Brooklyn Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn secured reelection as party boss with a narrow victory in a closed executive session, after a day of heated public deliberations marred by allegations of “ghost” appointments to the County Committee of people with no idea they’d been added.
In a packed ballroom at the Marriott in downtown Brooklyn, delegates fought for hours on Monday over appointments to the County Committee that’s supposed to give a hyper-local voice to roughly 4,000 Democrats across the borough and that decides on party rules.
But the proceedings, which picked up from a meeting last month that started hours late and ended with almost nothing accomplished, came to a halt numerous times as delegates raised concerns that party leaders had put forward appointees on establishment-backed slates without their knowledge.
Such alleged gamesmanship could have helped establishment Dems gain power in Assembly districts where the county committees have been dominated by progressives and other opposition members. Those county committees play a significant role in nominating candidates in special elections for state office they are sure to win and contribute to the votes on party policies.
Councilmember Mercedes Narcisse, a newly elected party executive from East Flatbush who has clashed with Bichotte Hermelyn‘s camp, called for an audit after introducing the crowd to a party member from her neighborhood who did not know his name had been included on a list of county committee appointees supported by the party establishment.
In an interview with THE CITY, the man, John Dixon, 62, said that he was “disturbed” by his lack of say in the matter.
“I had no conversation with anyone regarding being put on another slate,” he said.
Despite Narcisse’s concerns, the meeting chair, a Bichotte Hermelyn ally, moved forward without an audit — prompting a chorus of boos from the audience.
Likewise, in an Assembly district that includes Red Hook and Sunset Park, the party leadership put forward a slate that included the name “Patrick Hayes,” an apparent reference to Patrick Hayes Torres, a nominee for civil court judge.
In an interview, Hayes Torres said that he had initially agreed to be an appointee but then asked to be removed to make sure that his vote would not be used as a proxy in his absence.
“That shouldn’t have been on there,” Hayes Torres said in a phone call with THE CITY. “That’s something that should be rectified.”
Despite such irregularities, executives allied with the party establishment — relying in part on proxy votes — pushed through their county committee appointments in contested Assembly districts, including in neighborhoods controlled by the party’s self-styled reform wing. That was a break from the previous practice in which appointees had generally been left up to local party leaders.
“It seems like people do whatever they want to,” Narcisse said on Monday. “It’s a dictatorship approach.”
THE CITY has reported previously on the controversial — and at times, possibly illegal — attempts by the party’s leaders and their allies to consolidate power, including forging the signatures of residents in Brownsville and East New York on Board of Election documents in a bid to kick opposition candidates for low-level party positions off the ballots. Tactics also included running at least 20 unwitting “ghost” candidates for low-level party positions in southern Brooklyn, in an apparent effort to transfer their power over to the establishment through proxy votes.
In June, a coalition of government watchdog groups asked the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office to investigate the Brooklyn Democratic Party over the allegedly fraudulent filings with the BOE.
‘There Is Fear’
After Monday’s county committee meeting, just 20 of the party’s 44 executives met in a separate part of the hotel for a closed-door vote on its leader, in a vote where the other two dozen execs — including Bichotte Hermelyn, who is pregnant— gave those present proxy power for their votes.
“The reason why I am getting all the votes,” Bichotte Hermelyn told City & State just ahead of Monday’s meeting and votes, “is because everybody supporting me, and everybody outside, and the whole world and everybody connected to county and the party and constituents, they’ve all reached out to me and said, ‘We know you have a lot on your plate, but please stay, please stay, we need your leadership.’ And so I said, OK. I’ll stay and do my full two terms.”
Indeed, Tori Kelly, a South Brooklyn party leader dropped out of the leadership race at the eleventh hour despite being within striking distance of taking the throne, was not present for the vote.
With Kelly out, Martiza Davila, a party executive and Assemblymember from Bushwick and Williamsburg, mounted a late challenge.
“We need to change, we really need an opportunity to listen to each other,” said Davila, adding, “I understand that there is fear. I understand that people are being called.”
But she could not win over votes from South Brooklyn centrists allied with Kelly, leaving her with 12, just under a third of the potential votes.
With several other party leaders abstaining or failing to give their proxy votes to other party leaders, Bichotte Hermelyn won a second full term with 23 votes — a bare majority and a far cry from her near unanimous support two years ago.
“Just remember we are the political center of the universe,” Bichotte Hermelyn said on Zoom after her victory.
“I want to thank all of you for participating in this democratic process [and] for all of your support in making this as successful and transparent as this can be.”