Brooklyn, NY - Will Vito Veto Voters?
Brooklyn, NY - Come Primary Day on Sept. 14, Brooklyn will host at least half a dozen hotly contested races for Democratic district leader, an obscure party position that, although unpaid, is the foundation of vast political power at City Hall, in Albany and beyond.
An unusually large number of self-styled reformers are taking on candidates connected to the county organization’s boss, Assemblyman Vito Lopez of Bushwick.
And - courtesy of some anti-democratic rule changes by Lopez - they ultimately face dauntingly long odds.
The races matter. As one of the largest Democratic counties in America, Brooklyn wields influence far outside New York. Judges, senators and even presidential candidates routinely make the trek to Kings County to kiss the chairman’s ring, well aware of his power to mobilize phone banks and foot soldiers.
Heavy lies the head that wears the crown: Lopez must always be on his toes. He has to win reelection as a district leader himself to serve as county boss, and his chairmanship depends on a vote by the borough’s 41 other district leaders, one man and one woman in each of 21 Assembly districts.
Generally speaking, reformers tend to argue for greater party openness and support of more progressive candidates for statewide office. A number of leaders, for instance, objected to Lopez’s championing of Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice for state attorney general.
And so the fight is on. Among the most fiercely fought battles:
In Brownsville’s 55th District, City Councilwoman Darlene Mealy, who doubles as a district leader, faces a challenge from Latrice Walker, a lawyer and top aide to Rep. Yvette Clarke.
The 42nd District, based in Flatbush, is the scene of a battle between two newcomers, Rodneyse Bichotte and Natasha Holiday. Bichotte, a first-time candidate, knocked the incumbent district leader, Mary Hopson, off the ballot by challenging her nominating signatures - an almost unheard-of coup by a novice.
In north Brooklyn’s 50th District, reform gadfly Lincoln Restler is taking on Warren Cohn, son of former District Leader Steve Cohn. “We’ve knocked on 10,000 doors,” Restler told me yesterday, noting that he’s raised nearly $60,000 for the race.
Another reformer, Chris Owens, a former chief of staff to his father, ex-Rep. Major Owens, is running in the 52nd District, which includes parts of Prospect Heights and Park Slope. Also contending for that seat is Jesse Strauss, supported by the Independent Neighborhood Democrats, a reform club.
In Crown Heights, newcomer Tessa Hackett-Vieira, a social worker, is challenging incumbent Shirley Patterson in the 43rd District. Fort Greene is the scene of a fight between incumbent Olanike Alabi, a reformer who often votes against Lopez, and first-time candidate Renee Collymore.
There are more races, each of which looks small at a glance. But add them up and they matter.
Last but not least, Lopez himself is being challenged by Esteban Duran in the 53rd District. “We have a very strong infrastructure,” Lopez told me yesterday, saying he expects the 384 members of his Brooklyn Unidos club to work the district and help him beat Duran by a solid margin.
Lopez also confirmed that he has an ace up his sleeve in case reformers make inroads on Primary Day. Under a rules change passed two years ago, Lopez added five at-large district leaders - selected by Lopez - to Brooklyn’s total.
The city’s other county organizations have the same arrangement, says Lopez. Padding the total means that even a half-dozen victories by Brooklyn reformers will leave the balance of power largely undisturbed in Kings County.
Reform, it seems, may have to wait for another day.
More of today's headlines“New York - Voters in most school districts in New York State passed proposed budgets this year, but in some of the places where the budgets failed or where they were...” New York - Racial Patterns Are Found in Recent School Budget Elections “ Brooklyn, NY - The man accused of killing a former hip-hop executive turned Orthodox Jew, spilled his guts to police, confessing to holding up the man at gunpoint...” Brooklyn, NY - Ex-Con Confesses in Murder of Yoseph Robinson