How to run a party machine: A playbook

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Democratic Chairman Marcos Crespo and other Bronx leaders toast the opening of FreshDirect's new facility in the South Bronx.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Democratic Chairman Marcos Crespo and other Bronx leaders toast the opening of FreshDirect's new facility in the South Bronx.
Diane Bondareff/AP/Shutterstock
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Democratic Chairman Marcos Crespo and other Bronx leaders toast the opening of FreshDirect's new facility in the South Bronx.

How to run a party machine: A playbook

Soon you, too, can take over a New York City borough.
September 27, 2018

Welcome! If you’re reading this, you must be the leader of a Democratic county committee in New York City. Party organizations have weakened since the golden days of Boss Tweed, but the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and sometimes Manhattan are hanging on as bastions of good old-fashioned political deal-making. Follow these eight simple rules, and you too can limit participation, consolidate decision-making and maintain control of your party machine.

 

Rule 1: Limit County Committee Membership

There are thousands of available seats on a county committee. But the more people that are involved, the harder it is to keep things running smoothly, so keep half the seats empty and don’t encourage others to join.

 

Rule 2: Stack County Committee Membership

Another strategy: Pack the county committee with people who don’t even know they’re members, like they do in the Bronx and Queens. These people are likely to vote with the majority if they’re lured to meetings with the promise of free food.

 

Rule 3: Hold Meetings in Far-Flung Locations

Eastwood Manor, where the Bronx held its latest organizational meeting, is in the northern reaches of the borough and 10-minute walk from the nearest subway station. But Brooklyn chose even better with Kingsborough Community College, a 25-minute walk from the nearest subway.

 

Rule 4: Gather Proxy Votes

Tell the hundreds of committee members who can’t make the meetings to cede their votes to establishment leaders by mailing in postcards that have already been filled out. With these votes, bosses can pass whatever they want at the meetings.

 

Rule 5: Appoint Legislators

If an Assembly member, state senator or other official leaves office in the middle of a term, it’s your lucky day. The county committee decides who gets to fill the seat, and anyone you pick will feel indebted to county, just like some 30 percent of current state lawmakers who were first appointed to office in this manner.

 

Rule 6: Choose Judges Wisely

Judges are also picked by county committees behind closed doors with little to no chance for challengers to be heard. This means more judges will be indebted to you and want to stay in your good graces.

 

Rule 7: Discourage Challengers

If somebody dares to challenge one of your favored candidates, try to get him or her kicked off the ballot using the rules of the New York City Board of Elections, which is run by commissioners appointed by county committees.

 

Rule 8: Give All Power to the Executive Committee Chairman

Assemblywoman Vivian Cook is the Queens chairwoman. But the real boss is Joseph Crowley, who chairs the executive committee, a smaller and far more powerful group selected by the county committee. Same with Assembly members Latoya Joyner, who is the county committee chairwoman, and Marcos Crespo, who is the real power broker and head of the executive committee, in the Bronx. This helps to confuse people and avoid scrutiny.

Jeff Coltin
is a senior reporter at City & State. He covers New York City Hall.
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