Campaigns & Elections

Assembly Member Eddie Gibbs sues Manhattan Dems after losing district leader race

Gibbs lost an internal election by one vote during a sparsely-attended divisional meeting of the Manhattan Democratic Party. Now he’s trying to get the vote thrown out.

Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (left) argues with Assembly Member Eddie Gibbs (second from left) during a Manhattan Democratic Party divisional committee meeting on July 27, 2023.

Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (left) argues with Assembly Member Eddie Gibbs (second from left) during a Manhattan Democratic Party divisional committee meeting on July 27, 2023.

Assembly Member Eddie Gibbs is suing the Manhattan Democratic Party after being passed over for an unpaid district leader position in his East Harlem district. Gibbs, a close ally of both Manhattan Democratic Party leader Keith Wright and Mayor Eric Adams, claims that the sparsely-attended meeting where the district leader positions were filled violated the party’s internal rules. His opponents within the party say he’s just a sore loser, and party leadership is staying out of the conflict until the courts weigh in. 

Since 2017, Gibbs had served as one of two district leaders for the 68th Assembly District, Part A. But his most recent attempt to run for re-election to the position ran into some trouble earlier this year. The New York City Board of Election – citing various election law violations – removed all candidates running for the district leader positions in the 68A Assembly District from the June 27 Democratic Primary ballot. That included Gibbs, who was removed from the ballot for “failing to correct a cover sheet defect,” according to the BOE. (Gibbs did not respond to a request for comment.)

With both district leader seats left vacant, the Manhattan Democratic Party convened a divisional committee meeting on July 27 to elect individuals to fill the seats. But tension broke out during the meeting, as Gibbs and others attempted to influence the 13 committee members eligible to vote to fill the district leader position.

Video footage of the meeting obtained by City & State captured a chaotic scene, with former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito – who had been elected the chair of the meeting – repeatedly attempting to stop Gibbs from speaking to committee members. “No more talking to any of the members!” she told Gibbs. “No more talking to the members. Assemblyman, you’ve got to stand to the side.” On several occasions, security stepped in to push Gibbs away from the seated members of the meeting.

“I am hoping that we can continue to conduct this election in a way that is respectful of each other,” Mark-Viverito said at one point. “Without intimidation, that we can come together as a community, and that we elect people who are going to represent us with dignity.”

When it came time to vote on the district leader position held by Gibbs for the previous six years, two men were nominated: Gibbs and Marlon Ruiz, a 22-year-old student at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Mark-Viverito called for a show of hands in support of Gibbs. Six people raised their hands. Then she called for a show of hands in support of Ruiz, and seven people raised their hands. At this point, Gibbs cut in. “Stop telling them to put their hands up, that’s six, six, six, it’s a tie,” he said. Although Gibbs continued to insist that it was actually a tie, the rest of the committee accepted Ruiz’s victory and his election was recorded in the official meeting minutes.

The committee then held a vote to fill the second district leader position. Two women ran for the position: incumbent Hilda Solomon and newcomer Nina Saxon, a community and anti-gun violence advocate. The committee members narrowly voted for Saxon. 

On Aug. 6, Gibbs  filed a lawsuit alleging foul play at the meeting and arguing that Ruiz and Saxon’s elections should be voided so that a new vote can be held. The lawsuit named Mark-Viverito, the Manhattan Democratic Party, Ruiz, Saxon and others as respondents. 

A central argument of the lawsuit is that the July 27 meeting failed to meet the necessary quorum. The rules and regulations of the Manhattan Democratic Party specify that at least 20% of the members of a divisional committee must be present in order for the meeting to be valid. Only 13 members of the divisional committee attended the July 27 meeting. Arthur Schwartz, a Democratic district leader representing Gibbs in the lawsuit, argues that was less than the required quorum, since there are 84 seats on the divisional committee and 13 is less than 20% of 84. The respondents to the lawsuit counter that fewer than 40 of the 84 seats are actually occupied by members. Since 13 is greater than 20% of 40, they say, the July 27 meeting was valid.

The dispute and subsequent lawsuit comes amid political fighting within the Manhattan Democratic Party, largely centered on Manhattan Democratic Party Leader Keith Wright’s leadership. A number of district leaders have complained about ongoing mismanagement within the party, some of which played out last month during the party’s chaotic 2023 judicial nominating convention. 

On Sept. 12, an alliance of downtown progressives and Rep. Adriano Espaillat’s “Squadriano” introduced several reforms at a county party meeting challenging aspects of Wright’s leadership. Ruiz and Solomon, who have yet to be seated as the legal battle plays out, had both signed on in support of the reforms. During the meeting, Arthur Schwartz – the district leader representing Gibbs in his lawsuit against the party – attempted to introduce a resolution in support of Gibbs’ arguments. But party leadership said they would not take any action on the 68A race and would instead yield to the judge’s decision. 

The first court hearing in the lawsuit is currently set for the end of the month.