Corruption in Brooklyn: A Big Giant Pile of Donkey Dung
The Independent Neighborhood Democrats (IND) has been one of the pinnacles of integrity within Brooklyn politics. A reform club specifically designed to fight against the corruption of the Brooklyn Democratic Machine.
I regret to inform you that the integrity of IND is in critical condition if not outright deceased as of last night. I recently wrote about one aspect of their decline, a move by the executive board that had the stated purpose of fighting club packing, but was interpreted by many as being a move to protect the interests of favorite candidates over the wishes of newcomers to the club. Last nightâ€™s IND meeting confirmed our worst fears about the new executive board and their intentions.
To put it quite pointedly, last night's IND meeting was a giant pile of stinking donkey dung and the inescapable conclusion is that the integrity that IND was so well known for has been replaced by outright corruption as soon as the new executive board took control. Last night confirmed my worst fears, but the signs of impending corruption have been accumulating.
The first whiff of a problem came some time ago when the new president was elected. The new president, Karen Johnson, is an active staff member for Ed Towns. At the time I didn't realize that this was so unusual, but was later told that this is a new thing for IND to have someone so closely tied to a politician as president. Well, it raises an eyebrow because it certainly could present a problem if the club and Towns disagree. But, in isolation this potential conflict of interest did not seem like a major issue.
The second whiff was the problem I wrote about earlier (see link above). In response to a large, last minute influx of new members that were thought to be from the community advocacy group, Develop Donâ€™t Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB denies that it packed IND in any organized way, but, regardless, its members certainly are affected) and hence leaning towards candidates that are not favorites of IND, the executive board voted to move the date of two endorsement votes. Those dates had already been posted on their website, announced at a general meeting, and given as the correct dates over the phone by district leader Jo Ann Simon and other members of the club. Based on the information provided on the website, at the general meeting, and by Jo Ann Simon and others, nearly 100 individuals made sure to turn in their membership dues in time to vote at those endorsement votes. The endorsement meetings were rescheduled by the executive board to earlier dates, thus disenfranchising nearly 100 people from voting. The move clearly protected two candidates in particular, David Yassky and Marty Connor, from possibly losing the clubâ€™s endorsement. It also meant that for several races, the club membership heard the candidates on the same night that we were expected to vote on them allowing no time for discussion, thought or independent research. This rescheduling would be shoddy at best, corrupt at worst. The best spin was that it was a stupid, arbitrary and inappropriately angry reaction to packing, a problem that is endemic in Brooklyn politics. At worst it was outright corruption in collusion with a specific candidate or candidates that may follow the letter of the clubâ€™s bylaws, but violates everything that the club is purported to represent.
Let me reiterate that my wife and I were not disenfranchised. My anger is not sour grapes. This is anger at a club that has been known for its intelligence, efficiency and integrity suddenly betraying all that it had previously stood for. This is anger at seeing the efforts of the previous president, Devin Cohen, to ensure the integrity of the club thrown out the window almost as soon as his leadership ended.
I was assured by IND members that the exec boardâ€™s actions had nothing to do with any candidate, but was only a dumb reaction to packing. Last night left me 90% convinced that Marty Connor was involved with the executive board's decision and that it really was the Connor/Diamondstone race that was the reason for this unusual move by the executive board.
Both David Yassky, a probable beneficiary of the disenfranchisement, and Chris Owens were present but neither spoke during the meeting. That was the honorable action on both their parts. I still feel that the disenfranchisement decision, though perhaps intended by some executive board members to protect Yasskyâ€™s assumed endorsement, did not involve any participation from Yassky himself or his campaign. Similarly, though many who joined last minute were probably Owens supporters, neither Yassky nor Owens seems to have done any packing BEYOND THE USUAL that all candidates do. Again, it seems the Diamondstone/Connor race is the issue.
Ken Diamondstone was the first to object to the executive board's move when he addressed the club for its endorsement. His statement was, in my mind, accurate and his anger justified, though I think that his discussing it was a bit tacky. Still, the move by IND was so egregious that if I were in his shoes I probably would have done the same.
At first Marty Connor steered clear of involvement. Fine. That is the reasonable thing to do. If one is a beneficiary of something like this, I think either you should do the honorable thing and object, or simply keep your mouth shut the way Yassky did. However, by the end of the meeting, Marty Connor was a vocal and avid defender of the executive board's move that almost certainly benefited him. By the end of the meeting I was convinced that Connor had an influence on members of the executive board of IND and was partly behind this. His entire demeanor was one of a lord in his domain protecting it from barbarian invaders. And it seems the majority of IND's exec board goes along with him. Marty Connor came off as one of the biggest assholes of the entire evening.
Let me be clear: I was not in particular a Diamondstone supporter and had little previous knowledge of Connor. But last night left me convinced that no matter what, I cannot in good conscience carry a petition for Connor. I have already committed to IND to re-run for County Committee on their petitions. After last night I may be unwilling to carry my own petition. If that means I will not be on County Committee, then so be it. There will be other years where I can do it with other clubs. But I will not under any circumstances carry a petition for Marty Connor.
Buddy Scotto came off as another giant asshole. He insulted all new members to a degree that my wife intends to go up to him next time she sees him and demand an apology. His insulting references to newcomers led to a rude outburst of my own which I did apologize publicly for. He also told a bold-faced lie, saying that in all past years no more than "four or five" new members came to pack the club and that this year was so exceptional that it was necessary to block it. Let me quote something from onNYturf regarding Scotto's own involvement in previous packing attempts:
"Last year Buddy Scotto also packed the club with people who voted for Mayoral Candidate Gifford Miller (who received IND's endorsement). Scotto went so far as to have his people chauffeured to the endorsement meeting in limousines."
Buddy Scotto was a condescending, nasty, lying hypocrite last night and I resent his implications that those of us who havenâ€™t been members of the club for 35 years are usurpers who have no right to speak out or have an opinion.
Hal Freedman, Vice President of IND, was the primary insider to stand up to Connor and Scotto and the rest of the defenders of disenfranchisement. Hal made every effort to express his horror at their decision and to instigate a rebellion from the members to reverse the disenfranchisement. Sadly, the exec board squelched even a symbolic vote proposed by the president to put on record the membershipâ€™s opinion. The membership was told in no uncertain terms that the exec board is all powerful and that we should simply meekly express our dissatisfaction and then shut up. We were even told that we should be thankful that we were even given an opportunity to express ourselves at all!
The key to this is integrity, and NONE of the defenders of the disenfranchisement seemed to understand this. The original dates were widely disseminated and it was made clear to many people that it was 60 days prior to those dates that was the deadline to pay dues. AFTER all the new memberships came in and the exec saw which way the wind was blowing they RETROACTIVELY disenfranchised nearly 100 voters. The purpose seems to be to protect favorite candidates. Many individuals, myself included, brought up the impact this action had on the integrity of the club. This was a major theme by all of us who objected.
The reaction of the defenders across the board never addressed the issue of integrity except to call into question the integrity of those of us who were opposed to the disenfranchisement. No defender had anything to say about the damage this has done to the club's reputation. No defender denied that the move was to protect favorite candidates. In fact, Buddy Scotto's comments seemed to directly DEFEND the protection of favorite candidates and to declare it a right of the old timers to do so!
My wifeâ€™s summary of the clubâ€™s defense was that most defenders simply said "We did it because we can, it is according to the bylaws and you can't do anything about it." Buddy Scotto's defense was the only one to try and justify the action and his defense was "I don't like newcomers invading MY club." The defense that the move was according to the bylaws may well be true. But that is so beside the point that it makes me question whether the majority of the exec board even understands what integrity means. Their defense reminded me precisely of Republicans who when criticized whine, â€œbut CLINTON also did it!