A group of reform-minded Brooklyn Democrats are looking to beat the party machine at its own game, recruiting candidates to run for oft-overlooked posts on the Democratic County Committee. And we wish them luck.
County Committee members make up the grassroots level of leadership within the local Democratic Party. It's an unpaid and largely thankless job, which means it's not necessarily an attractive position, considering in the end you must campaign and get elected, and then fill a seat with little to no authority or influence.
Generally, members of the Democratic County Committee represent just the few blocks around their homes, or roughly 700 to 1,000 registered Democrats. For each of these "Election Districts" there are two or four County Committee members (depending on population), equally divided between male and female representatives.
The vast majority of the 5,000 County Committee seats across Brooklyn go unfilled, which means that if only one candidate were to run for them, he or she would win automatically.
While members of the County Committee wield little influence, they do play one major role, and that is deciding who will run for middle-of-the-term vacancies in state office, which as we all know is becoming a much more common occurrence.
The new group looking to recruit candidates, the Brooklyn Reform Coalition, argues that Democratic Party leaders in the borough abuse this important function of the County Committee to usher into office people loyal to Kings County Democratic Party leadership.
And the vacancy doesn't have to stem from corruption, although that seems to quickly becoming the norm.
The more odious practice is that of a sitting state legislator, who knows he or she is not going to seek re-election, simply resigning just before their term is up. This forces a special election of which the County Committee - again loyal to the Democratic Party - will nominate a hand-picked candidate, who is more often than not picked because of their own loyalty to party leaders, not necessarily on their qualifications. That person is almost assured victory in districts where Democrats far outnumber Republicans.
The candidate is not chosen by the people in a primary, they are simply selected. Democracy thwarted.
And this just isn't a problem in Brooklyn, it's an issue across the five boroughs.
In 2010, when the last biannual County Committee elections took place, the group New Kings Democrats successfully elected over 100 County Committee members in Brooklyn, the vast majority of whom had never run for office before. One of those was Lincoln Restler, who represents an Election District in North Brooklyn.
Before, we said that the post had little to no power, which is technically true, but given the right person with passion and energy, a County Committee member can become an outspoken advocate on important issues, much the way Restler has done in the neighborhoods of Greenpoint and Williamsburg.
Therefore, running for County Committee can be a good way to get into the world of politics without having to mount a major campaign or do a lot of fundraising.
A Democracy needs many voices and fresh ideas, and we think Restler gives the best reason for running for County Committee:
"We're asking you, your spouse, your roommates, your friends, your family members, your neighbors - every Democrat in Brooklyn - to run for office. Why? So that the most important decisions affecting our democracy aren't made in the backrooms and the clubhouses - they're made by you."