Grand Street Dems delegates participated this year for the first time in the Democratic party’s convention to select nominees for NY Supreme Court. It’s a process hidden from most voters. Delegates to the judicial convention are elected from each Assembly District during the September primary, but if there is no contested ballot for those delegates (as is usually the case), these delegates’ names won’t even show up on the ballot in September, they are just automatically installed by the party.
This year GSD members nominated two delegates — actually one delegate and one alternate. Other Democratic clubs in Assembly District 65 also nominated delegates, and by agreement between the clubs a slate of 5 delegates and 5 alternates was determined.
All delegates had a chance to hear from the many candidates for NY Supreme Court. A forum for all candidates was hosted by Village Independent Democrats and Downtown Independent Democrats, which GSD delegates attended. The judicial convention for New York’s 1st Judicial District (Manhattan) was held on Sept. 20, 2018.
Here is the convention report from GSD’s delegates:
Notes on the Judicial Convention for 1st Judicial District (New York County) 9.20.18
The convention is called to order and after some procedural beginnings the roll is called for each elected Judicial Delegate, grouped by Assembly District, to answer that they are present.
Alternates only serve if a delegate from their Assembly District is not present at the convention. The alternates are ordered for the entire Assembly District. (E.g. the First Alternate serves if anyone is missing from our District, its not that a GSD Alternate serves if GSD Delegate is missing.)
This year there are three open positions for Supreme Court Justice. We had heard in advance through buzz from candidates that this year two of the nominations were “locked up.” And that then was how it played out. This could be that these two candidates in fact had committed/pledged support from a majority of Delegates (this year 84). However it could also be that these two candidates had created the perception that they had a majority of supporters, and then other candidates were pressured to “wait their turn” and withdraw. In any event, seemingly every candidate agreed to this procedure and knew in advance. Establishing support in advance and communicating that support to the powers that be is apparently critical.
After roll call, a specific person was called to nominate the first candidate for one of the Judicial openings. That person nominated Alex Tish with a brief speech. Then another named person was called to seconded the nomination without a speech. Very quickly it was asked, are there any other nominations, no pause. Then a voice vote was called and essentially everyone said “aye” with no “nay” votes or abstentions. Tish then gave a speech accepting the nomination, thanking people and telling them to join him at an after party.
The same procedure then happened for the second opening with Lynn Kotler receiving and winning the nomination, again by an uncontested voice vote.[Note that Lynn thanked her home political club, Chelsea, & Alex was a former District Leader. Most nominations or seconds were made by District Leaders. So one strong base of club support also seems crucial for judicial success.]
Chair then recognized someone by name to nominate for the third position. John J. Kelly was nominated & seconded. Kelly had said at VID/DID/VRDC/GSD Judicial Candidate Forum the week before that he was not “contesting a seat” this year. (Other excellent candidates said the same thing at the convention.) He came up and gave a quick speech declining his nomination.
Then someone else is nominated (Lou Knock) and seconded & they also know he is going to withdraw (because seconding speech says “please remember him for next year”). He withdraws and says he is going to speak to everyone he can over the next year. So really they are lobbying all year once they’ve gotten through the panel.[The panel process (see http://manhattandemocrats.org/2018/07/2018-supreme-court-independent-screening-panel/) is set up with different legal groups each invited to put their own member on the committee. This is intended to give it a non-political stance focuses on qualifications. The panel then “reports out” applicants as “Most Highly Qualified” (the only approved category). The full sentence is that they “were reported out by the panel as most highly qualified.” Every candidate was “reported out” by the panel this year OR has been reported out in 2 of the last four. So-called “two-fours” do not have to reapply to the panel this year. Frustratingly the full list was not on the Manhattan Dems website but it was on its Facebook page. One of the nominators said the Panel is non-political, and then the nominations can be political.]
The same then happened with Jennifer Schecter, Aletha Drysdale, Lisa Sokolov, Carol Sharpe, Paul Goetz, Ta-Tanisha James, David Cohen, Sabrina Krause, Cory Weston, Dakota Ramseur, Melissa Crane, Michelle Sweeting. (I wonder if this order says something about the order of likelihood to win next year.) These were all but two of the remaining candidates that were found qualified by the panel.
Note that every nominator & second nominator called was explicitly decided in order in advance, and announced with out taking volunteers or solicitation from the delegates. But how that decision was made is unclear.
Then the contested race: Mary Rosado nominated & seconded. Following that another person called to nominate Shawn T Kelly.
Without any remarks for these two candidates or further discussion, the Chair then called on each Assembly District to give the total of their delegates votes. We were 3 for Rosado (UDO, GSD & Lower East Side Dems); and 2 for Kelly (DID & New Downtown Dems). One Assembly District said they “historically vote as a block” and did. The vote was unusually close with a final official count of Rosado 47 to Kelly 37! The convention was adjourned soon after.
A few other notes for the future:
- All of the candidates except Rosado had been elected as Civil Court judges (except for one who had been appointed by Mayor de Blasio as a criminal court judge), and elevated to Acting Supreme Court Judges because of the court backlog and the need for more judges to handle it. In Rosado’s case, since she had not been elevated to Acting Supreme Court, and was in New York County, it opens up another Civil Court vacancy next year that could be a good place for a judge candidate we supported this year who didn’t make it.
- The number of delegates for each Assembly District is determined by the total vote for Governor on the Democratic line in the general election. So next year, new delegate apportionment will be made based on results from November’s election.
- This year the person elected as our Grand Street Democrats delegate to the convention had discretion to vote how he thought best (although he conferred with our alternate and club President). Next year we might want to open up the judicial candidate evaluation process (basically attending one co-sponsored forum with all the candidates) to the full club and have those present vote on the club recommendations (more like our endorsement process) which the delegate will then follow at the convention (this seems to be the process for some other reform clubs).
Three helpful links, info on our judicial district; the only “official” explanation of this judicial delegate and convention process (see especially pages 25-27); and the other a recent news article critical of the process: