New York state Democratic insiders are pushing for Assemblyman Karim Camara to replace Vito Lopez as chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic Party.
The push for Camara came quickly on the heels of Lopez’s announcement yesterday that he would not stand for re-election as the powerful head of the Brooklyn Democratic party amid allegations Lopez sexually harassed two of his former employees.
Camara, a 41-year-old pastor and the head of the Assembly’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus, was first elected to the 43rd Assembly district in 2005, in a special election to replace Clarence Norman, Jr., who was convicted of soliciting illegal campaign contributions that year. Norman was also the Brooklyn Democratic Party chairman, who was replaced by Lopez.
“[Camara] is the only person who could bring together a real and diverse coalition to clean up the Brooklyn Democratic Party once and for all,” a Democratic source said. ”The last thing most people want is another Vito, and Karim both represents real change and can put together a diverse group of support to win.”
His path to the chairmanship would be complicated by the fact that he is neither a district leader nor a member of the executive committee, and the party’s county chair must hold one of the two positions. But there are several scenarios that could lead to Camara’s installment as leader. A current district leader could resign, and Camara could take his place. Or, at a meeting of the County Committee next week, new rules could be adopted to amend the requirements for county chair, allowing for Camara’s selection as leader.
“I will say, I’m very flattered,” Camara said. “I’ve been approached by progressive reformers and people affiliated with the progressive movement interested in [my being] their candidate for county leader. I remain open to exploring that possibility.”
“At minimum, I want to be actively involved on the process,” Camara said. “I’m focused on my Assembly duties and continuing my tenure as leader of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian legislative caucus in Albany. I want to be involved in the dialogue for who the next county leader is. Hopefully it’s a progressive reform-minded candidate.”
Camara is being floated as a reform candidate. He advocated for term limits for the Assembly Speaker and to do away with lulus, the stipends given to senior members and leadership, in favor of equal allocation staff and operations budgets.
Camara is also a gateway between minority lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.
Cuomo has cultivated black and Latino allies in recent years, after he alienated much of the minority community when he ran an ill-fated gubernatorial primary against Carl McCall in 2002.
After the Black, Puerto Rican Hispanic and Latino Caucus aggressively pushed for a reinstatement of the millionaire’s tax, Camara was one of the first sources within the Assembly to announce the governor met with the Caucus members to discuss the governor’s shift on a tax code overhaul. Camara supported the recommended changes, and they were passed in a special session last December. And Camara was quick to defend the governor when he missed part of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus gala in February this year because of a “family event.”
Camara’s name is one of several that have emerged in speculation about who could replace Lopez as county chair. Others include Frank Seddio, a Brooklyn district leader who is also mulling a City Council run for the seat being vacated next year by Lew Fidler. Seddio has the full backing of the influential Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club, but he would have to decide between either the county chairmanship or the city council seat, because the city’s charter prohibits holding both positions. Seddio could not be reached by phone for comment.
Another potential aspirant to the Lopez throne is anti-Vito reform candidate Jo Anne Simon, a Brooklyn district leader.
“In 2005 after we faced a challenge of electing a new county leader after the current one is convicted, I called on everyone to have a meeting, have a discussion about where we’re going, what we need to do in Brooklyn,” Simon said. ”If we didn’t do that we were likely to find that history would repeat itself.”
“I’m not comparing personality dynamics of Clarence Norman to Vito. Clarence Norman was always a gentlemen and respected district leader’s districts. And that’s not something that Mr. Lopez has done,” she added.
Simon said she could bring a female perspective to Brooklyn’s politics.
“Diversity can be many things,” she said. “Women have not been at the totem of Brooklyn politics for a very long time. This is an opportunity to change the face of the party and transform Brooklyn party politics.”
Camara spoke highly of Simon, whom he called an “outstanding individual and outstanding district leader.”
“There may be a few more names we hear in the next few days. I do want to be part of the dialogue,” Camara said, adding, “Whoever that person is, we can’t go back to business as usual. We have to go about bringing back the Democratic Party in Brooklyn that all Brooklynites can be proud of.”
Camara expressed concern over the possibility that the 11 at-large committee members appointed by Lopez might have a say in choosing the next county chair.
“I don’t know whether at-large members will be voting on who the next county leader is,” he said. ”I would have to look at the rules and regulations of the state party and look at the legitimacy of that group. That’s something that would be the main question.”
“My overall concern is that there is a fair, transparent process,” Camara said. “Whoever the next county leader is should be elected by a fair, transparent process.”
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