Control of Brooklyn’s Democratic Party Will Be on the Primary Ballot
An unusually high number of contested races for an unpaid post reflects an organized effort aiming to remove county Democratic chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn and her allies from power.
This summer’s primary election ballots for key positions inside the Brooklyn Democratic Party are nearly set – putting insurgents within striking distance of potentially toppling current party leadership.
Unpaid party officials known as district leaders get to decide who chairs the borough Democratic organization, the largest in the state. Board of Elections records show an unusually high number of contested races for district leader, many prompted by self-styled reformers challenging incumbents.
In all, out of 44 district leader seats in 22 districts, 20 will likely be on the ballot for Democratic primary voters to decide.
County Democratic Party chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn is meanwhile seeing her support bolstered by two elected officials who decided to run for open seats, State Sens. Kevin Parker and Roxanne Persaud.
Also running, as THE CITY previously reported: Bichotte Hermelyn’s husband, Edu Hermelyn, who resigned a newly created $190,000-a-year job with the Adams administration in order to be a candidate.
But one close ally of Bichotte Hermelyn’s won’t be on the ballot. On Friday, a Brooklyn judge determined that Sabrina Rezzy, a communications liaison on Bichotte Hermelyn’s Assembly staff, had failed to gather enough valid signatures to run for district leader.
Rezzy petitioned to run against incumbent Joanne Seminara in Bay Ridge — a neighborhood Rezzy, a resident of Brooklyn Heights, does not live in.
“The county leader wants to choose now who represents the people of this district rather than the people of this district, and it didn’t work,” said Seminara, who went to court alongside another candidate to fight Rezzy’s signatures. “I’m glad because she doesn’t know our district.”
Rezzy did not directly respond to requests for comment.
“Two candidates for district leader fell four signatures short of the required 500 and did not qualify for the ballot,” said Bob Liff, a Brooklyn Democratic party spokesman, referring to Rezzy and another candidate with whom she gathered signatures. “That is unfortunate but the law is the law, the rules are the rules, and everybody has to meet the thresholds.”
Rezzy’s failed election bid comes as Brooklyn’s Democratic leadership faces a flurry of district leader challenges from a coalition of self-styled “reform” groups attempting to take control of the county party.
The coalition, known as “Brooklyn Can’t Wait,” is running 16 new district leader candidates this cycle, along with four incumbents.
Those candidates have all signed a pledge calling for reforms — including to inject transparency into the party’s process for nominating local judges, and backing efforts to expand voter turnout and bolster the work of the Board of Elections.
The numbers still tilt in favor of the party’s current leadership to retain control of the party’s executive committee.
Out of the 44 seats — one male and one female for each Assembly district — 12 are held by unopposed incumbents, including Bichotte Hermelyn herself.
Another two Bichotte Hermelyn allies are running unopposed for two posts created in a new district floating off of Brooklyn’s waterfront with just four residents, all occupants of a houseboat-museum.
Another ten seats are held by unopposed incumbents who have voted against Bichotte Hermelyn on proposed rules consolidating party executives’ power, or will be won by unopposed newcomers whose loyalty to the party leadership isn’t assured, according to other district leaders.
That leaves the 20 competitive races. To retain control, the Bichotte Hermelyn-aligned establishment would need to win just nine of those races. To depose her, the opposition would need to win 13.
Organizers of the insurgency say they have a shot at winning control.
“This is the most ambitious challenge to party leadership in recent memory,” said Tony Melone, a spokesman for the New Kings Democrats, one of the dissident groups in the Brooklyn Can’t Wait coalition. “It’s a groundswell of people that are frustrated with the lack of ways to participate, and are excited about playing a role in building our party.”
In an email, Liff said the ongoing clash “is not about rights or obligations or anything other than power.”
“The place to resolve this dispute is at the ballot box,” he said. “We will meet them there.”
The county Democratic establishment isn’t waiting for the June 28 primary day for Assembly and district leader races to strike back.
As THE CITY previously reported, party-linked efforts to kick reform candidates off the ballot for lower-level party positions included forged signatures on documents.
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez is now “reviewing” those forgeries as well as an issue first identified by THE CITY: the party’s submission of at least 20 people as candidates without their knowledge or consent, a spokesperson confirmed to THE CITY on Tuesday following a New York Daily News report.
Now two dissident district leaders up for reelection charge party leadership with trying to give a half dozen Bichotte Hermelyn-aligned candidates an unfair advantage, by handing them the power to appoint paid poll workers.
Traditionally, it’s part of a district leader’s job to send the Board of Elections dozens or even hundreds of residents’ names so that they can be hired for poll worker positions. Those poll workers are often senior citizens, whose community networks bring their friends and family to the polls and help decide low-turnout races.
But Brooklyn district leaders Maritza Davila, who’s also an Assembly member representing Bushwick, and Shaquana Boykin, whose district covers Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights, told THE CITY that they were informed by Board of Elections officials that they would not be in charge of the poll worker appointments this year.
Davila’s poll worker appointments have instead been routed to Tommy Torres, an establishment-linked candidate, close to Mayor Eric Adams, who is battling for a seat in Davila’s district against a newcomer backed by Brooklyn Can’t Wait.
Liff said the changes were being implemented for the sake of “efficiency.”
“Rodneyse Bichotte has acted to unite the Democratic party, and is committed to seeing that the polls operate at maximum efficiency for voters,” Liff said. “That is the party’s legal right and moral obligation. She will ensure Democrats meet both rights and obligations.”
Davila expressed fury at Bichotte Hermelyn’s move to block her coordination of local poll workers.
“When you go to those measures and you don’t let the democratic process be and you’re intervening in it and you’re doing all of these trickeries, obviously she’s running very scared,” said Davila, who has publicly feuded with Bichotte Hermelyn before and was formerly aligned with disgraced late party boss Vito Lopez.
On Thursday, Davila and other dissident Democrats plan to host a press conference decrying the party establishment’s controversial tactics.