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Brooklyn Democratic Party’s Big Meeting Ended With Nothing Done and the Lights Shut Off

The chaotic county confab started nearly three hours late, and ended not long after that with almost none of its business accomplished, and as party leaders relied on legal experts with criminal histories.

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District Leader Doug Schneider reacts to the premature adjournment of the executive committee meeting after the lights were shut off at the Coney Island Amphitheater during the Brooklyn Democrats meeting Wednesday night, Sept. 21, 2022.

Virginia Bechtold

The Brooklyn Democratic Party hosted a chaotic show at the Coney Island Amphitheater on Wednesday night—one that ended without a slated vote that could have re-elected party boss Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn after months of scandal inside the party and rumors of her potential downfall. 

The dysfunctional proceedings came a day after Bichotte Hermelyn, a Flatbush Assemblymember, said at a town hall that she would indeed be running for a new term as leader.

The big meeting for the party’s County Committee, a body of thousands of hyper-local party delegates, was supposed to be for votes on proposed rule changes and new officers. Self-styled reformers inside the party wanted to propose measures authorizing more meetings, reducing the power of party leaders to wield “proxy” votes through absentee party members, and bringing more transparency to the party’s controversial judicial nomination process. 

The rule changes were supposed to have been followed by a meeting of the executive committee to decide on the party’s leader. That never happened, as the party struggled to hold a meeting at all, or to accomplish much once they finally did.

While the meeting was supposed to start at 7 p.m., spotty internet and check-in delays stopped the proceedings from beginning until nearly 10 p.m., leaving just an hour before the party members had to prepare to exit the space at 11 before the lights would go out at 11:30. And that hour was mostly spent in an interminable debate over which county committee members could vote on rule changes, leaving no time for voting. 

People wait in a long line on the Coney Island boardwalk Wednesday evening to get into a Brooklyn Democrats meeting, Sept. 21, 2022.

Roberta Grobel Intrater

No sooner did the proceeding finally get underway than it bogged down on the first item on the agenda, a vote that would have given newly elected committee members who’d run unopposed their own votes in the rest of the night’s agenda—a set-up that drew furious objections from people charging this was a scheme by the party’s embattled leadership to put a thumb on the scales and block rule changes favored by insurgents. 

As new members received the go-ahead to pick up their voting devices, a woman told the proceeding’s leaders that she and other party members had been told that, even if they were appointed to the County Committee at the meeting, they still could not vote at it, “per the party’s lawyers.” 

“Why are they being sent to the table for clickers right now?” she said. County Chair Arleny Alvarado-McCalla told the woman that she was sorry for the “misinformation you were given,” drawing the first of a few rounds of booing from attendees. 

Parliamentarian Robert Robinson then asked members to provide him with the name of the lawyer who’d told them they couldn’t vote at the meeting, because, he said, “no one should have told you that.” 

Maggie Moore, a county committee member from the 57th Assembly District centered in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill and an organizer with the insurgent group RepYourBlock, then named Alan Rocoff—who was at the head table with Alvarado-McCalla and other top party officials. 

“I think that the understanding was the appointees at the meeting also wouldn’t have voting privileges,” said Moore, citing a conversation she had with Rocoff on Sunday.   

Rocoff, who resigned his bar credentials more than a decade ago and pleaded guilty to petit larceny after he’d been the court-appointed referee in the sale of a church and allegedly deposited money into his own account, denied Moore’s account and gave his own tough-to-track accounting of their earlier conversation:  

“It’s my understanding that what I said was that they cannot vote by proxy because they are not yet elected until they’re elected at the meeting,” said Rocoff, “which is the rule that once they are actually elected, they become members of the county committee. And at that point, they are able to vote. But they cannot vote on the vote on whether or not to elect them as county committee members.” 

Matters only got more convoluted from there, with a party executive arguing that the newly elected members casting votes couldn’t have been notified about the meeting under party bylaws, and asking how they nonetheless knew to show up and “legally cast a ballot for a meeting that they weren’t in?”

That’s when Steven Richman, a former attorney for the Board of Election, stepped in to argue on behalf of the party establishment. Richman, who pleaded guilty to two counts of official misconduct in June, said “the notice was posted on the website.” 

Steve Richman consulted for the Brooklyn Democratic Party at Wednesday night’s meeting in Coney Island, Sept. 21, 2022.

Obtained by THE CITY

As recounted by the city’s Department of Investigation, the former counsel to the Board of Elections “convinced an intern he supervised that he could help the intern obtain a job as a security guard at political events, if the intern could pass a so-called ‘physical fitness assessment’’ in his Board of Election office that included “measuring the intern’s body parts, placing the intern in wrestling holds and having the intern place Richman in wrestling holds.” 

And so things proceeded until, at around 11:30, the venue indeed cut off the power at the amphitheater, bringing the meeting to a screeching halt.

‘What the Hell Is Going On’

The most notable consequence of the abrupt power shutoff was the adjournment of the Brooklyn Party’s biennial executive committee meeting to decide who should be party boss for the next two years. 

Most political insiders expected Bichotte Hermelyn to retain her seat, despite unprecedented rancor within the party. The Brooklyn Democrats are facing calls for criminal investigation over forged Board of Elections documents and the inclusion of people on candidate ballot petitions for County Committee races without their knowledge or consent, among other issues.

The delayed party executives meeting will now have to be rescheduled for sometime before October 6, an extended timeframe that could breathe new life into a campaign by party insurgents to mount a challenge to Bichotte-Hermelyn’s divisive tenure. 

In the months ahead of Wednesday’s meeting in Coney Island, the party’s reform camp coalesced around one potential challenger: Tori Kelly, an incumbent party executive representing parts of Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst and Sunset Park.

Insurgents favored Kelly because she was perceived as one of the few candidates who could bring together progressives in west and central Brooklyn and moderates in south Brooklyn due to her centrist credentials as chief of staff for State Senator Andrew Gounardes and her past history blowing the whistle on ex-party boss Vito Lopez’s alleged sexual abuse and harassment of female staffers.

But Kelly was hesitant about mounting a losing challenge to Bichotte Hermelyn, and some of her supporters were unsure if they could count on a handful of centrists to back her if they faced backdoor pressure from people close to the mayor’s office and the Brooklyn Democratic establishment.

Bichotte Hermelyn herself had sent mixed messages about her interest in running for re-election, but declared on Tuesday that she would.

With the unplanned time extension and the chaos of the party meeting, however, Kelly is now again exploring a challenge to become party boss, according to party insiders with knowledge of her deliberations.

“I think there’s some people who were on the fence who saw what happened last night and would be fed up,” said one party executive, who is backing Kelly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“After last night, some county committee members are going to be asking their district leaders, ‘What the hell is going on with the Democratic Party?’ and that’s a tough thing to answer. You can’t just tell them ‘We had bad wifi.’”

The Brooklyn Democratic Party declined to comment about the complaints of some members about Wednesday’s meeting. 

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