On Nepotism, Patronage & Reforming Brooklyn’s Democratic Party

It’s hard to tell who won between new school reformers and old school traditionalists at this week’s marathon Kings County Democrats County Committee meeting, but one thing seems certain. No matter who reigns king of Brooklyn’s political hill, you’re still going to need connections if you want a city job.

Take Brooklyn Young Democrats President Christina Das for example. Das, who just this week passed her bar exam, was fast-tracked this month into a one-year $59,745 fellowship law clerk job at the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH).

OATH Commissioner is Joni Kletter, wife of reform-minded Park Slope Democratic District Leader and Candidate for City Council, Doug Schneider. Before Das got her gig with OATH, she worked for Schneider’s law firm. Schneider is currently seeking the endorsement of the Brooklyn Young Democrats.

Kletter previously worked as Director of the Mayor’s Office of Appointments, where she likely had a strong hand in doling out numerous jobs to executive members of both the New Kings Democrats and the Brooklyn Young Democrats – the two clubs spearheading the reform movement.

Patronage and nepotism is nothing new to New York City politics, but in this case, Kletter is flirting with breaking the law. While I’m no criminal attorney, an argument could be made that Kletter is using her position to influence a political decision that will benefit her husband, which is illegal. This appears to violate New York City Charter Section 2406 and the State Penal Law Section 195.00.

Ironically, though, it’s a misdemeanor and if Kletter gets charged, she could probably clear it up through  OATH, the agency she heads because it deals with cleaning up minor criminal infractions.

OATH Spokesperson Marisa Senigo defended the hiring saying Das graduated Magna Cum Laude from CUNY Law School, applied for this job through NYC Jobs and was one of nine candidates selected for interviews by two Trials Division Law Clerks.  

“She then went through OATH’s rigorous hiring process, in which she excelled. It involved multiple independent interviews with different levels of OATH staff in the Trials Division (law clerks, ALJs, special counsel). She was unanimously chosen for the job because of her education, qualifications and experience,” said Senigo in an email.

Das was unavailable for comment, but her boyfriend John Wasserman, the former president of the Brooklyn Young Democrats, who also has a city job, was pretty irate when he was called and asked about the issue.

Ditto for Schneider.

“I am so sick and tired of journalists attacking the qualifications of accomplished women. Last week it was the Wall Street Journal saying Dr. Jill Biden did not have the right to call herself a doctor and Kings County Politics’ attack on my wife Joni Kletter, Esq., a Yale graduate,” Schneider said in part.

I guess the lesson for the layperson to Brooklyn Democratic Party politics is the more things change the more they stay the same.

And if you want a leg up for a city job, you got to know somebody, and perhaps more importantly – pay tribute to the powers that be.

Editor’s Note: After this column was written, Schneider received the endorsement of the Brooklyn Young Democrats.  

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