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.

Wednesday 10/23: Why We Vote — Immigration Law & Enforcement

We We Vote: Immigration Law & Enforcement
Wednesday, October 24, 6:30 – 8:30 pm
Manny Cantor Center
197 East Broadway, 6th Floor

Why do we vote? We vote because immigrants make our communities stronger but are never assured of justice from our country’s laws. Our votes can change the direction of law enforcement to protect rather than prosecute those who come to this country seeking opportunity.

Join us Wednesday evening at Manny Cantor Center to discuss the local, state, and national laws that govern immigration law and enforcement.

10/20: Canvass in PA for Tina Davis

We’ve been partnering this year with Sister District Project, a national organization focused on flipping state races in key states around the country.

On Saturday, October 20 please join us for a day trip to canvass for Tina Davis outside Philadelphia. This is a chance to activate voters to increase Democratic representation in Harrisburg.

The bus leaves at 8:45 am from the corner of West 34th St. & 9th Ave. We expect to be back to that corner by 6:00 pm. Please RSVP below:

Tuesday, 10/9: Important traffic meeting with CB3 and DOT

Community Board meeting wth DOT
Tuesday, October 9, 6:30 pm

Seward Park Extension Community Center
56 Essex Street (between Grand and Broome)

We have an important opportunity on Tuesday to make sure that the Department of Transportation helps to solve our neighborhood traffic problem.

DOT has been dragging its heels coming up with a solution for the traffic that starts at Grand & Clinton and radiates throughout the neighborhood. When DOT last presented to CB3 this summer, there were no new solutions proposed, just promises that data collected in the spring will be analyzed with proposals to come.

On Tuesday, DOT returns to CB3 to report on two potential traffic pattern changes:

  • Eliminate Clinton Street access to bridge.
  • Reduce Clinton traffic by eliminating left turn from East Broadway, Henry, and Madison during rush.

Based on the soft dividers recently installed on Grand near Clinton, DOT appears to be aiming for more low-impact improvements instead of looking for alternative traffic patterns. A strong public showing at CB3 Tuesday would emphasize that residents believe Clinton Street is not an appropriate approach to the Williamsburg Bridge.

GSD Judicial Delegate Report (2018)

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 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:

Proposed NYC Charter amendments (2018)

A commission convened by the Mayor has proposed three amendments to the NYC Charter that will be on the ballot this November during the general election. Below is a guide for voters from the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

Proposal #1: Campaign Finance

This proposal would amend the City Charter to lower the amount a candidate for City elected office may accept from a contributor. It would also increase the public funding used to match a portion of the contributions received by a candidate who participates in the City’s public financing program.

In addition, the proposal would make public matching funds available earlier in the election year to participating candidates who can demonstrate need for the funds. It would also ease a requirement that candidates for Mayor, Comptroller, or Public Advocate must meet to qualify for matching funds.

The amendments would apply to participating candidates who choose to have the amendments apply to their campaigns beginning with the 2021 primary election, and would then apply to all candidates beginning in 2022.

Proposal #2: Civic Engagement Commission

This proposal would amend the City Charter to:

Create a Civic Engagement Commission that would implement, no later than the City Fiscal Year beginning July 1, 2020, a Citywide participatory budgeting program established by the Mayor to promote participation by City residents in making recommendations for projects in their communities;

Require the Commission to partner with community based organizations and civic leaders, as well as other City agencies, to support and encourage civic engagement efforts;

Require the Commission to establish a program to provide language interpreters at City poll sites, to be implemented for the general election in 2020;

Permit the Mayor to assign relevant powers and duties of certain other City agencies to the Commission;

Provide that the Civic Engagement Commission would have 15 members, with 8 members appointed by the Mayor, 2 members by the City Council Speaker and 1 member by each Borough President; and

Provide for one of the Mayor’s appointees to be Commission Chair and for the Chair to employ and direct Commission staff.

Proposal # 3: Community Boards

This proposal would amend the City Charter to:

Impose term limits of a maximum of four consecutive full two-year terms for community board members with certain exceptions for the initial transition to the new term limits system;

Require Borough Presidents to seek out persons of diverse backgrounds in making appointments to community boards. The proposal would also add new application and reporting requirements related to these appointments; and

If Question 2, “Civic Engagement Commission,” is approved, require the proposed Civic Engagement Commission to provide resources, assistance, and training related to land use and other matters to community boards.

Update: At its fall meeting on 10/4/18, Grand Street Democrats voted to recommend a “Yes” vote for only Proposal #1, and voted to recommend a “No” vote for Proposals #2 and #3.

Proposed letter to elected officials regarding air quality during L Train shutdown

At our fall meeting on Thursday, Grand Street Dems will have a chance to approve the following letter to our elected officials urging them to make sure air quality tests are conducted before and during the L Train shutdown to monitor the air quality in neighborhoods like ours that will see a significant increase in diesel bus traffic.

Read the proposed letter below.

Update: The letter below was approved by Grand Street Dems at our meeting on 10/4/18. The letter has also been signed by many other neighborhood groups and local officials. The final letter can be viewed here:

Update 2: In a big victory, the MTA has agreed to monitor air quality all along the bus route during the L Train shutdown. 

Thursday 10/4: GSD Fall Meeting

GSD Fall Meeting

Thursday, October 4
6:00 pm

Seward Park Coop Community Room, 266 East Broadway

All GSD officers are up for re-election: president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer. If you are a member, please consider running! This club will continue to grow and engage local Democrats only with commitments from people like you!

We will also be discussing City Charter proposals that will be on the November ballot, and finalizing our November endorsements.