The New Kings Democratic Club has launched the first stage of its recruitment drive to add members to the Brooklyn Democratic County Committee this week as June 3 marked the first day for Brooklyn residents to begin gathering petition signatures for the position.
New Kings Democrats, a new grassroots organization dedicated to recruit and train individuals running for Kings County Democratic Committee, held a training session for about 20 individuals interested in petitioning for the seat within their local Assembly districts on June 2. Grassroots Initiative, a nonprofit organization encouraging candidates to run for local offices citywide, has been leading the training and advising candidates about the petition process.
According to Grassroots Initiative, there more than 14,000 vacancies for local County Committees citywide, and nearly half the seats in Kings County are vacant. The process to run can be confusing, so James Merritt, president of Grassroots Initiative, has been explaining to candidates how to fill out the necessary paperwork and what to say to registered voters in their neighborhood when gathering signatures over the next few weeks
“People are not going to know what county committee is,” Merritt said. “Say that it’s a position within the political party, the seat has been vacant for a decade, and that you’re trying to add an additional voice for the local party structure.”
So far, New Kings has collected 35 petitions of candidates with the goal of reaching 50 by the Board of Elections’ filing deadline on July 10. While the organization has held its meetings in Bushwick, New Kings Democrats has been recruiting candidates from throughout North and Central Brooklyn’s Assembly Districts, as its members are spread across the county. New Kings is joining other fledgling political clubs throughout Brooklyn, including Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, as well as several community based organizations in recruiting candidates for local office.
“I think there’s a different culture now,” said Matt Cowherd, one of the founders of New Kings Democrats along with Rachel Lauter. “People are demanding more information from their government and their party. It is no longer acceptable for people to not know when the County Committee meets and what the agenda is.”
The group of New Kings candidates, while mostly under 35, is a mix of African-American, Latino and Caucasian members, and is mostly split between men and women. Many of the candidates found out about the organization through the listservs that Cowherd and Lauter kept alive during their volunteer efforts supporting Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
“My girlfriend is in Minnesota right now,” said Tyler Jaezk, a candidate for County Committee. “I have to convince her that it’s more important to be here and run for this office.”
Esteban Duran, a candidate for City Council, has been attending the meetings and plans to run for County Committee as well. He has been encouraged by his neighbors’ heightened level of participation in the political process, even as the presidential primaries are winding down.
“It’s exciting to see a new wave of interest in the Democratic Party at the local level,” Duran said. “Change is upon us and change is good and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Cowherd and other New Kings members believe that their organization could eventually form a base of supporters to help candidates such as Duran run for City Council. Merritt stressed that the club wanted to work with the Brooklyn Democratic Party and not to take over the existing party infrastructure.
“We want to empower people,” Merritt said. “People sometimes forget there are other end goals.”
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