Interview: Brooklyn Democratic Party Chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn

Brooklyn Politics
Kings County Democratic Party Committee (KCDC) Chair and Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte-Hermelyn. Photo from official assembly website.

Brooklyn Democratic Party Chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn was born and raised in Brooklyn to Haitian immigrants, and attended public schools. She has a B.S. in electrical engineering from SUNY Buffalo, a B.S. in mathematics in secondary education and a B.T. in electrical engineering from Buffalo State College, an M.B.A from Northwestern University, and an M.S. from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Prior to public service, Bichotte Hermelyn was an engineer working in Japan and China. She has also traveled to seven countries on the continent of Africa, as well as several countries in Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, including Israel.

Bichotte Hermelyn got her start in politics as a local insuregeant challenging and losing to longtime Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs in 2012, in a fast-changing demographic shift district from a mainly Jewish to a mainly African-Caribbean community. After Jacobs retired, Bichotte Hermelyn was elected – becoming the first Haitian-American from New York City elected to the assembly.

In January 2020, Bichotte Hermelyn was chosen to succeed Frank Seddio as Brooklyn Democratic Party Chair, making her both the first woman and first African-American woman to lead a county party in New York City.

The following interview was conducted over the phone. It has been edited and condensed.

PoliticsNY: You’ve been the county chair coming on two years, and the media has been writing that you will be stepping down when your term ends in September. Can you address that?

Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn: Right now I haven’t decided what I’m going to do. You know, I’m very confident that I will have the votes if I decide to run for re-election. I know there are those who are saying all kinds of things, but it’s not true. I’m just a very busy person and I’m in law school now. And I think the things that we’ve accomplished have kept the Brooklyn Democratic Party at the forefront. And so I’m very proud of that. But it does take a lot of work and I’m just weighing my options on what is my next steps.

PoliticsNY: When you took the party over there was very little money in the account. How have you done as a fundraiser and what  what kind of money is in the account now?

RBH: I have raised close to $800,000. When I came in we were in the red and I took some time to evaluate what’s the best way of raising money. Every single event that we’ve had, people have been optimistic, excited about the party and the direction of the party, which is why we’ve gotten so much support that the party is unified. In every instance, we’ve had progressives in our events, we had moderates. I think there may have been a few Republicans, you know, but long story short, our events have been extremely meaningful with substance and it’s been places where people can can get to know each other and unify on the Democratic front. Because of these activities and the strength of the party, we having pretty much gotten nearly everyone coming out of Brooklyn elected. We have been able to raise money because people are continuing to be supporting us. And this is like no other county. We’re doing our thing.

A palm card from Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn as a young insurgent candidate.

The political club, New Kings Democrats has labeled you as unworkable. Have you ever been invited to speak at one of their meetings?

I’ve gone to many different club meetings, and I’ve spoken to a number of different clubs who may have been associated with New Kings Democrats, but New Kings Democrats has never invited me for a specific meeting or anything. They have chosen to just want to fight with the party. But as you can see, I’m not focused on fighting. I’ve been focusing on building and unifying, which is why we’ve been very successful with not only making sure that the party is financially whole, but also we made sure that we had leaders that were active. We came out very strong with county committee. We are still strong with leadership, district leaders and ideology. And we’ve had some really great reforms and progressive rules, such as making sure that all people with different gender expressions can participate in their access to participate in elections such as county committee elections. We have had a number of forums including women forums, including a forum with the Board of Election to address some mishaps, as well as what is the future of reforms at the Board of Election. 

We’ve been moving the party along in a very positive way. I cannot control people who want to bring down the party or try to become the party just because they want to oppose the party. We have won three out of the four [procedural] cases in the courts that I’m sure some reporters chose not to report on. Three out of four cases showing that we the Democratic Party have been doing things in the right way. Procedurally, everything was in our favor. So you know the narratives that are created are false. We just continue to do things in the rightful manner.

PoliticsNY: So you would meet with the New Kings Democrats if they invited you?

RBH: Of course. I’ve been a true reformer and progressive all my life. My record shows it. When I came in into the party, I was an insurgent who beat the incumbent who was the vice chair under Vito Lopez, who was the county leader at at that particular time. I have voted independently against some of the rules that were presented, and I voted for some of the rules that were presented.

PoliticsNY: How do you respond to the charges your husband and former district leader Edu Hermelyn was offered a high-paying patronage position in the Adams administration as well as being appointed to the district leader role?

RBH: He [Hermelyn] was hired and he was vetted by the DOI [City Department of Investigation]. That [being a district leader while working for the city] is something that probably was missed or whatever. That wasn’t his fault. He was vetted, but there was something – probably a very old law – that was overlooked. So there was nothing wrong with him being hired as a competent person. He chose to leave just to keep the politics away from City Hall. He could have stayed, but he trusted me [and stayed a district leader].

PoliticsNY: Then there’s also questions of how he became district leader?

He became district leader the same way way Emile Bazile became with district leader in Williamsburg. The same way Josh Skaller became district leader. The same way Jo Anne Simon became a district leader and Joanne Millman became a district leader. He became a district leader in the same manner that anybody becomes a district leader when somebody steps down in the middle of a term and there is a filling of vacancies.

PoliticsNY: Finally, what are some other accomplishments you are most proud of as the County Chair?

RBH: We had the largest debate for mayor, and we’ve had the most successful events. Our event at SOMAS in Puerto Rico was the best and talked about event where we had progressives and everybody else there. Some of the other things I’m most proud of include the rule change to allow anyone, regardless of your gender or gender expression, or sexual orientation to run for county committee, and in helping to nominate and elect the most diverse bench to the judiciary including the first Asian, Muslim, Cuban, Jewish women and a number of Blacks.