Meet the new boss, same as the old boss: Bichotte Hermelyn re-elected chair of Brooklyn Dems

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Assembly Member Maritza Davila (left) and Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn.

Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn narrowly won a new term Monday night following the second of two hours-long, chaotic meetings where party leadership clashed with self-proclaimed reformers vying to reshape the county organization.

Bichotte Hermelyn claimed her second term as Chair of the Kings County Democratic Party – often referred to as County —overcoming challenger Assembly Member Maritza Davila by a 23-12 vote, with six abstentions and three absent, during the party’s Executive Committee Meeting following the County Committee’s Organizational Meeting at the Marriott Brooklyn Bridge Monday afternoon.

The county committee meeting was a continuation of another gathering in Coney Island on Sept. 21, which was ultimately cut short because of technical difficulties and disorganization related to voting procedure. Monday’s meeting was also marred by some dysfunction, kicking off at 1 p.m., rather than its scheduled 12 p.m. start time, and pausing for over an hour to add proxy voters to 30 county committee member’s electronic voting devices. 

Inside the chair election

Bichotte Hermelyn defied expectations with her reelection, after it was unclear if she would even run again earlier this summer – due to her pregnancy, being a sitting assembly member and a law student. Plus, it appeared she was facing more serious opposition from the party’s reform movement. 

Davila positioned herself as a progressive reformer challenging the establishment leadership helmed by Bichotte Hermelyn, who didn’t attend the meeting in person because she’s nearly due to give birth.

In her Zoom video speech following the vote, Bichotte Hermelyn celebrated a process she claimed was as “transparent as can be,” which stands in stark contrast to how party reformers described it.

“We listened to the community’s concern and feedback and made sure that every vote, every voice, count,” she said.

While Bichotte Hermelyn acknowledged being party chair hasn’t been easy for her, she touted her accomplishments since taking the helm from former party boss Frank Seddio in 2020, including getting the party’s finances in order.

“I am certainly honored to be reelected as the county party chair for the Brooklyn Democratic Party,” Bichotte Hermelyn said. “I want you to know that it’s been a very challenging but fulfilling role, I would say, as the county chair. The party went, as you heard, from troubled finances to having a very more robust fundraising and finance in history.”

Leaders of the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s County Committee at the party’s organizational meeting. Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. Photo by Ethan Stark-Miller.

Following the vote, Tony Melone, communications director for the New Kings Democrats (NKD) – one of the groups pushing to reform the party — told PoliticsNY that while Bichotte Hermelyn still came out on top, the vote was closer than “any in recent memory.” This was mostly due to the success of the Brooklyn Can’t Wait campaign, Melone said; a group of reform-minded candidates that won 13 district leader positions in June.

“I think there’s a certain amount of inertia in politics and I think that we saw enormous gains this year with the Brooklyn Can’t Wait campaign,” Melone said. “The current party chair was reelected with just one vote, a one-vote majority. If she had lost one vote, then she wouldn’t have had a majority of the district leaders. So it was extremely close.”

“I think that sends a message that there’s not really broad support for the current leadership or the current path we’re on,” he added. “And if they continue down this path, I think that the momentum is growing for change.”

For her part, Davila told reporters earlier Monday she knew her run against Bichotte Hermelyn wouldn’t be successful, but that it was “necessary” for someone to challenge the party leader.

“Because people need to know that she does not have a majority of people calling her, as quoted, calling her and begging her to stay,” said Davila, a former ally of one of Bichotte Hermelyn’s successors as Kings County Democratic Party Chair, the late Assemblyman Vito Lopez. She referenced a report from City & State New York ahead of the meeting that quoted Bichotte Hermelyn claiming “everybody” in the party was supporting her reelection bid.

Bichotte Hermelyn
Assembly Member Maritza Davila speaking at Brooklyn Democratic Party Organizational Meeting. Monday, Oct. 3, 2022.Photo by Ethan Stark-Miller

That statement was a distortion of reality, Davila charged, referencing the drawn-out and messy Organizational Meeting, where party leadership ran roughshod over fierce opposition from reformers at almost every turn.

“That’s not what’s happening,” Davila said. “This is what’s happening. Disorganization and nothing, a whole bunch of nothing. And you know, what’s going to happen eventually, is the fact that things will change. If not today, it will change in the future.”

‘Transparent and efficient,’ leadership says

After all the previous dysfunction and starting late, Monday’s meeting ultimately wrapped in about four hours, a little after 5 p.m., with members of the executive committee – made up of the borough’s 44 district leaders – then having to go into their own meeting where Bichotte-Hermelyn was reelected.

Party leadership, however, didn’t see it that way, sending out a newsletter on Tuesday that described the meeting as “transparent and efficient.”

New Kings Democrats spokesperson Tony Melone speaking at Brooklyn Democratic Party Organizational Meeting. Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. Photo by Ethan Stark-Miller.

Reformers went into Monday’s gathering hoping both to fill county committee vacancies with slates of their own candidates as well as present and vote-on proposed changes to party rules, but walked away with neither. Melone, Davila and several others aligned with the party’s reform movement expressed that County stifled their efforts for reform in Monday’s meeting at every turn.

In each of the five Assembly Districts where there were vacancies to fill – ADs 43, 44, 51, 52 and 58 – reformers were soundly defeated by the party establishment. County even ran slates and won in neighborhoods run by party reformers, like the 43rd and 44th districts, breaking from the typical practice of party leadership deferring to slates appointed by the area’s district leaders.

During the meeting, several attendees — including Melone; District Leader Julio Pena of AD51; and City Council Member Mercedes Narcisse — cited numerous issues with the slates of candidates supported by County, such as not being notified about the new contenders until just hours before the meeting; and the slates including the names of people who didn’t know they were appointed or didn’t live in the district they were running in. 

Narcisse even got up and introduced the room to John Dixon, a party member from her district who said he didn’t know he had been appointed to the slate.

City Council Member Mercedes Narcisse speaking at Brooklyn Democratic Party Organizational Meeting. Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. Photo by Ethan Stark-Miller.

“Looking at [slate] 1A, multiple names also on the list did not agree by looking at the slate,” she said. “I have this gentleman with me, Mr. Dixon, finding his name on the slate that he did not agree on. It is something you need to address. We need transparency in this process.”

Narcisse then called for an audit of the slate, but County Committee Chair Arleny Alvarado-McCalla moved on without addressing her request, prompting one of several choruses of boos from the crowd.

It also prompted Davila, in a moment of drama seemingly out of an Al Pacino movie, to walk to the front of the room whilst Alvarado-McCalla continually said “you’re out of order” to loudly declare “I’m not out of order, you’re out of order!”

Reformers also claimed it seemed like County was swaying the elections to fill vacancies by casting hundreds of votes in their slates’ favor through proxy votes held by party leadership, of which they’re allowed to have an unlimited number. They pointed to the discrepancy between the quorum the meeting started with of around 750 people and the vote totals of roughly 450 people each.

“All the votes were 450 or less, total,” Melone said. “So where did the other 300 people go? Did they check in and then immediately leave? It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

“There’s been meetings in the past where the party chair showed up with 400 or more proxies,” he added. “And we don’t know how many proxies the county committee chair, or some of the district leaders were holding yesterday, but it certainly seems like it was in the hundreds.”

The committee did not directly respond to that accusation during Monday’s session.

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