The Kings County Democratic Party today filed a Notice of Appeal regarding a lower court decision handed down last week that would unseat thousands of county committee members.
The lawsuit was filed by a group of 12 dissident county committee members motivated by their own purely partisan reasons.
“While we fundamentally agree with enfranchising voters and increasing grassroots participation, we do not believe that this attempt to co-opt the party was actually filed with that in mind,” said Party Chair and Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte. “In fact, by filing the petition in this case and persuading the judge to issue his decision, the plaintiffs have stripped away the rights of all grassroots county committee members. It is our duty to save the democracy of the Democratic Party. We will not allow members’ seats to be stolen by a few, politically motivated dissidents.”
Members of the party’s executive committee, also known as district leaders, voted by an overwhelming majority, on September 23, to amend the rules to comply with COVID-19 restrictions and to enable the county committee to conduct business fairly and democratically until such time as a meaningful organizational meeting could be held with over 500 people. While the Election Law provides that members would not assume office unless the meeting is held, the new party rule provided that they take office on October 7, since the Governor’s Executive Orders will not allow for such a large scale, meaningful event at this time.
The lawsuit brought by these individuals, requested the court strip all members of the authority that the amended rules provided. “Through their litigation, the 12 plaintiffs have essentially nullified the membership rights of 2000-plus County Committee members,” said Aaron Maslow, an election law attorney and chair of the party’s Task Force on Gender Discrimination and Representation, which has been meeting for the purpose of recommending a change in the composition of the County Committee’s membership.
The dissidents also proposed that a virtual meeting, involving all county committee members, was the only path forward. Because of the magnitude of the members who attend these meeting for the purpose of voting, this proposal would undo the integrity of the voting process and disadvantage members of less affluent neighborhoods experiencing digital divide issues, as well as older committee members who are not all well-versed in the complex technologies required for such a meeting to take place.
We do not discount the important grassroots work that happens on the digital frontier too, but we cannot allow the voices of people from less wealthy communities to be suppressed, as would inevitably be the case if the plaintiffs had their way.
This is more relevant now than ever, during a pandemic that has, in the worst ways possible, intensified the inequalities suffered by people of color and older adults.
"We are navigating an unprecedented public health crisis that has disproportionately impacted traditionally underrepresented districts like mine,” said District Leader Henry Butler (AD-56). “I voted in favor of the rule change because the Democratic Party cannot afford to alienate members who are not as technologically adept, or who simply lack access to the complex virtual mediums that would be required to host a virtual forum of this size. I am confident that the rule change my colleagues and I agreed on is in the best interest of the constituents in my district and the ideals of our organization."
Nonetheless, Judge Edgar Walker ruled in favor of that small faction of plaintiffs last week. We believe that the ruling is an erroneous interpretation of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s emergency Executive Order 202.47, which specifically states that it is within the discretion of political party chairs to determine whether or not to utilize telephones or videoconferencing.
Moreover, the court ruling was procured by the 12 dissidents upon the submission of an affirmation falsely stating that the party’s task force “did not even include any gender non-conforming individuals.” In early August, Bichotte appointed the party’s Task Force on Gender Discrimination and Representation, and at least eight of the 18 members are from the LGBTQ+/non-cisgender/non-binary/gender non-conforming community.
The task force has met five times and will entertain public input in future sessions. Bichotte’s undertaking with the task force is the first serious review of the composition of any political party’s county committee membership in New York State.
“I thank our Kings County Democratic Party chair, Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte, and Aaron Maslow, chair of the Kings County Democratic Task Force on Gender Discrimination and Representation, for their leadership and steadfast commitment to addressing the concerns of non-binary individuals who desire to participate in the political process,” said Darma Diaz. “As a member of the task force and former district leader of the 54th Assembly District, I understand and appreciate the importance of being a county committee member and will keep an open mind as the committee works on a proposal that will meet the needs of Kings County.”
Bichotte stated, “Our goal is to ensure that everyone has a voice and that a handful of biased dissidents who do not reflect the voice of the borough of Brooklyn do not co-opt our democratic freedom to run an organization that is transparent and progressive.”