Proposed Rules Changes for Manhattan Democrats

The New York County (Manhattan) Democratic Committee will meet on Monday, October 29 for its annual meeting. On the agenda this year are several rules changes that were part of a contentious meeting last year (following a controversial process to select our own State Senate candidate). Grand Street Dems County Committee members (elected in 2017, up for re-election in 2019) will attend the meeting and vote on these proposed new rules.

Below is an excerpt from State Committeeman Ben Yee’s newsletter explaining the proposed changes and what’s at stake.

Report: Manhattan Democrats Proposed Rules Changes

On Monday, Oct 29 the Manhattan Democratic County Committee will meet at Aaron Davis Hall (City College) to consider proposed changes to the Party Rules. There are several changes being proposed, several of which are minor corrections.

Most changes are expected to pass with flying colors. However, there is significant controversy regarding a change to ban lobbyists or people whose employer’s primary business in lobbying, from being County Leader. A full discussion is the last item in this report.

You can read all of them in their original language here. Below, however, are the major substantive changes:

Notice Requirements

Meetings to the full County Committee will be require notification by USPS mail and e-mail for any County Committee members designating a preferred email address. Additionally, notice for the first meeting after County Committee elections has been increased from five days to seven. Notice of all other meetings remains at 10 days.

There are some minor changes in timing for notices to Executive Committee members regarding Executive Committe meetings but these are largely irrelevant to most folks so I won’t delve into them here.

Posting of County Committee Member List Online

The new rules would require the list of all County Committee members – elected and appointed – to be published online at the Manhattan Democrats website. However, it would only include names and Assembly/Election Districts. Home address information would still be filed with the Board of Elections, but would not be made accessible on Manhattan Democrats outlets.

Subcommittees of the County Committee

The proposed changes leave all existing subcommittees of the full County Committee – Executive, Credentials and Rules – while moving the Ethics Subcommittee from Executive Committee jurisdiction to the full County Committee.

Ethics Committee Improvement

As mentioned, the Ethics Committee will be changed from a subcommittee of the Executive Committee, run by the District Leaders, to a subcommittee of the full County Committee.

The subcommittee will consist of five members who shall be nominated by the County Committee Chair with approval of the County Committee or Executive Board. Eligible membership excludes the Party Leader (Chair of the Executive Committee) and is limited to one member of the Executive Committee and one Officer of the County Committee. Therefore a minimum of three members must be regular County Committee members. The members may be removed by the County Chair for “substantial” neglect of duty, incapacity or misconduct.

The Committee is empowered to employ counsel, consultants and any necessary staff within a budget set by the full County Committee. It is empowered to decide its rules of procedures and any rules for appeal of its decision internally.

Removal of Executive Committee Subcommittees

All but three subcommittees would be eliminated under the new rules leaving only: Judciary, Law and Young Democrats.

Being removed are several unused committees. Arguably they should be used, but in an absence of engagement are being struck. The include the subcommittees on: Policy, Public Relations, Campaigns and Governmental Affairs.

You read the description of all of those committees in the Rules Committee Report. The Executive Committee can still create temporary subcommittees as it deems necessary.

Agenda Setting Requirement

The requirement for adding items the agenda of a County Committee meeting has been drastically slashed.

Original requirement: signatures of 500 members, including 25 members from at least 10 Assembly Districts

New requirement: signatures from 90 members, with just 15 from 6 different Assembly Districts.

Agenda items are required to be submitted at least 10 days before the next meeting and signatures are required to be no more than 60 days old at the time of submission.

Cross-County Vacancy Filling

If you’ve taken a (Real) Politics 101, you know that in the event of a vacancy for public office, the County Committee decides who shall be the Party’s nominee in a special election (unless you live in Queens, in which District Leaders do it).

In reality, that is a general case when a district resides wholly within one county (borough). If a district stretches across multiple counties, the decision is actually made by the Party Leader or Chair of the Executive Committee of each County Party whichever is higher ranking. That is to say, one person.

This rule binds the decision of the Manhattan Leader in the following ways:

1. If Manhattan has the majority of County Committee votes in an intercounty district, the County Leader MUST cast 100% of Manhattan’s votes for whoever receives the most votes in a Manhattan County Committee vote.

2. If Manhattan does not have the majority of County Committee votes in an intercounty district, the County Leader will be guided by a County Committee vote, but may cast Manhattan’s votes in any proportion he/she sees fit.

Banning Lobbyists from County Leadership

This rule change would disallow anyone who is a registered lobbyist, or whose employer’s business is primarily lobbying, from serving as the Manhattan County Leader.

There are strong passions on both sides of this issue. Not least because it would ban the current Manhattan Leader, Keith Wright, from running for Leader at the next County Leadership elections in 2019. Though Wright is not a registered lobbyist, he works for a firm, and in a department, whose primary business is lobbying. The fate of this rule has turned into a serious drama.

For and against

The point of such a rule change is obvious, it ideally prevents the corrosive influence of a Leader’s personal financial interests from driving Democratic Party decision making and policy.

However, opposition from some has been strong, arguing that banning lobbyists would exclude a large set of qualified individuals who may work for good causes – including non-profits, labor unions and advocacy groups. Opponents further argue that lobbyists undergo strict reporting requirements, making them more trustworthy and transparent than other allowed occupations such as hedge fund managers, bankers or real estate developers who clients or interests can be opaque.

Ultimately, though, while many occupations can have incentives that tie into issues or politics, very few do so in a way which is related to the intricately local politics over which a County Leader exercises political influence. Lobbyists are uniquely linked with our local politics, which is why we require them to disclose in the first place.

A possible compromise

In order to quell opposition and ensure passage, an amendment which would exempt the current County Leader has been proposed by some reform leaders and accepted by most reform proponents.

A dream deferred

Despite the the existence of a viable compromise which could see the Manhattan County Party banning lobbyists from its highest office, the Party’s Law Chairs have said that such an amendment is out of order at the next County Committee meeting. According to election law, proposed rules changes MUST be submitted to the County Committee members in writing at least five days in advance of any vote. Given that time has already passed, the Law Chairs, who are conducting the meeting, will likely bar any attempt to amend the resolution.

This, then, raises a second question. The Rules Committee voted in favor of all the proposed rule changes except the banning of lobbyists. Some are arguing that means the proposed changed cannot come to the floor. Others believe that all proposed amendments must come before the County Committee and a “no” vote of the Committee simply constitutes a recommendation to vote no on the new rule.

Should the amendment come to the floor during the County Committee meeting it will cause significant contention. But, should it be kept from the floor, or should it fail, there is a failsafe – the changed rule could be referred back to the Rules Committee and the matter placed on the agenda for the next meeting of the County Committee by a vote, or by using the new, easier process for adding agenda items by petition (assuming it passes). Either way, passing the amendment at this meeting or the next one makes minor difference as Keith Wright will stay Manhattan Leader regardless.

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