In a year the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and where election-wielding Republicans threatened to take both houses of Congress, the stakes in the midterm elections were clear. The Brooklyn Democratic Party should have mobilized the borough’s 1.2 million Democrats to protect our shared values, from reproductive freedom and racial justice to fighting the climate crisis.
Instead, party leaders were too busy distribution of judicial seats and expel perceived opponents from the county committee remember their responsibility to the electorate. Rather than organize its base, the Brooklyn Democratic Party held a major fundraiser just a week before Election Day — during which it did not raise money for candidates, as president of the gone, Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn. admitted to New York Focus at the event.
Eleven days before the general election, campaign filing statements showed that our local party hadn’t spent anything to support the candidates during this electoral cycle. Their ground game was equally lackluster, failing both to organize membership and provide no support for Democratic candidates in tough races.
“I certainly didn’t get a call from the county or the state,” said MP Mathylde Frontuswho is expected to lose her seat to a Republican, when asked by City & State if she received party support.
This decision to stay away had real consequences. In Brooklyn, the Democrats should lose three seats in the Assembly to Republicans, a depressing result after decades of steady gains. These include Frontus, which currently represents neighborhoods including Coney Island and Bay Ridge; Peter Abbate Jr., who has represented neighborhoods such as Bath Beach and Dyker Heights since 1986; and Steve Cymbrowitz, who represents parts of Sheepshead Bay and Brighton Beach.
Why did this happen? Brooklyn is the most Democratic county in the eastern United States, but in this election voter turnout has plummeted. Brooklyn’s voter turnout was 61% of its 2020 level; in all of New York, the only counties that did worse in this comparison were Queens and the Bronx. These missing Democratic votes are partly the price of our local party’s lack of leadership.
It shouldn’t be like this. Brooklyn Democrats are eager to get involved. It was clear when the New Kings Democrats and other clubs were mobilizing volunteers for this election. Volunteer canvassers, without the support of our local party, helped the top state senate candidate, Iwen Chu, who is expected to win her race, to take a 215 votes ahead on Republican Vito LaBella (who famously declared “I hate fucking Brooklynlast year in a video from his summer home in Massachusetts). We also helped organize county committee members and volunteers to knock on thousands of doors for Governor Hochul.
In contrast, the Brooklyn Democratic Party circulated a botched voluntary registration for telephone banking just days before the election. This only came after a county committee member denounced the lack of party contributions to Democratic candidates in competitive social media races.
While Yamil Speight-Miller, the party’s new executive director, originally claimed to a New York Focus reporter that their phone banking efforts resulted in “at least 300,000” calls, he backtracked when asked for documents. Rather than backing up his claim, Speight-Miller told the reporter via text message, “You can delete it if you want.”
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Our local party may have difficulty recruiting volunteers because they expelled hundreds of volunteers Brooklyn County committee seats last month — people who were willing to attend meetings lasting more than 10 hours to play a part in their local party.
It’s time to change.
Republicans across the country are sowing fear and misinformation and pushing us toward an authoritarian future. The institution best positioned to stop this and protect our communities is the Democratic Party. But our local party is failing to respond at this time, and the rising tide of red seats in South Brooklyn is proof of the problem.
Many Brooklyn Democrats have been sounding the alarm about party leadership for some time. Earlier this year, clubs, organizations and elected Democrats came together to support “Brooklyn can’t wait», an initiative to elect district leaders, members of the party’s executive committee, committed to transforming the party into a more accessible, accountable and transparent organization – an organization that exemplifies the democratic principles of small d.
This coalition fought together for a new party leadership – with 13 district leaders winning their races in the June 2022 primary – and is continuing that fight because there is so much at stake. Our County Democratic Party will be stronger if leaders give grassroots members a voice in the workings of our party.
A weak Democratic Party in Brooklyn has consequences, and with a crucial presidential election coming up in 2024, we can’t repeat those mistakes. The energy and vision our party needs is already present in every community in Brooklyn. Party leaders need only give volunteers a seat at the table.
Kawaguchi is president of the New Democratic Kings.