Proxies prevail over party progressives

Proxies prevail over party progressives
Photo by Julianne Cuba

The twice-yearly Kings County Democratic County Committee meeting on Sept. 27 descended into chaos amid boos and shouts of “Shame!” when its chairman again pulled out handfuls of proxies from his back pocket to overrule the hundreds of rank-and-file members who packed the room — a tactic used all too often by the party machine to prevent much-needed reforms, especially during a time when democracy is being challenged across the country, according to one county committee member.

“For the first time in history, last night a majority of the votes at the county committee meeting were not proxies held by the party boss. But the party lied again and acted like the boss had enough proxies to continue his rule,” said Greenpoint District Leader and New Kings Democrats club member Nick Rizzo, referring to chairman Frank Seddio. “We find ourselves in a grave national crisis and the Brooklyn Democratic Party is not helping. If we are to preserve our freedoms, the people of Brooklyn must capture our Democratic Party as soon as possible.”

The meeting at Kingsborough Community College in Manhattan Beach came on the heels of a controversial letter Seddio sent out the previous week asking hundreds of county committee members to hand over their votes to him by signing their names to proxy cards and mailing them to him ahead of the meeting. The hefty stack of proxies gave Seddio the decisive role in Thursday’s votes to nominate judges for the ballot in November, as well as the selection of the county party’s 13 elected officers.

The letter requesting the proxies was supposedly co-signed by several district leaders who say they never approved it, and a few of their names were even misspelled, according to Park Slope District Leader Douglas Schneider, who accused Seddio of trying to manipulate voters in order to retain his power and nominate his own slate of judges.

“If you got a letter purportedly from Lori Citron Knipel, [Park Slope Assemblyman Bobby Carroll] and me asking you to give a proxy to Frank Seddio, it wasn’t sent or approved by us. For future reference, you can tell by checking if ‘I’ repeatedly spelled my own name wrong,” he wrote on Twitter.

At the meeting, Carroll and Brooklyn Heights district leader, Josh Skaller, proposed a pair of reforms to put an end to what many see as a corrupt proxy system — similar to one other county committee members tried to pass in 2016. One proposed rule would require any proxy-request letter to encourage members to attend the meeting rather than just send back the proxy card, and to clearly state that by signing it over to someone else, they are giving up their vote. The second rule proposes limiting the number of proxies one person is allowed to hold based on the Assembly District in which they live.

The hundreds of county committee members in the room overwhelmingly shouted “aye” in support of the two reforms, but they must first be reviewed by the party’s rules committee in January, according to party spokesman Bob Liff.

Members of several self-described progressive political clubs also want to overhaul the party’s slate of 13 elected officers — some of whom had no idea they even held such a role, according to New Kings Democrats President Brandon West, who said the officers’ names are kept so private that he had to send a Freedom of Information request just to get the full list.

“We talked to some people who were on this list. They didn’t know they were officers of the party,” said West. “We consider this to be a problem.”

Ultimately, the party boss’s slate of officers was again re-elected after he pulled out his some-500 proxies to overrule the rank-and-file members in the room who, according to party leaders, didn’t “overcome” the chairman’s weighted vote. But Seddio did suffer one defeat when district leaders nominated attorney Rupert Barry for countywide judge instead of his handpicked lawyer, David Pepper.

Seddio was also re-elected as chairman of the executive committee by the District Leaders at the end of the meeting.

Nonetheless, one state pol blasted the party boss for handpicking the borough’s judges — especially when he chooses white justices in overwhelmingly black and Latino districts.

“How can we sit here today with 500 some odd of you sitting here, and Frank Seddio is sitting with more proxies than there are people here?” said Assemblyman Charles Barron (D–East New York), who is also a District Leader, in between shouts of getting denounced as an anti-Semite by fellow District Leader David Schwartz. “In the fourth judicial district, a black and Latino district, Frank Seddio has 5,900 weighted votes — whatever the hell that means — and he’s gonna select a white judge for a black district. Frank Seddio has complete control — judges have to kiss his ring in order to get a judgeship. That day must end.”

The meeting was led by former Brooklyn Heights state Sen. Marty Connor — who also served as counsel to the now defunct Independent Democratic Conference, but never introduced himself to the crowd when he got on stage — but began in disarray. The 6 pm start time was delayed for more than two hours while party staff rushed to scan in all the proxies into just one computer.

County committee members continued booing and shouting “Shame!” throughout the meeting, which ended after 11 pm, and one member screamed at Connor as he seemed to evade questions and allegedly bent rules throughout the night, “You are so f—— corrupt it’s unbelievable.”

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