Brooklyn Dems meet in back room of lobster restaurant to pick borough’s judges

In advance of the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s judicial convention, party leaders got together at Nick’s Lobster House to decide which candidates should win the convention.

District leaders chose Supreme Court judges over seafood at Nick's Lobster House.

District leaders chose Supreme Court judges over seafood at Nick's Lobster House. Peter Sterne

On Thursday, the Brooklyn Democratic Party will hold its official judicial convention to determine which candidates should receive the party’s all-important endorsement for Supreme Court judge. There are 16 people competing to become judges on the Supreme Court – which despite the name is the state’s main trial court, hearing criminal cases involving felony charges and civil cases where more than $50,000 is at stake – but only six vacancies on the court to fill.

The six Supreme Court candidates who will win the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s endorsement are: Joanne Quinones, Sharon Clarke, Caroline Piela Cohen, Heela Capell, Saul Stein and Rachel Freier. These six will not officially receive the party’s endorsement until the judicial convention on Thursday to decide who will appear on the ballot. But the convention is just a formality; the results are fixed in advance. 

The real decision-making happened Monday night in the back room of Nick’s Lobster House in Marine Park, where the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s executive committee – a group of 44 unpaid district leaders, two for each of the borough’s 22 Assembly districts – got together and held an informal vote to decide which six candidates should receive the nomination.

It was a surreal occasion, as ordinary customers dined just outside the room where Brooklyn’s Democratic power-brokers were deciding the future of the city’s courts. At least three tables were celebrating birthdays, and the waiters at Nick’s sang “Happy Birthday” and lit sparklers to celebrate. 

Those were the only sparks to fly at last night’s meeting. It was nothing like last year, when former Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Frank Seddio reportedly had to be physically restrained from going after another district leader. This year, Seddio was not in attendance, though he sent a proxy to vote on his behalf and the candidates he favored still prevailed.

The party will now instruct its judicial delegates to vote at Thursday’s judicial convention for those six candidates who received the most support from district leaders. Many of the other 10 candidates for the Supreme Court seats are expected to drop out in advance of the convention, now that it’s clear they have no path to the nomination.

The whole affair was hardly democratic, but most of the district leaders seemed satisfied with the results – as did the winning judicial candidates, a few of which eagerly waited in the restaurant to hear whether they would become Supreme Court judges.

Lydia Green, a first-time district leader for Assembly District 52 in Park Slope who’s aligned with the reform group New Kings Democrats, told City & State that she was confident that the executive committee had selected good judges to receive the party’s endorsement. “But this is not how judges should be chosen,” she added.