The Brooklyn Democratic Party will meet again Monday afternoon to resume its county committee meeting that got cut short because of disorganization and technical issues. And soon after, Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn is expected to be reelected to another two-year term as county leader.
That itself is a surprise to many. Early this summer, Bichotte Hermelyn hadn’t committed to running again, and even if she did, she was facing serious internal opposition. On top of that, her baby is due this month, she’s a sitting Assembly member and she is in law school.
“The reason why I am getting all the votes,” she told City & State, “is because everybody supporting me, and everybody outside, and the whole world and everybody connected to county and the party and constituents, they’ve all reached out to me and said, ‘We know you have a lot on your plate, but please stay, please stay, we need your leadership.’ And so I said, OK. I’ll stay and do my full two terms.”
Not everybody is happy. In her first interview about county politics since the failed organizational meeting on Sept. 21, Bichotte Hermelyn didn’t pretend things went well. “This was the first in-person organizational meeting held under my leadership. And it’s a learning experience,” she said. “Yes, there were a couple of snafus, but we’re going to come back around Oct. 3 strong. … It’s going to be great, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Registration for the resumed meeting opens at 11 a.m. at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge, with the party business supposed to resume at noon. That location is very accessible by public transportation in the borough – an improvement over the Coney Island Amphitheater, where the last meeting was held – but the midday timing earned some gripes from some of the approximately 2,000 county committee members, many of whom will have to either take a day off work to attend, or skip it. A written response from Chad MacDonald, a spokesperson for the party with George Arzt Communications, explained that while “we recognize that an 11 a.m. start may seem off putting, but this is potentially a long meeting, needing the proper time to resolve all pending organization business pursuant to the county organizational rules. Letting people go home at a reasonable hour was an important factor in our decision, and it should be noted that this is why many meetings like this are held in daylight hours.”
That’s bad news for county committee members who came to last month’s meeting, but won’t be able to make this one. Party leadership will not allow members to give their vote to a proxy if they had not already assigned one ahead of the last meeting. “Under the rules, we would not acknowledge any new proxies,” the party’s interim executive director, Yamil Speight-Miller, explained to City & State, because “it’s a continuation of a meeting.” Told that this would likely limit the number of members who were able to vote, he said, “This is in no way, shape or form a reconvened meeting to keep people from voting,” and said that any county committee member who comes to the meeting will be able to vote, even if they had previously given their vote to a proxy for the September meeting.
Shoddy Wi-Fi slowing down the check-in process caused major delays at the last meeting. But it was also halted because county leadership planned to vote to fill vacant county committee positions at the beginning of the meeting, and allow these newly appointed committee members to vote on the rest of the agenda. To spare the technical details, that order of operations was questioned by party reformers, who felt it was being used to boost the number of county-aligned voters. Historically, vacant positions had only been filled at the end of the meeting.
While Bichotte Hermelyn waved away the complainers as people “trying to be dilatory or disorderly,” it seemed they were justified. Speight-Miller said when the organizational meeting resumes that those empty positions will not be formally filled until after the rest of the business is done. “What we saw in the last meeting will never happen again,” Speight-Miller said, referring to the delays and disorder. He declined to say for how long the Brooklyn Democrats had reserved meeting space at the hotel, but made a promise: “We will not be put out, we will not be kicked out and lights will not go off until all the business is done.”
That shouldn’t be all that hard. Other county parties have held their organizational meetings in the past couple weeks in a timely manner, and without incident. Brooklyn, of course, is home to a decently well-organized reform faction that has been in a yearslong battle with party regulars to democratize the party, and shift power to more progressive leaders, largely based in North Brooklyn. But this year isn’t expected to lead to much change. Unless there are major surprises Monday, the reformers simply don’t have the votes in the county committee to change the party’s rules. And they likely don’t have the votes on the more exclusive executive committee – made up of 44 district leaders – to unseat Bichotte Hermelyn either. Her critics may have to settle for voting “present” or abstaining, rather than supporting a challenger.
Last week, Bichotte Hermelyn was well aware of the tension, defending her leadership at length while criticizing those who would like to replace her. Anyone who has followed reporting on the party has heard the arguments before: She has helped elect a record number of Black judges and oversaw rule changes to open up party positions to nonbinary candidates. And among her critics, she said “there’s a level of racism going on,” citing, among other things, some reformers’ support of a white Puerto Rican candidate for Civil Court judge, Stephen Burzio, in August instead of Black candidate Ed King.
Reformers, of course, had their own questions for Bichotte Hermelyn, such as why Steve Richman was serving as a paid consultant to the party, even after he had resigned from his role as a top lawyer at the New York City Board of Elections before pleading guilty to sexually harassing an intern and another subordinate. Bichotte Hermelyn declined to answer, directing questions to Speight-Miller. The interim executive director distanced himself from Richman, saying that Richman is not an employee and does not advise him. A party spokesperson had told the Daily News that, while Richman had previously been paid, he was at the organizational meeting as a volunteer.
Bichotte Hermelyn herself wasn’t even at the first part of the organizational meeting, given her pregnancy. That night’s delays were primarily due to a slow check-in process, and then a debate over process. But in the party leader’s eyes, the problem was that her subordinates running the meeting didn’t have a strong enough hand.
“Now, if I was there, this wouldn’t have happened,” she said. “Because I know how to move forward in meetings where people are purposely trying to work disorderly. Going forward, we are going to be fully secured. We are going to make sure that anyone who is acting disorderly will have to be removed, and the meeting is going to continue.”
Committee members may find out Monday just what she means.
– with reporting by Erik Lazo
Clarification: This story was updated to more clearly explain Bichotte Hermelyn’s comments on a Civil Court judge race.