Why Is a Brooklyn Heights Democratic Party Official Seeking Office in Bay Ridge? Dissidents Call it a Desperate Bid by Leaders to Keep Control
Sabrina Rezzy, who works for Assembly member and Kings County Democratic Chief Rodneyse Bichotte, is challenging a district leader who has dissented from the party line.
A close ally of Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Rodneyse Bichotte-Hermelyn is gathering signatures to run for district leader against an out-of-favor incumbent in Bay Ridge — despite living miles from the district she seeks to represent.
A ballot petition for Sabrina Rezzy’s run in the 64th Assembly District, obtained by THE CITY, lists her home address as a stately brick building with tall white pillars in Brooklyn Heights. The tony neighborhood is several miles north of the district she is now vying to lead.
Progressive critics of the Kings County Democrats say her campaign bid is proof of how far Bichotte-Hermelyn is willing to go to stamp out anyone who doesn’t fall in line with her leadership.
Joanne Seminara, the seat’s incumbent and a longtime community fixture, is a moderate but has at times broken ranks with party leadership, according to reformers.
“I think it’s clear they’re trying to run some funny politics down there,” said Hunter Rabinowitz, president of the Brooklyn Young Democrats, a group that has frequently clashed with party poobahs. “They’re doing everything in their power to try to unseat reformers.”
Diana Gonzalez, president of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, another reform group, said the party leadership’s attempt to wrest away a seat goes against the whole point of the district leader role: to guarantee democratic input from every neighborhood across the borough inside the party.
“Instead, we’re seeing the reverse where the chairperson is choosing the district leaders,” she said. “It’s very clear in this case that Sabrina is supposed to represent the Chairwoman, and not Bay Ridge.”
Rezzy didn’t respond to emails seeking comment.
Rezzy is allowed to make the far-from-home run because of special rules that apply when elections take place in the same year as redistricting and temporarily do not require candidates for state office to live in the districts they are running to represent.
If she wins, Rezzy will have to move to Bay Ridge by the time she runs for re-election in two years.
George Arzt, a spokesperson for the Brooklyn Democratic party, said Rezzy was running “to support Rodneyse’s progressive values.” He noted that Rezzy is permitted to run in a district outside her home — and added that she knows the 64th District well.
She could also choose to give up the role after winning it, which would allow the county’s executive committee, comprised of district leaders, to name a replacement.
Seminara, who would face off against Rezzy in the June 28 election, did not respond to a voicemail message from THE CITY. A staffer in her legal office said she was on vacation.
Each of Brooklyn’s 21 Assembly districts has a male and female leader, and she is now on the same petition slate for the Bay Ridge seats as Mark Hanna, a member of the dissident New Kings Democrats.
Rezzy’s signature push comes amid other signals that the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s current leadership is eager to maintain majority support among its 42 district leader seats. Those leaders comprise an executive committee that votes on party business — including the pivotal endorsement of candidates for judicial slates in Brooklyn.
Earlier this month, following an inquiry from THE CITY related to conflicts-of-interest rules, Bichotte-Hermelyn’s husband, Edu Hermelyn, was forced to choose between keeping a new senior advisor position with the city Department of Social Services, or holding onto his unpaid political position as district leader in Crown Heights.
Hermelyn chose to resign from his job in city government, a City Hall spokesperson said at the time. The spokesperson declined to provide Hermelyn’s salary.
A City Hall liaison to the Jewish community Pinchas Ringel, similarly took a leave of absence from his job in Mayor Eric Adams’ community affairs unit because of the same conflicts-of-interest rule, the spokesperson said.
Ringel announced earlier this month that he’s running against David Schwartz, a district leader who represents Borough Park and parts of Midwood.
Sources close to the Brooklyn Democrats said Ringel was pressured to run, and only after State Sen. Simcha Felder turned down the same request from county leaders.
“They were very desperate that I should do it,” Felder told THE CITY. “I was asked repeatedly — not by one person from the committee, but by a variety of people.”
Schwartz has been known to buck the wishes of party officials, including voting against the party rule changes in November and backing Andrew Yang in last year’s mayoral race instead of then-Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
Last month, he tweeted that Edu Hermelyn’s opponent for district leader this year, Akel Williams, is a “rising star.”
Impersonated an Attorney
On the same ballot petition with Rezzy is another name raising eyebrows among reformers: Ralph Perfetto, an 87-year-old politico convicted in 2011 for impersonating an attorney.
Perfetto was found guilty by a jury after prosecutors brought misdemeanor charges against him claiming that he represented a relative at a court hearing.
His alleged actions included submitting testimony from two witnesses, agreeing to a subsequent court date, and signing a document indicating he was an attorney, according to a Brooklyn Paper report at the time.
At trial, Perfetto’s attorney argued his client mistakenly signed a form following a court officer’s instructions. He was sentenced to 70 hours of community service.
Despite this setback, in 2018 Perfetto took back his district leader seat, serving two years before making way for Chris McCreight, the chief of staff Bay Ridge Democratic Councilmember Justin Brannan.
Now, the county party leadership urged him to run again, he told THE CITY in a brief phone conversation, in part to help buoy the wider slate of moderate Democratic candidates.
Arzt, the county party spokesperson, said Perfetto’s prosecution was a “setup” connected to a dispute he was having at the time with then-Brooklyn Democratic leader Vito Lopez, whom Perfetto had called “corrupt.”
“Ralph Perfetto has been a Brooklyn community activist for more than 50 years,” said Arzt. “He has an exemplary record working for Gov. Mario Cuomo and Public Advocates Mark Green and Betsy Gotbaum.”
After his conviction, Perfetto filed a lawsuit alleging he was the victim of a politically motivated conspiracy. A federal judge dismissed the suit in 2015, calling it “frivolous” and “meritless.”
Perfetto is running against 34-year-old attorney Hanna, a member of the New King Democrats, a progressive club currently making a big push to get more of their district leaders in office.
Hanna said Perfetto is a “nice guy,” but he noted that he seemed to join the race quietly and without much resolve.
“Even when we found out he was on petitions and on campaign lit, he told Joanne Seminaro he wasn’t running and he had no idea what we were talking about,” said Hanna. “He told me he wasn’t running as well.”
Other New Kings Democrats said they feel Perfetto is simply not fit for the position, given the significant powers district leaders wield.
“It’s concerning that someone with his past is running for district leader, someone who was convicted for impersonating an attorney,” said Julio Peña, a current district leader next door in Sunset Park. “Do we want someone with that background potentially selecting judges and poll workers?”
Perfetto, Rezzy, and other candidates across the state are currently collecting signatures to run for office. Signatures are due with the state’s Board of Elections by the first week of April.