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Brooklyn Democratic Party Fight Reignites Over a Raunchy Song

State Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn speaks at a rally in City Hall Park supporting female candidates, July 13, 2021.
Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte-Hermelyn, the Brooklyn Democratic leader, speaks at a rally in City Hall Park supporting female candidates, July 13, 2021
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A Brooklyn Assembly member is calling for the borough’s Democratic boss to step down after the leader’s husband allegedly recited a vulgar, sexist song lyric during a county party meeting on Zoom this week.

Assemblymember Maritza Davila said Edu Hermelyn, a district leader in the borough, delivered the crude words in Spanish, which she believed was directed at her.

She wants Hermelyn and his spouse — Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte-Hermelyn, Brooklyn’s top Democrat — to quit their party posts.

Davila charged that Bichotte-Hermelyn tried to sweep the Monday night incident under the rug — part of what she called a pattern of actions to belittle and silence party leaders and members.

“It definitely has been building up to that for a very long time,” said Davila, who plans to hold a news conference with members of the Latino community and party leaders on Friday.

“It’s gotten to the point where, as elected officials, there’s a really severe lack of respect of culture,” she added. “I’m not the only one — a lot of district leaders have been disrespected.”

District leaders are elected but unpaid party representatives, with two per Assembly district.

Hermelyn chalked the incident up to his misunderstanding of Spanish — but the flap threatened to mark the latest rocky patch for Bichotte-Hermelyn, whose nearly two-year reign has been characterized by tension between top Brooklyn party officials and an expanding group of reformers. She’s also been caught in a rift between Black lawmakers and their Latino counterparts in the borough.

Meanwhile, some of those battling to change the party dynamics worry that the personal drama will overshadow votes taken by the executive committee that night they say were intended to disenfranchise thousands of county party members.

‘It Was Hurtful’

Davila said she logged into the executive committee’s Zoom meeting on Monday when she heard a man saying the raunchy lyrics to the Spanish song, “Esta Loca” — which means “She’s Crazy” — over and over.

The Assembly member said it was only after she insisted on knowing who it was, that Hermelyn raised his hand.

“I was attacked in a sexual manner in Spanish, as a Latina,” she told THE CITY on Thursday. “It was hurtful, it was disrespectful, it was vulgar — not just to me, but to every woman who was there.”

She said Bichotte-Hermelyn tried to continue with the meeting as if nothing had happened.

When Davila, who represents parts of Williamsburg and Bushwick, repeatedly objected, she said she was muted and told by the party boss that “people are sick and tired of you, your stupidity.”

Bichotte-Hermelyn, who a day prior was in Puerto Rico for the annual Somos political conference organized by Davila this year, denied personally attacking her fellow lawmaker during the meeting — calling her claims “inaccurate” in a statement posted to Twitter.

The Democratic boss also denied trying to silence or divide members.

“I will continue to work with all members of the executive committee to foster mutual respect, camaraderie and unity over division,” Bichotte-Hermelyn said on Twitter. “I respect all district leaders, who are volunteering time for the betterment of Brooklyn.”

Hermelyn said he was having a conversation in broken Spanish before the meeting started with his co-district leader, Arleny Alvarado-McCalla, when he spontaneously quoted lyrics from a song he’d heard at clubs.

“I thought I understood the lyrics with my limited Spanish, but it was definitely not my intention to disrespect or offend anybody,” Hermelyn told THE CITY.

He said that he didn’t know a phrase in the song, which contains the Spanish word for “egg,” was a euphemism for sex. “I still feel bad to this day,” he said.

Hermelyn said in a statement that the suggestion that the remarks were aimed at Davila were “simply false.”

Closed-Door Votes

The executive committee led by Bichotte-Hermelyn also voted on two measures that night, in a closed session, away from public view.

New Kings Democrats, a political group with roughly 300 members that has been leading the internal fight for change, say one measure reduces the number of formal party meetings to one every two years. That’s down from two meetings per year where as many as 5,000 party members have the ability to introduce resolutions for a vote.

The other measure requires resolutions to be submitted to a subcommittee that critics say is controlled by Bichotte-Hermelyn for approval before being presented for a vote.

The combination makes it doubly challenging for resolutions aimed at reforming the party from within to get enacted, according to Tony Melone, a spokesperson for New Kings Democrats.

“We could have a much stronger Democratic Party that did better in elections and that reflected the values of people in Brooklyn if the party included more voices in making its decisions — and wasn’t as focused on elevating the small inner circle,” he said.

“They’re putting energy into looking out for their own, getting allies elected as judges, protecting incumbents and shutting out ordinary folks that want to participate.”

In an email from the Kings County Democratic Committee the day after the votes, officials said the changes were driven by a desire for efficiency.

Replacing some of the formal meetings with informal ones will eliminate some of the procedural requirements that slow things down, they said, while vetting resolutions before a vote will “ensure that resolutions are passed in a timely and efficient manner.”

Legal and Other Battles

The tussling between reformers and the party leadership under Bichotte-Hermelyn is nothing new.

In October 2020, the New Kings Democrats won a lawsuit filed against the party after it failed to hold a single organizational meeting that year, despite a requirement under election law.

Bichotte-Hermelyn had canceled the annual meeting, citing the pandemic. She argued holding the meeting virtually would unfairly exclude members who lack access to technology.

In early December 2020, a judge ruled in a separate lawsuit that the party had violated election law by allowing top officials to appoint roughly 2,400 vacancies among lower-level membership, rather than running those appointments through an election by the full body.

Later that month, reformers managed to push through historic changes to the party’s rules in a wild, 13-hour Zoom session that they said would spread out power currently concentrated at the top of the organization.

Within a week, however, the changes were tossed out by a party-hired parliamentarian, according to the Brooklyn Paper.

In March 2021, Bichotte-Hermelyn cut ties with the Brooklyn Young Democrats — they say because of clashes that included which candidates to endorse, but which the Assembly member attributed to a paperwork snafu.

Also this year, party-backed candidates gave disappointing performances across a significant number of elections — even as Bichotte-Hermelyn endorsed the winning candidate for mayor, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

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