The Brooklyn Democratic Party’s leadership, facing harsh criticism after several incumbents were defeated in the increasingly red southern part of the borough, is firing back at elected officials.
And those officials aren’t backing down, returning that fire in increasingly tense exchanges.
In an internal email sent on Friday night to the Brooklyn Democrats’ executive committee, the party’s executive director suggested that southern Brooklyn elected officials, many of whom have questioned the party leadership’s competence, were themselves to blame for the incumbents who fell short, or may do so in races yet to be called.
“The electeds and the leaders in those conservative territories should be accountable for a gap in their commitment to engage with the voters daily and voters within the district,” wrote the party’s new executive director, Yamil Speight-Miller, as he touted the county organization’s late-stage phone banking and volunteer efforts while casting southern Brooklyn electeds as victims of their own laziness.
“However, it was expressed to us via email the awareness of seasonal appearance of elected officials within the 45th, 46th, 49th [Assembly Districts],” he wrote in an email chain obtained by THE CITY.
“Although we cannot confirm or deny the statements from the voters we are receiving, we realized that new voters and seasoned voters probably have not been activated for some time, even our popular and well-respected senator, Andrew Gounardes who covered those challenging territories for years could not turn out vote,” the email continued.
The email chain began when newly elected party executive Lydia Green, who was also the campaign field director for Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus, wrote that she had “never heard a word” about institutional support from the party. Initial election night returns showed Frontus several hundred votes behind her Republican challenger.
“Year after year, South Brooklyn is where the most contested general elections happen in our borough, and I wish there had been more foresight from County about allocating resources there,” Green wrote. “Democrats did really well nationwide but lost right here in our own blue backyard.”
Other Brooklyn Democrats have made similar criticisms and also noted that the party had appeared to be more focused on prepping for its annual fundraising gala earlier this month than on helping competitive campaigns just ahead of the election.
Speight-Miller’s email seeming to blame local electeds infuriated many party leaders in southern Brooklyn, including some who stuck with the party’s embattled leadership through months of scandal this year over forgeries, “ghost” appointments to party posts, and other alleged misconduct.
Lenny Markh, a party representative who managed the unsuccessful reelection campaign of longtime Democratic Assemblymember Steven H. Cymbrowitz, told the party director in an emailed reply that he had “no right to cast judgment on the people who did the work over the last 8 months of the campaign season.”
As “the campaign manager in the 45th AD where, although we lost, we at the bottom of the ticket got 70% (!!!) more votes than the top of the ticket because we knocked tens of thousands of doors and made thousands of calls,” Markh wrote, “I would kindly ask you to shut the f-ck up before you embarrass yourself any further.”
He concluded: “Do better, or resign.”
A Tough Night for Southern Brooklyn Democrats
The recriminations inside Brooklyn Democratic circles began late last Tuesday after two long-term Assembly incumbents, Cymbrowitz and Peter Abbate Jr., lost their reelection bids and another incumbent, Mathylde Frontus, appeared to be on the verge of losing.
Frontus, a community organizer from Coney Island’s west end, was one of southern Brooklyn’s only Black Assembly members. Yet prominent Black elected officials, including Bichotte Hermelyn and U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, did little to nothing to boost her campaign until the eve of the election, as City and State previously reported.
At a watch party last week, Frontus was initially hopeful. But as the night wore on and the results poured in, she acknowledged she may have been a victim of the much-hyped “red wave” that mostly fell short elsewhere in the city, but hit southern Brooklyn hard.
In interviews with THE CITY, Brooklyn Republicans claimed credit for campaigning hard in the months ahead of the election, and focusing on issues they believe resonated with southern Brooklyn voters — more and more of whom have joined the GOP since Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016.
“We’re unified,” said Ted Ghorra, Brooklyn’s Republican Party chairman. “The issues are what’s driving the electorate, crime is up, inflation is up, cost of living is up, taxes are up.”
While Democrats’ losses in southern Brooklyn this year were confined to the state Senate, at least one elected Republican representing the area gloated that voters there are increasingly out of reach to Democrats, and that trying to reverse that trend could also accelerate it.
“I think county Democrats strategically and wisely stayed out of Southern Brooklyn,” Councilmember Inna Vernikov, a Republican whose district stretches from Midwood to Brighton Beach, said in a text message.
“Waking up the vote here would only anger the majority conservative districts and get the people out to vote against them,” she added. “With the direction the Democratic Party is moving, they have no shot in these neighborhoods.”
‘Only One Edition of Profiles in Courage’
The bickering comes just over a month after party executives re-elected party chair Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, who narrowly won a second term in October. Her first term was marked by a rolling series of scandals and public spats with fellow Democrats over obscure party positions.
In the run-up to the party leadership vote, some dissidents mobilized for Tori Kelly, a party executive and chief of staff to Bay Ridge’s Andrew Gounardes, as a compromise candidate who could topple Bichotte Hermelyn.
To win, Kelly, who is the district leader for parts of Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst, needed support from progressives in the borough’s west, moderates in the south, and a handful of disaffected party executives in central and east Brooklyn.
On paper, many insiders thought Kelly had the votes, but she was unwilling to risk a close election for fear of centrists switching sides at the last minute.
Months before the election, as Bichotte Hermelyn expressed hesitancy about her future as party boss, Joseph Bova, a longtime party leader, signaled support for Kelly’s bid, according to multiple party insiders. But after the party chair made clear she wanted another term, Bova pulled his support, fracturing the southern Brooklyn contingent Kelly was banking on, prompting her withdrawal from the race.
In a text message on Friday, Bova did not directly respond to a question about whether he had backed away from Kelly.
“Tori would have been and someday will be a great County Leader,” Bova wrote, noting that many of the people who’d hoped to back her wouldn’t do so unless she was sure to win. “There is a reason that only one edition of Profiles in Courage was written!”
He added: “Falling short or coming close is not a victory. Being a sacrificial lamb for others, who do not have the courage to [put] themselves forward means the lamb dies.”
Nonetheless, Bova seemed less than thrilled with the performance of the party under Bichotte Hermelyn, telling New York Focus on Election Day that he and other Democrats in southern Brooklyn had been campaigning on their own.
“We’ve got our own people that we use,” Bova said. “We’re doing the best we can do.”