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Brooklyn Democratic Party Boss Moves to Stamp Out Youth Arm After Cuomo Clash

State Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte speaks at a City Hall press conference, July 27, 2020.
State Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte-Hermelyn speaks at a City Hall news conference, July 27, 2020.
Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

The Brooklyn Democratic Party is severing its progressive youth arm following a year of clashes over everything from which candidates to endorse to calls to punish Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte-Hermelyn, who took over as chair of the Kings County Democratic County Committee in January 2020, chalked up the cutting of ties with the Brooklyn Young Democrats to a paperwork snafu.

But the leaders of the political organization, which has been around for about a decade, aren’t buying it.

“Attempting to cancel BYD’s charter and silence young people from Brownsville to Brownstone Brooklyn is a divisive and retaliatory course of action that will have a harsh impact on the strength of our party here in Kings County and beyond,” the group’s president, Christina Das, said in a statement.

The split, which comes as crucial citywide elections approach, could be a major blow to a group that has shown the promise of power through its organizing muscle.

The Brooklyn Young Democrats knocked on about 2,000 doors for State Sen. Zellnor Myrie in 2018, when he beat incumbent Jesse Hamilton in central Brooklyn.

The group also canvassed heavily for Democrats in southern Brooklyn swing districts, for ex-Rep. Max Rose and State Sen. Andrew Gounardes.

The Young Democrats voted to censure Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the midst of his twin scandals over sexual harassment allegations and his handling of nursing home deaths. Bichotte-Hermelyn, meanwhile, joined 20 Albany lawmakers in a letter urging that state Attorney General Letitia James be allowed to complete the investigation she’s overseeing before any action is taken.

It’s one of many pointed differences between the two organizations over the past year.

The Brooklyn Young Democrats have tried to push reforms in the party and have publicly opposed some of Bichotte-Hermelyn’ decisions. Among them: Her insistence on letting candidates collect signatures to get on the ballot and to challenge petitions at the height of the pandemic last year.

Bichotte-Hermelyn also got blowback from some in the party after backing Civil Court Judge Dweynie Paul — who was sued for allegedly cheating a home care worker of wages — for Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court.

Unchartered Waters

The Kings County Democratic County Committee’s move, first reported by Bklyner, focuses on confusion over the junior group’s charter.

Rechartering with the New York State Young Democrats (NYSYD), which must be done every two years with the written consent of a county chairperson — in this case Bichotte-Hermelyn — had never been an issue before.

The group initiated its rechartering process in late January. But instead of an immediate sign-off from Bichotte-Hermelyn, the party’s deputy director requested a detailed account of endorsements, membership and finances over the past two years.

At a March 11 meeting brokered by Gounardes between district leaders and Bichotte-Hermelyn, the party leader committed to renewing the Young Democrats’ charter, according to Brooklyn Young Democrats officers.

A day later, Bichotte-Hermelyn told the NYSYD that she was “happy to move forward with the recertification.”

But on March 14, Bichotte-Hermelyn reversed herself.

“Have made repeated, unfulfilled requests for information from the ‘Brooklyn Young Democrats,’ I have no choice but to deny their request for my consent to be Chartered or re-chartered with the New York State Young Democrats, at this time,” Bichotte-Hermelyn wrote in an email to the NYSYD. “Should time permit and if our information request is fulfilled, we are willing to reconsider in the immediate future. (Signed De-Recognition Notice is attached, herewith).”]

The Brooklyn Young Democrats’ officers said they were taken by surprise. They also argued that while they need a party chair’s signature, “derecognition” power sits with the state.

The Brooklyn Young Democrats and the Kings County Democratic County Committee haven’t always seen eye to eye.

The two groups sometimes endorse different candidates and the BYD backed recent reform efforts targeted at the party — including a bid to limit proxy voting where members can give up their votes to others, BYD spokesperson Abe Silberstein said.

‘Democratic Party Isn’t a Monolith’

After the Young Democrats came out against the party publicly in petitioning, Das and another member were removed from the ballot as judicial delegates. The pair believe that marked retaliation by Bichotte-Hermelyn.

“Healthy discourse and dissent should not only be tolerated, but welcomed by the largest Democratic county organization in the country, in order to shape the leaders of tomorrow,” Das said.

Several political clubs and city Comptroller and mayoral candidate Scott Stringer criticized the party’s move.

“Helping young people be engaged in politics is vital for sustaining democratic activism. The Democratic Party isn’t a monolith –– dissent and diversity of thought should be welcomed. It’s a shame that the Brooklyn Democratic Party refuses to accept that,” Stringer said in a tweet.

A spokesperson for The Brooklyn Democratic Party didn’t respond to requests for comment from THE CITY.

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