Democrats Behaving Well: 44th Annual Central Brooklyn Independents Dinner
My wife and I got involved (perhaps way TOO involved) in local Brooklyn politics thanks to a high school friend of hers who ran for a judicial position. At about the same time we were recruited into the brawl that is Brooklyn politics, I was organizing protests to "welcome" the 2004 Republican National Convention to NYC. In the end these two things led to my becoming a well known blogger in Brooklyn (primarily at Daily Gotham) and my wife becoming an officer (currently 2nd Vice President) of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats (CBID).
So every year we attend the CBID annual dinner. And blogging about it since 2007. 2008 was a particularly good dinner, noted for Chuck Schumer giving a rousing speech which I wrote about and titled "I'm Not Afraid of John McCain!" In that speech Schumer predicted the huge victory of Barack Obama. The 2009 dinner not only honored one of my favorite members of Congress (Nydia Velasquez) but also gave one of the best rundowns of single payer healthcare I have ever heard, thanks to Dr. Oliver Fein (who I believe I saw this year as well but he didn't speak). Can't find my write up about 2010 but my 2011 coverage included some videos of some of the speeches (thanks to the efforts of Raul Rothblatt). Not sure if I blogged the 2012 dinner since Daily Gotham was dead at that time and I was focused more on work and family than politics.
But last night's dinner was another good one and had many elements that would have been huge shocks 4 years ago.
CBID is the most reform and liberal of the Brooklyn "reform" clubs and is well known for asking the hardest questions of politicians at their monthly meetings and for many years stood up to the corrupt local machine led by the now disgraced Vito Lopez. They have sometimes put ideology before practicality, but have become more united and practical in recent years and so have become more effective without losing their reputation, often repeated last night, of being some of the most active and hard to please of Democrats in Brooklyn. I believe most speakers last night gave some version of the line "CBID sets the bar very high for elected officials."
Chuck Schumer was there, as always, and gave one of his usual excellent speeches. He continued a theme I first heard pushed at the community swearing in ceremony for Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez. Coming from that event I was one of the first people to blog that Comprehensive Immigration Reform was about to be a major push by the Democratic Party. I think it was FIRST mentioned at Nydia's event by NYC Comptroller and (very) likely mayoral candidate John Liu, but then reiterated quite deliberately by speaker after speaker. Last night both Chuck Schumer and Congresswoman (my Congresswoman) Yvette Clarke emphasized Comprehensive Immigration Reform as a must pass plank this year, practically daring Republicans to commit political suicide by opposing it. Again, this kind of strong progressive rhetoric by Democrats is quite welcome and I am glad it is continuing. Schumer and Clarke also both emphasized gun control as a major plank in the Democratic agenda for this year, again practically daring Republicans to sacrifice themselves on the altar of NRA fanaticism.
Four mayoral candidates also attended last night. Missing was Christine Quinn...perhaps remembering that she was once the recipient of CBID's "Tarnished Fork" award (a tradition they sadly have given up and really should bring back!) for her central role in the seemingly now ignored slushgate scandal.
Bill Thompson gave a short speech (a great tradition many more speakers should follow!) basically congratulating the honorees and praising the efforts and high standards of CBID, messages conveyed by every politician who spoke...in a more long winded manner. I am warming to Bill Thompson's relaxed style, and I am reminded by
more and more people that despite his boring reputation, he came far closer than anyone expected to defeating Bloomberg and he may have a better chance than I have given him credit for.
John Liu gave a rousing speech as always. A brilliant man who highlighted his excellent record as Comptroller. Honestly, his record as Comptroller reaffirms why I endorsed him. He did NOT officially announce his candidacy, but he did seem to be semi-officially announcing that he will officially announce very soon. Of course even though he has not announced, most people are treating him like a candidate for mayor. As usual he directly acknowledged the investigation against his campaign, again welcoming the scrutiny and emphasizing his transparency. CBID in the past worked closely with John Liu and his campaign and was impressed with the care his campaign took verifying donations. In fact, his campaign was one of the MOST cautious and this was long before the investigation. If what we saw was typical of his campaign, then I am sure he will be absolved with no problem. I personally always find it amazing that Liu's campaign gets all this scrutiny from the media while Bill de Blasio's past shady campaign practices (which involved SEVERAL candidates in addition to Bill, involved the entire Working Familiies Party, and WERE ACTUALLY FOUND ILLEGAL but not prosecuted as long as money was given back), and Quinn's massive slushgate scandal are being ignored. Of the three, there is no doubt in my mind that John Liu is the most honest and transparent. Maybe damning with faint praise comparing him to Quinn and de Blasio, but this is NYC politics and these are three of the front runners and so it is an appropriate comparison.
Sal Albanese also attended and gave a speech. I apologize to Sal for missing his speech. I was talking to John Liu during it.
Bill de Blasio came late and so spoke to only the last of us to leave. As always he gave a good speech but with little substance. As my wife says, he can talk a good line but has never really done anything. I tend to point out that for all his talk about supporting Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project ONLY because of the affordable housing, it is amazing that he hasn't said a word about it since the affordable housing part was dropped...as many predicted to de Blasio's face when he was such a supporter. If he is that easily fooled or that much of an enabler for unscrupulous developers, I don't want him as a mayor.
Scott Stringer also came. Let me just say he needs to tell different jokes when he comes over to Brooklyn. First time was funny, but we already know you're from Manhattan and you don't need to tell the getting your visa stamped joke every time. Stringer also gives a good speech but my wife remembers his role enabling Columbia's land grabs so we are somewhat skeptical about him as well. Still, when challenged about Columbia's land grabs he once did give me a somewhat convincing explanation for why he felt it was the best possible deal...somewhat convincing, I say, but "best deal possible" has been an excuse used by many for many really lousy and rather corrupt real estate deals in NYC and I think our politicians may need to redefine for themselves the words "best," "possible," and "deal." Too often people like de Blasio and Stringer (and let me be clear I consider Stringer MUCH better than de Blasio, but in this they seem similar) are like my former City Councilman David Yassky. Yassky, as my wife used to comment, seemed to surrender to developers before the negotiations even started, calling the surrender the "best possible deal." At a bare minimum it is a bad bargaining technique yet is too often used by NYC politicians when faced with developer money.
Last night was something of a reconciliation event with some very astonishing guests and honorees. First off, it is the first time I believe my fellow Brooklyn blogger Gatemouth has attended one of these dinners (he was Marty Connor's guest). It was good to see him and his family, though I didn't get a chance to hear his probably quite cynical views on the dinner...though I suspect he will write about them at his own blog, and I look forward to it!
For the first time since I have been involved with the club, the head of the Democratic Party machine (now Frank Seddio, who I have had run ins with before) came to the dinner. His speech continued a theme he has been saying since he replaced Vito Lopez: This is a new era for the Democratic Party in Brooklyn and one where everyone's voice is welcome. Needless to say, CBID remains highly skeptical of Seddio's leadership, but does welcome the change from the extreme vindictiveness of Vito Lopez's iron grip...and I don't just mean his iron grip on women's behinds (he fell from "grace" NOT due to his well known corruption but because of sexual harassment accusations). We may not trust Seddio, but he is no doubt a major improvement over Vito Lopez and HIS predecessor, the now freed from jail Clarence Norman.
Even a year ago no one would have predicted that CBID's dinner would include the attendance of the head of the machine. Detente is in the air, at least for now.
Similarly surprising were two of the honorees. Many at CBID always had a strong dislike for former State Senator Marty Connor. He was always a bit too brusque, a bit too old school, and a bit to close to the machine for CBID to like, though I do believe in his last campaign they voted no endorsement rather than endorsing his successful primary challenger, now State Senator Daniel Squadron. Last night Marty Connor was honored for his extremely consistent progressive record during his period as Senator. From the blurb in the dinner's program:
For 31 years Martin Connor was a State Senator representing the 25th Senate district. He was the mi- nority leader of the Senate for eight years and was New York State Senate’s longest-serving Democrat. In his time in Albany, he accumulated an extensive legislative track record on a wide range of issues, sponsoring more than 100 laws.
He supported the creation of a state college tuition savings program and state college tuition tax credit. He was an advocate of changing the state public school aid formula as well as better pay for teachers and smaller class sizes. In 2007, he helped in negotiating an agreement to build the City’s first ever green school in Battery Park City. He supported increased use of alternative fuel technology, cleanup of contaminated industrial sites, and funding for open space preservation. He had the highest environmental rating in the Senate in 2007. And that’s barely scratching the surface of his 31 year career in the New York State Senate.
In his speech, Marty Connor emphasized this long record of very progressive stands and sponsorship of bills including some of the earliest bill supporting equal rights and anti-discrimination for LGBT. He was, essentially, focusing on the shared values he and CBID have...which reaffirmed why I endorsed him in his last State Senate race, a somewhat controversial stand on my part at the time that brought me considerable flack. I endorsed the unsexy but long and hard working progressive Connor over the new kid, Squadron, who I considered more of a Bloomberg Democrat (though to be fair I have had some great discussions with Squadron since).
Also surprising was CBID's honoring City Councilman (now my City Councilman since redistricting) Brad Lander. Former president of CBID and opponent of Brad's, Josh Skaller, presented the award to Brad last night painting a glowing picture of Brad's record on the City Council. There is no question that Brad Lander has won over CBID to a large degree. Here is CBID's blurb on him from their program:
Brad Lander is a New York City Council Member representing Brooklyn’s 39th District, and a leader on issues of affordable housing, livable communities, the environment, and public educa- tion. Named one of “Today’s Social Justice Heroes” by The Nation magazine, Lander is co-chair of the Council’s Progressive Caucus and was one of the first councilmembers to bring “participa- tory budgeting” to his district, giving residents the power to decide which projects to support with their tax dollars. Prior to serving in the City Council, Brad directed the Pratt Center for Community Development and the Fifth Avenue Committee, a nationally-recognized community development organization.
The love fest between Brad Lander and CBID, including his introduction by former opponent Josh Skaller, would have been shocking 4 years ago. I remain skeptical of Brad who I still consider too much of an opportunist, but as my wife and I discussed after the dinner, at least he HAS done some good things, unlike Bill de Blasio (Brad's predecessor in the Council and NYC's current do-nothing "Public" Advocate) who never takes a strong stand on anything that he can do anything about but merely grandstands on things that sound good by doesn't require him to lift a finger. Brad is impressing CBID and has established a good relationship with them. Perhaps I am behind the curve on this one, and it does speak to Brad that he has won over so many former opponents, but I still remember discussions where I felt Brad did not get some key points about the corrupting influence of politically connected people marketing those connections to developers and other business interests. Of course this happens all the time but IS inherently corrupting and I never got the sense Brad got this when we discussed it. Interestingly, CBID and I used to disagree on Marty Connor and agree on Brad Lander. Currently we may be agreeing on Marty Connor and disagreeing on Brad Lander. But this dinner was all about coming together and reconciliation...so who knows, perhaps Brad will win me over as well. My bet is Gatemouth will be less easy to win over even than me.
Other honorees included former president of CBID and former campaign manager for Josh Skaller against Brad Lander (giving more opportunities for love messages between Lander and CBID) Dan Campanelli who, contrary to widespread rumor, was NOT born and raised in Brooklyn. Perhaps Queens? Actually, the secret is out in CBID's blurb about him:
Dan came to New York from Ohio in January of 2002 to study Playwriting at Fordham Univer- sity. In 2006 he received his degree and co-founded an artist collective called Family Tree where he wrote and acted in a number of plays in the downtown theatre scene. It wasn’t until 2008 that Dan worked on his first political campaign, but it was at that point that he caught the bug—severely. Since 2008, he has worked every election cycle—serving as Deputy Campaign Manager for past CBID President’s Josh Skaller and Chris Owens, among others. Most recently, he managed Lincoln Restler’s reelection bid for State Committee in the 50th AD, where Restler carried an extraordinary 84% of the vote outside of Hasidic Williamsburg. Additionally, Dan served as Field Coordinator for a city-wide campaign to increase funding for non profit art and culture organizations called One Percent for Culture from 2011-2012. For the past two years, he has had the distinct honor and pleasure to serve as the President of CBID, the greatest reform Democratic club in the United States. He is deeply grateful to CBID for allowing him the privi- lege to run the club, for helping to provide him with a political education, and for being such a kind community of friends.
I should note that Dan's speaking style was to me vaguely reminiscent of a Tom Waits performance...which is a compliment coming from me, Dan: I LIKE Tom Waits.
My wife, Joy, gave an elegant speech introducing this year's labor honoree, Carmen Charles, President of the Public Health Care Employees Union, Local 420. I was not familiar with Carmen Charles, but she is an amazing woman whose speech emphasized finding one's purpose in life and fulfilling it because the world needs us all to be active and strong progressive advocates. Her blurb:
Carmen Charles is a native of Guyana. She migrated to the United States in 1979. She began as a Nurse’s Aide at Coler/Goldwater Specialty Hospital on Roosevelt Island. Ms. Charles served as a Shop Steward for her chapter, then the Vice Chairperson, and in 1999 the Local’s Vice President.
Carmen Charles was elected President of the Public Health Care Employees Union, Local 420, in the spring of 2002. Ms. Charles is an ardent defender of employees’ rights in the work place. Since taking office as President, she has successfully negotiated upgrades and educa- tional opportunities for her membership, increased the membership and created a new level of activism. Ms. Charles is also a Vice-President of District Council 37’s, AFSCME, Executive Board. She is Chair of the DC 37 Caribbean Heritage Committee, the Health Committee, and President of the New York City Chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women. She is a member of Christ Church in Montclair, New Jersey. She is a staunch supporter of the Breast Cancer Foundation and is an active participant of the Annual AIDS Walk New York. Ms. Charles is a graduate of the Cornell University’s Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations Leadership Program. She is the proud mother of three, grandmother of three and the primary caregiver of her beloved mother.
Another honoree is a place I have passed MANY times on the corner of 9th St and 4th Ave in Brooklyn but never knew anything about: the Family Reception Center of Good Shepherd Services:
In the early 1970s, Park Slope was a very different place than it is today. Plagued by poverty, drug abuse, and violence, children and youth were removed from their homes and placed in out-of-home care pro- grams, among them programs operated by Good Shepherd Services. In response to this crisis Good Shepherd Services founded the Family Reception Center in Park Slope in 1972. The Family Reception Center was among the first program of its kind in NYC and across the nation. This program sparked the development of Good Shepherd’s extensive networks of community-based programs in Brooklyn and the Bronx, which include after-school centers, summer camps, school-based support services, pathways to graduation programs, college access and retention programs, domestic violence services, programs for court involved youth, as well as foster care prevention and family counseling programs.
Forty years later, the Center still stands at the corner of 4th Avenue and 9th Street. They have a staff of 13 and at any given time there are at least 108 families enrolled in family counseling. Over the course of one year they serve over 200 families. Young people and families still come to them for help and support. The enduring legacy of this vital program lives within the faces of the countless children, many of whom are now adults with families of their own.
And rounding it off was the honoree probably most often arrested (always for a good cause and most recently protesting in DC against fracking), Nancy Romer, Co-Founder and General Coordinator of the Brooklyn Food Coalition:
Nancy Romer is the Co-Founder and General Coordinator of the Brooklyn Food Coalition—a grassroots food justice organization that works to insure healthy, affordable food for all, sustainable food systems, and good jobs in the food industry. Its work focuses on community organizing proj- ects such as working with parents, teachers, and youth to improve school food, bringing volunteers to support neighborhood-based food projects, supporting food worker organizing and sustainable agriculture, and organizing for policies that will build a sustainable local food system for all our people. The Brooklyn Food Coalition organized the 2nd free Brooklyn Food Conference, attracting nearly 6000 people eager to change the food system.
Nancy is a Professor of Psychology at Brooklyn College and Executive Director of its Community Partnership, serving over 1500 Brooklyn teens each year. She was also a rank and file union orga- nizer and political coordinator of the caucus that brought the progressive leadership of the Profes- sional Staff Congress of CUNY (AFT 2334) to office in 2000 and served on the union’s Executive Committee for 9 years.
An organizer and activist for over 40 years, she lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Lew Friedman, where they raised their two sons.
Last night's dinner was also something of a record breaker with possible the most attendees and the most money raised. So maybe reconciliation is a good tactic right now, as long as CBID doesn't lose its reputation as being tough on politicians. I also hear this year had a record low number of politicians trying to sneak in without paying...something of a problem with some politicians I hear.