At least ten people living in Brooklyn’s Little Pakistan neighborhood were appointed to obscure but meaningful positions within the borough’s Democratic Party organization without their knowledge in October, an investigation by THE CITY has found.
The irregular appointments were for the “county committee,” a body of neighborhood representatives across the borough who vote on the party’s rules and its nominees for special elections in deliberations that have become flashpoints of heated intra-party rivalries.
In phone calls and conversations in person at homes, apartments and storefronts across Kensington, Brooklyn, numerous residents, nearly all of them South Asian immigrants, said they had no idea how they or their family members had ended up as county committee representatives for the 44th Assembly District. In some cases, people had moved out of the state months before they were appointed, residents of their former residences told THE CITY.
Zulfiqar Ali, 58, who runs a cash transfer business on Coney Island Avenue, was unaware of his appointment until THE CITY visited his shop last Thursday. Ali said he had “no idea” who slotted him into the position.
“I’m with Democrats,” the shopkeeper said. “‘But I never asked, requested them to put my name as recommended leader because, you know, I am busy.”
Farzana Shabbir, who lives in an apartment building a few blocks away, also learned of her appointment from THE CITY. Shabbir said she wanted to be removed from the county committee along with her adult daughter, who also confirmed that she was added to the committee without her knowledge.
“I’m not even aware of anything. This is the first time hearing from you,” Shabbir said. “I’m shocked. It’s disappointing though.”
Boatload of Proxies
The unsuspecting appointees THE CITY spoke with were part of a county committee nomination slate the Brooklyn Democratic Party establishment pushed through at a chaotic mass meeting in October. It was part of a successful effort to shut out a slate of would-be appointees assumed to be at odds with party leadership.
Given this context, some of the new appointees fear their names, and votes, could be exploited for intraparty machinations without their say.
“These people probably are not even voting. So then who is making these rules?” said Shawaza Majeed, a nonprofit worker who lives in Kensington and said that she also was appointed without her consent. “What the hell is happening?”
According to party insiders, for the county establishment to take advantage of these “ghost” appointees’ votes at contested meetings, party leaders need signed proxy forms transferring the unsuspecting committee members’ voting power to dependable allies.
“This is not a new thing. This has been going for decades,” said Diana Gonzalez, a former executive director of the Brooklyn Democratic Party. “Everybody knows County just wants to control meetings by walking in with a boatload of proxies.”
Gonzalez, now president of the dissident club, the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, argued the party establishment will stop at nothing to secure the votes of “ghost” appointees.
“It’s not just that they’re appointed without their knowledge. It’s that when the county party needs to collect proxies, other people are forging their signatures,” she said. “So the person who put that list together, his or her work isn’t done. They have to forge proxies for the next county committee meeting.”
A spokesperson for the Brooklyn Democratic Party declined requests for comment about the “ghost” members. In April, THE CITY reported that party members allied with the establishment forged at least five residents’ signatures in a bid to block rivals campaigning to join the county committee.
A party leader allied with embattled party boss Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn later admitted that those forgeries — which prompted calls for criminal investigation — came from inside his camp. But Bichotte Hermelyn brushed off the falsified Board of Elections documents, noting to Politics NY that people “don’t look at signatures to see if anything was fraud or whatever.”
In May, THE CITY revealed that Bichotte Hermelyn allies in southern Brooklyn listed 20 people as county committee candidates on petitions without the residents’ knowledge or consent.
In June, Oren Yaniv, a spokesperson for Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, told THE CITY that the prosecutor’s office was reviewing the “ghost” candidates’ issue. He confirmed on Tuesday that the probe is still ongoing.
‘This Is Not My Responsibility’
Some of the residents from Little Pakistan listed in the party establishment’s appointee slate confirmed they were cognizant of their new positions.
Their appointments, those committee members said, were part of a larger push by the community to get involved in local politics, which has long been dominated by Park Slope and Windsor Terrace residents from the whiter and wealthier half of the district.
In April, for example, a slate of Pakistani Americans ran for judicial delegates, but they weren’t able to defeat nominees put up by local Assemblymember Robert Carroll, a Democrat. Carroll accused the machine of Trump-like power plays, and alleged that many of the county-backed candidates lived outside of the district, while Bichotte Hermelyn countered with claims of xenophobia.
In a phone call, Kanwar Nabeel Ahmed, a county committee appointee who’d been a member of that losing slate, noted that while many Pakistani immigrants vote, the community has not yet produced many elected representatives.
“So we did our research and found that’s the first step,” Ahmed said. “We thought let’s start. Let’s see if we can get to mid-tier.”
Standing outside his house in Kensington, Sharif Ahmad said joining the county committee was one of the best ways he could think of to be more “effective” in local politics.
“We are involved in the politics for a long time, not with the county committee,” said Ahmad. “But, you know what, in order for everyone to have participation in the politics, this is open for everyone.”
So far, however, the new appointees’ participation in local Democratic politics has been limited.
At the October party convention, when representatives for the two competing slates in the 44th Assembly District were asked to speak, no one came to the microphone to speak for the majority Pakistani American slate.
A few weeks later on a weekday evening at a half-empty Methodist church in Park Slope, the Assembly district held its official county committee meeting where residents prepped for the upcoming election and raised complaints about e-bikes, sewage failures, and ongoing construction projects.
But none of the new appointees showed up in person, and only one logged into the meeting through Zoom, according to the meeting’s official attendee roster.
For the appointees who did not know they were appointees, it was particularly hard to make a meeting they didn’t know they had a right to attend.
Majeed, the non-profit worker who was appointed without her knowledge, recalls getting a letter in the mail, possibly about the meeting, from local Democrats. But she threw it away, assuming it was junk mail.
“I obviously ripped it up because I did not sign up for this. This is not my responsibility,” she said. “It looked really shady too.”
Ali, the cash-transfer merchant who was also appointed without his knowledge, said he would like to join the county committee meetings, but needs someone to give him the date and time ahead of time since he works six days a week.
“If we need for Democrats, I can come. I can support,” he said. “If they inform me, I can join.”
Do you know more about “ghost” appointments? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.