Brooklyn Dems’ Party Boss Poised To Retain Power
After a scandal-filled first term and a big botched meeting earlier this month, Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn expects to retain her hold on power in a vote on Monday, party insiders tell THE CITY.
Barring any last-minute machinations, Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn is poised to win reelection as chair at Monday’s organizational meeting — even as she could face what amounts to a symbolic candidacy against her.
Despite public calls for criminal investigation into the party and concerns from some party activists over a series of scandals under her tenure, the State Assemblymember from Flatbush appears to have maintained just enough support to stave off any potential challengers, multiple party executives said.
The scandals over the past year alone have included forged Board of Elections documents tied to allies of party leaders, and the appearance of unwitting “ghost candidates” on petitions for low-level party positions linked to the party establishment.
Bichotte Hermelyn, 49, who had publicly hedged about whether she would seek reelection up until the eve of a botched party meeting last week, didn’t return a message left seeking comment. A spokesperson for the Brooklyn Democratic Party declined comment when asked about the chair’s agenda for the party moving forward.
‘It Wasn’t Enough’
In the months leading up to the party’s biennial vote for chairperson, South Brooklyn District Leader Tori Kelly had emerged as the consensus opposition candidate to Bichotte Hermelyn, attempting to strike an alliance between progressives from west and central Brooklyn and white centrists from the south Brooklyn,
But despite being within striking distance of a majority, Kelly, the chief of staff to State Senator Andrew Gounardes, backed out late this week. Kelly was unwilling to risk an insurgent campaign with a brittle coalition that could have collapsed under pressure from Bichotte Hermelyn’s allies in the Adams administration, according to four party executives familiar with her decision.
“I think Tori wanted to be closer, to have a bigger lead,” said one party leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “There’s a history of people changing their minds at the last minute.”
“She had the margin, but it wasn’t enough,” said another. “You trust nobody in this business.”
Kelly declined to comment for this story.
With Kelly’s exit from the race, Assemblymember Maritza Davila, a former aide to disgraced assemblymember and former Brooklyn party boss Vito Lopez — who fell from power amid allegations of sexual abuse of staffers — told THE CITY she’s mulling a run for chair.
After Lopez’ fall a decade ago, Davila shifted towards the party’s left flank. Over the last two years, the fiery Bushwick native has been perhaps the most outspoken critic of Bichotte Hermelyn among Brooklyn party leaders.
But numerous sources, including progressives within the party now aligned with Davila, said that she doesn’t have the votes to win — an assessment that she didn’t go far to counter in her comments about a potential run.
“If I have to stand on my own, I will. I don’t have to win to make a statement, I just have to make it,” Davila said on Thursday during a trip to Puerto Rico, where she was surveying damage from Hurricane Fiona and planning for November’s Somos Puerto Rico conference for New York politicians.
Davila slammed the party’s operations at last week’s failed organizational meeting — a chaotic affair where nearly no business was conducted for a matter of hours before the venue shut off electricity — and has also tussled with Bichotte Hermelyn and her husband, former district leader Edu Hermelyn.
“It’s not about me running, it’s not about any of that,” said Davila, who plans to make a decision by Sunday. “We do have to make a statement because at this point no matter who wins or loses, people need to realize that there needs to be a change.”
‘A Sense of Embarrassment’
Most insiders expect that an insurgent bid from Davila would secure no more than a third of the votes on the party’s executive committee, mostly from self-styled reformers from progressive groups like the New Kings Democrats.
Other party leaders, unwilling to back Davila, are mulling abstentions in the first round, denying Bichotte Hermelyn — who was elected boss in 2020 under a fast-paced timeline with near-unanimous support — an initial first-round victory before eventually conceding to her leadership.
Such opposition schemes, while mostly symbolic, point to the growth of the party’s progressive wing in recent years and an increasing willingness, even by centrist party executives, to buck the once almighty county machine.
“I do think there’s a sense of embarrassment about what’s going on, but from what I’ve been hearing people have been getting phone calls from other elected officials to vote for Rodneyse and support her,” said Julio Peña III, a progressive party executive from Sunset Park.
“People feel pressured to stay with Rodneyse,” Peña said. “What’s the saying? Like, ‘You don’t switch horses mid-stream.’”
Frank Seddio, the former judge and party leader who chose Bichotte Hermelyn to replace him and who sources say still wields considerable sway among centrists, predicted smoother sailing for Brooklyn Democrats in the two years ahead.
“In my own personal opinion, there is no other person that’s a district leader that would have the ability to be county leader,” Seddio said, noting that a party boss has to be able to both lead and fundraise, an area in which Bichotte Hermelyn excels.
“Now, maybe she needs a little help with that,” added Seddio, referring to Bichotte Hermelyn’s sometimes combative leadership style. “But I think in the second term, she maybe will have a different approach to leadership than in the first term.”