Judge throws out Assembly member’s lawsuit against Manhattan Democratic Party

Assembly Member Eddie Gibbs sued the county party, several others after losing a vote for district leader, but on Tuesday a judge tossed his lawsuit.

Assembly Member Eddie Gibbs speaks at The Children's Place on July 26, 2022.

Assembly Member Eddie Gibbs speaks at The Children's Place on July 26, 2022. Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for The Children's Place, Inc.

Assembly Member Eddie Gibbs’ time representing East Harlem as a district leader may soon come to an end.After being passed over for the unpaid position during a sparsely-attended vote in July, Gibbs sued the Manhattan Democratic Party. On Tuesday, Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Frank Nervo ruled against Gibbs, effectively clearing the way for the newly elected individuals to finally be seated.

The judge’s ruling could mark the end of an arduous months-long process that’s left the 68th Assembly District, Part A’s two district leader seats empty, keeping John Jay College of Criminal Justice student Marlon Ruiz and community and anti-gun violence advocate, Nina Saxon from being seated as the litigation played out.

Ali Najmi, an election attorney representing Saxon and Ruiz, praised the judge’s decision. “The court has rendered its decision and my clients are the lawfully elected District Leaders from the 68th Assembly District Part A. The Manhattan Democratic Party has to immediately recognize and seat Marlon Ruiz and Nina Saxon,” he said.

But Arthur Schwartz, a Manhattan district leader who is representing Gibbs in the lawsuit, said he would appeal the judge’s ruling.

The Manhattan Democratic Party, which has stayed out of the legal proceedings, declined to say what their next step would be. Last month, Saxon and Ruiz signed on to several proposed reforms challenging aspects of Manhattan Democratic Party Chair Keith Wright’s leadership that had been introduced by an alliance of downtown progressives and Rep. Adriano Espaillat’s “Squadriano” at a county party meeting.

Gibbs has served as one of two district leaders representing the 68th Assembly District, Part A since 2017, but his most recent attempt to run for re-election hit a roadblock earlier this year. As City & State previously reported, both district leader seats were left vacant after the New York City Board of Election – citing various election law violations – removed all candidates running for the two positions from the June 27 Democratic Primary Ballot. 

As a result, the Manhattan Democratic Party convened a divisional meeting July 27 to elect individuals to fill the open seats. During that tense meeting, a frustrated Gibbs and others repeatedly attempted to influence the 13 present committee members eligible to vote to fill the district leader positions. In the end, seven committee members raised their hands for Ruiz, while six raised their hands for Gibbs – making Ruiz the new district leader. For the female district leader position, Saxon received 9 votes. Incumbent Hilda Solomon got 3.

In response to the vote, Gibbs and Schwartz filed a lawsuit against the Manhattan Democratic Party, Ruiz, Saxon and several others, alleging that the divisional meeting was illegitimate because it did not meet the quorum requirements laid out in the party’s rules and regulations. 

Quorum questions

The Manhattan Democratic Party’s rules state that “a quorum at a meeting of any such Committee shall consist of 20% of the members thereof, required to be elected in such assembly district part, present in person.”

In the lawsuit, Gibbs argued that this meant a meeting required at least 17 members be present at the meeting in order for it to be legitimate, since there are a total of 84 seats on the divisional committee and 20% of 84 (rounded up) is 17.

But the judge found that Gibbs’ interpretation of the party rules was incorrect. In his decision dismissing the case, he wrote that the rules state that a quorum is 20% of the members “required to be elected,” not 20% of the total number of seats. State election law defines the number of seats “required to be elected” as 25% of the total seats.

“The total number of committee members ‘required to be elected’ is 25% of the 84 committee seats, which amounts to 21 members. Article IV(b) of the party’s rules declares a quorum to be 20% of the members “required to be elected”, in this case 20% of the aforementioned 21 members, which amounts to five members,” Nervo wrote in his decision, concluding that the meeting was legitimate since there were more than five committee members present.

In his opinion, Nervo wrote that while there is no evidence of “any such ill-intent” by either party, “to the extent the process may well be orchestrated for political gain or advantage” no remedy is available through Gibbs’ lawsuit. 

“The court is confident each party before it seeks only to continue their service in the best interests of the constituency of the 68th Assembly District, and shall continue to expend their best efforts on behalf of their constituency for the foreseeable future,” he wrote. “This court is confident that all New York State Assembly Districts would be fortunate to have a similar abundance of dedicated participants in the political process as enjoyed by the 68th Assembly District.”

Schwartz, who represented Gibbs in the lawsuit, objected to the judge’s reasoning. “The Judge is absolutely wrong,” he wrote in an email to City & State. “He engaged in a very tortured reading of the Election Law to hold that a meeting of 2022 County Committee members could be held after the 2023 group was elected, and that a quorum at a meeting can’t be 5 in a Part with 84 County Committee seats.”