cards. I tell them, ‘Don’t send it in.’ I don’t want to make this about Frank — this is a county practice.”

The so-called “proxy cards” are intended for people who cannot attend meetings but want to instruct someone to vote in their stead. Party leaders send the cards out ahead of time, and committee members who cannot vote in person may designate a “general” or “limited” proxy, according to party rules. “General proxies” may vote however they want, but “limited proxies” must vote based on instructions from the person they are standing in for.

“If you returned this signed and dated proxy, you are not required to attend this meeting,” mailers for a Sept. 21 meeting state. Below that, an affidavit reads: “I hearby designate Hon. Frank Seddio as my proxy to vote and otherwise act on my behalf at the meeting of the Kings County Democratic County Committee.”

But the forms are misleading, both because they are an enticement to be absent and because they direct power to the party chairman — committee members can actually designate any fellow member as a proxy, but the cards only give them the option to choose Seddio, critics say.

“The meeting proxy card sent by the party discourages participation through lack of information on meeting agenda and ambiguous proxy rules,” said New Kings Democrats president Anusha Venkataraman. “The proxy cards are confusing, making people think they are not required to attend if they mail back the proxy card to Frank Seddio, as if it’s a get-out-of-jury-duty card. The proxies also do not indicate that any county committee member can accept proxies, not just the party leader.”

During the meeting, reformers voted to limit the number of proxies Seddio could use, but he used 450 such affidavits signed over to him to sway the vote and table the measure.

The practice is commonplace and totally legal, according to party spokesman Bob Liff, who added that reformers are free to introduce new ideas.

“The wording on the proxy card is the same as it has always been,” he said. “At the county committee meeting, it was agreed that a committee would be convened to review rules proposals. If someone makes a proposal on the proxy language, I assume it will be considered.”

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Congressman Dan Donovan (R–Bay Ridge), who is running for reelection in his Bay Ridge-and-Staten Island district, missed two debates in Brooklyn in the last week, angering constituents and fueling opponents’ claims that he’s more interested in the Rock than the Ridge.

Donovan was a no-show at the Bay Ridge Council on Aging Candidate Forum on Oct. 5, and the absence was a slap in the face to neighborhood oldsters the legislator represents, one attendee said.

“For a congressman who represents us not to show up is shameful and an insult to this community,” said Ridgite Frankie Marra. “This is just a total disrespect for the senior citizens here who can’t just jump in a car.”

Donovan was giving a keynote address at the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation at the same time, and an opponent used the occasion to take a swipe at the lawmaker.

“He’s mailing it in — that’s how he’s going to ask for your vote,” said Democratic opponent Richard Reichard. “He spends most of his time on Staten Island. You have to ask Dan why he didn’t think it was important enough to show up today. I’ll work just as hard for Brooklyn as I do for Staten Island.”

The incumbent also missed a debate sponsored by the Bay Ridge Community Council on Sept. 27, but that’s because he was in Washington, a spokeswoman said. Donovan showed up to the annual Ragamuffin Paradea beloved Bay Ridge institution — last week, proving his neighborhood bona fides, the spokeswoman said.

“He was just there over the weekend. He’s there every week pretty much. He attended the Ragamuffin Parade the other day,” said rep Jessica Proud.

Donovan caught flak for missing Brooklyn debates when he ran for the seat in a special election last year.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.