Machines, Pudding and Cats in Brooklyn Politics
Brooklyn Blogger Gatemouth over at Room 8 makes a big error in his recent pieces on Brooklyn Politics. In it he refers to the reform movement that is fighting the massively corrupt (and apparently somewhat depraved) head of the Democratic Party machine, Vito Lopez, as being a monolithic group whose every statement is planned in advance by the Supreme Reform Soviet of Brooklyn before being uttered.
He knows full well the reformers are a disorganized, squabbling bunch who actually put up no less than FOUR candidates one year in a City Council election against Vito Lopez's pet, Steve Levin. Naturally Levin won. Had the reformers been as unified and monolithic as Gatemouth treats them, Levin may well have lost. Organizing the reform Democrats in Brooklyn is even more like herding cats than the general Democratic Party exercise in cat-herding.
Gatemouth chastises me for viewing incoming Party Boss, former judge Frank Seddio, as being one and the same as Vito Lopez. Having viewed the continuity of corruption in Brooklyn from Clarence Norman to Vito Lopez, despite Norman's fall landing him in jail, I can be excused for viewing a hand picked Vito Lopez replacement with his own past scandal as suppressing my optimism...but Gatemouth may be right.
And the proof will be in the pudding that is being served up at the upcoming Brooklyn Democratic County Committee meeting on Sept. 19th. Seddio has a lot to prove to Brooklyn's Democrats...and from what I hear he may even be eager to prove it.
Now I haven't seen the script yet (no I am not kidding, the damned meetings are SCRIPTED by the machine), but the upcoming Democratic County Committee meeting on the surface looks like corrupt business as usual. The usual trick of getting Vito Lopez himself to control the vast majority of votes through proxies (and in most meetings refusing to even let anyone LOOK at the proxies)...moving the meeting to a location where Vito's proxies can easily make the meeting but actual PEOPLE will find it hard (30 blocks from the nearest subway)...the fact that it is ASSUMED that Vito's hand picked replacement will be the next Dictator of the Party...etc.
But behind the scenes I see a lot of reasons for at least cautious optimism
The meeting will include a fight over the County Committee leader. Seddio is the hand picked leader but he is being challenged by reformer Jo Anne Simon who is aiming to be the first woman leader of the Democratic Party in Brooklyn. I support Jo Anne Simon, but the groping hands of Vito Lopez will thrust his proxies behind Frank Seddio, so I think a machine victory right off the back is almost inevitable.
But then after that things may well change.
I am seeing suggested proposals being floated to be voted on at the next meeting from reformers like Chris Owens and Jo Anne Simon as well as from Seddio supporters like Lew Fidler. And the proposals are more similar than would have ever been possible under Vito Lopez and Clarence Norman.
I am being told that Seddio is anxious to make peace with the reformers. Again, my experience with Seddio and the reasons why he is no longer a judge make that hard to believe. But all the behind the scenes info I am getting look promising.
Lew Fidler is one of MANY machine members who had a falling out with Vito Lopez because Vito Lopez went too far in his corruption. The proposals being floated by Lew Fidler, who is one of Seddio's strongest supporters, look reform in nature. If Lew is any indication of what a Seddio machine will look like, I can see it will indeed be an improvement.
In fact right now I see the main obstacles to reformers getting about 80% of what they want is the disorganization and disunity of the reformers themselves (cat-herding hell) and the virility of Vito's massive stack of proxies which have no reason to allow the next meeting to go well.
Top of the list, reformers and Fidler alike want to strip the unelected "At Large" members of the Executive Committee of their power. These "At Large" members were a major power play by Vito Lopez using his Large Proxy Stack. Fidler and reformers united to oppose it. Not it seems Seddio is willing to agree to get rid of them. Wonder how Vito's proxies will vote on THAT proposal.
After that are a series of other proposals that I am hoping make it through. These are being floated by reformers like Chris Owens and Jo Anne Simon, as well as by Lew Fidler, and there has been some discussion going on amongst them to get agreement on a platform. Again, if Lew Fidler is indicative of what a Seddio machine will be like, then it is a real improvement.
The most public list of proposals has been put forth by the New Kings Democrats, one of the newer and more active reform clubs. And Gatemouth posts a list of proposals floated by Lew Fidler apparently with some discussion with reform leaders:
The County Committee directs the Chairman of the Executive Committee to appoint a Temporary Committee on the Rules to review the party rules with the expressed direction that changes be made to both increase transparency and promote increaed participation.
Additionally, the Committee shall promulgate rules to effect the following changes:
1. The elimination of all voting powers for At Large Members of the Executive Committee; and
2. Creating a system whereby proxies for the organizational meeting be assigned to that member of the Executive Committee on whose petition the member was designated, provided, however, that the Member pays the cost of mailing said proxies; and
3. Establishing working committees and considering a method by which the County Committee can meet more than biennially and the Executive Committee can meet regularly; and
4. Requiring a schedule of Financial Statements to be delivered to the Executive Committee.
The Executive Committee is directed to enact such rules changes with all deliberate speed, and timely seek pre-clearance for these changes from the United States Department of Justice.
“Reformers” have now upped the ante, adding some other ideas, none of which Fidler found problematic, except for their idea that the County Leader be prohibited from raising money for the Party.
There is some nice overlap in the New Kings Democrats' platform and that of Lew Fidler. A reason to hope.
Questions remain. Do we keep the script? Most people I have recruited to the County Committee have been disgusted and discouraged by the script. What it tells us is that the ONE real meeting that County Committee has is already planned down to the last word in advance by a small group of machine hacks. Now that is NOT democratic or Democratic. In the past most attempts to interject actual debate were squashed as quickly as possible by the machine so they could keep to the script (leaving us reformers no recourse by yelling to show our disgust at the proceedings). "Out of order" was a badge of honor at those County Committee meetings.
Can we weaken the grip that the County Leader has on the County Committee?
Will the new machine be more effective and even WILLING to fight Republicans rather than focusing on keeping their power through primaries? Most of the time, money and effort of the Democratic County Committee has gone to fighting fellow Democrats. That is just plain wrong.
Can reformers hold together long enough to push for the BEST proposals at the next meeting alongside Seddio and despite the Vito Proxies?
And then what?
The next meeting is a time for unity behind reform proposals and, if the pudding proof comes through, some recognition by the reform movement that Seddio is better than Vito or Clarence. But it is the nature of reformers to hold machines to higher standards than the machine will themselves. Some reformers may well be willing to join a better machine than the Lopez and Norman machines.
Buy some won't. And that is a GOOD thing, because without opposition, as long as there is a powerful machine, it will fall into the trap of perpetuating power over being an effective and democratic arm of the Democratic Party. Reformers are NOT monolithic. That could defeat us on Sept 19th despite it being our best chance for getting things done. But it also is a good thing because ANY machine, particularly one that reforms itself out of one of the most corrupt machines I am aware of, NEEDS opposition to keep itself honest. Finding the balance of cooperation and opposition is in the best interests if BOTH Seddio AND reformers. Too much cooperation and there is no incentive for honesty. Too much opposition and opportunities for real reform are lost. This week is a real opportunity which calls for cooperation. After that? We shall see.
Given where he is coming from, the likes of Frank Seddio and Steve Levin (both machine folks who want to look good to reformers) have a lot to prove. But so do reformers.