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Brooklyn Democratic Party finally passes (some) reforms

Reform now: Members hold up signs calling for reforming the Kings County Democratic County Committee at a meeting.
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The Brooklyn Democratic Party took one small step towards progress.

Hundreds of politicos cheered the Kings County Democratic Party for finally passing a package of reforms to promote transparency, ethics, and participation during its biannual county committee meeting on July 26 — after more than eight months of postponing the vote and creating a new rules committee to review the reforms.

A progressive faction of the county committee’s 3,000 members across the borough first pushed the five amendments last September, but party honchos stymied the vote until this January, and then again until last week. But the changes are finally a step in the right direction, said Anusha Venkataraman, president of the New Kings Democrats club, which is backing reform.

“I feel pretty good overall. We weren’t sure what to expect going into the meeting, the party does not publish an agenda, we went in knowing what we wanted to see happen,” she said. “I think we were really successful in demonstrating what the power of progressives can be when we partner as a coalition and stand up.”

The new reforms include forbidding the party from supporting any candidate who has been convicted of felony corruption, allowing the executive committee to hold meetings for endorsing judicial candidates in public session, and taking the party slightly out of the Dark Ages by allowing for notices of future meetings to be sent over the internet, and not just through snail mail.

But the Wednesday night meeting in Canarsie didn’t start off so smoothly — the room erupted into boos and jeers when the party’s executive director Jeff Feldman introduced the two invited guests to speak out against the state’s controversial constitutional convention without mention of the much-anticipated reforms.

But former Councilman Lew Fidler (D–Canarsie), a district leader and chairman of the newly established rules committee, stood up for the crowd and insisted Feldman get to the reforms first.

“Obviously there’s a great deal of interest in it and we should take care of it,” Fidler said to a round of applause.

And there’s still a long way to go — party leaders, particularly chairman Frank Seddio, have nearly unlimited decision-making power because so many county members forgo actually going to meetings and instead sign proxy cards letting the party boss use their votes as he sees fit.

One of the proposed amendments would have forbidden any district leader, including Seddio, from holding more proxies than the number of county committee members in their assembly district, but the rules committee rejected that reform, still giving Seddio the authority to pocket enough votes to overrule the party’s rank-and-file members. And that’s still a clear abuse of power, said district leader Nick Rizzo, who is also a member of the New Kings Democrats.

“I understand it’s going to be a long battle, I just don’t think it’s remotely democratic for one person to hold the vast majority of votes in the meeting,” he said.

But there was some progress to the proxy practice — new cards will leave a blank space for members to write in to whom they designate their voting power, said Fidler.

“Just a variety of practical reasons why that didn’t work” he said. “The consensus of the rules committee was that it wasn’t practical, and we came up with an alternative that would allow for distribution of proxies to anyone in county committee.”

And some members were still left frustrated with the party’s lack of action against the state’s rogue Democrats in the Independent Democratic Conference, who have come under scrutiny for abandoning the party to caucus with the Republicans in the state Senate in exchange for power and more cash.

Instead of inviting speakers to push the leadership’s agenda, party honchos should focus on putting true-blues into the seats of turncoats such as state senators Simcha Felder (D–Midwood) and Jesse Hamilton (D–Crown Heights), said county committee member Ernest Skinner, of the esteemed Ernest Skinner Political Association.

“The last two meetings I have attended, I have sensed the frustration by a significant percentage of the people who have come here. An agenda is created, panelists or speakers are presented to us that have nothing to do with what was the operative feelings of a significant percent,” said Skinner to continuous applause and a rousing chant against the Independent Democratic Conference. “I hope that at the next meeting we bring up the issues that are at heart, we should be speaking tonight as to what the Kings County Democratic Party is going to do about Simcha Felder and Jesse Hamilton.”

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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