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  • Writer's pictureBen Yee

Breakdown: 2017 New York County Committee Meeting

Last Monday, 9/25, I was re-elected as the Secretary of the New York County Democratic Committee. I am honored to have earned another term and extremely excited by the number of brand new County Committee members who attended and are getting involved - many of whom I had the opportunity to help get elected.

However, while my election and much of the meeting went smoothly, a raucous clash over proposed changes to the rules led many County Committee members to question the value of being involved with the County Organization. It also left many reformers wondering whether any progress can be made in opening up the County Party system in Manhattan.

I'd like to say, without equivocation, that what we witnessed on Monday was nothing short of fantastic. It was an open display of the importance of engagement and a SUCCESSFUL culmination of years of fighting for change. A success which prefaces even more successes in the future.

For the last 9 years I have been involved in opening up the New York Democratic County Committee. In 2009, I led the first Manhattan Young Democrats effort to elect people to vacant Committee seats. That year, we also ran our President, Al Benninghoff for Third Vice Chair.

The response to the contested election was disheartening. Not just because it lead to a drawn out floor fight, but because, in the end, Third Vice Chair is relatively inconsequential. I should know, I ended up holding the position 4 years later. This year, however, was a testament to how far we've come.

In the last two years, County leadership has embraced many of the transparency initiatives I proposed - from building the first County Party website in NYC, to livestreaming all the meetings. And, in the business conducted Monday, there were many other inconspicuous but momentous changes on display as well.

To list a few:

  • The entire meeting was livestreamed and preserved for posterity online.

  • For the first time, the County Committee Rules were posted online and every new member got the link in their invitation.

  • Also a first, time was given to explain the structure, purpose and responsibilities of County Committee based on slides from my (Real) Politics 101 workshops.

  • Contested elections were considered a matter of course. While many questioned where candidates came from, and why there weren't speeches, there was no attempt to stop the nomination of multiple candidates as I had witnessed 9 years earlier.

  • The rules committee was given a mandate to meet before the next County Committee meeting.

  • The County Committee was set to reconvene again within three months - meaning we'll have more than one in two years!

All that said, from what I've gathered, there were two main points of confusion. First, that more information about the County Committee wasn't sent to members before hand. And second, the hullabaloo around changing the Party rules.

Insofar as passing along information to the County Committee, as Secretary I can tell you it's not as easy as you may think. As I've often stressed, County Committee members are elected. And, in fact, the Party receives information about who has run for County Committee from the Board of Elections. The BoE, in turn, only asks for two identifying pieces of information - Name and Voting Address. This is to make ballot access as open as possible. No one is required to have any phone or Internet access to run.

As a result, this means the only information the County Party can reliably get about any County Committee member is their name and voting address. This is why I feel putting the Rules online, and putting the URL on the postcard sent to each Committee member's voting address, is such a step forward. I'm hoping we can develop an even better online briefing which can be put on future mail notices to the County Committee.

Regarding the debate around changing the rules, this was a display of pure democracy. Yes, it was chaotic. But it was chaotic because there were many people anxious to express their opinions on truly substantive changes to how the Democratic Party in Manhattan will work. The Rules Committee and the next County Committee meeting will likely be far less chaotic, but you need the chaos to surface what people want so that it can be refined into concrete changes.

And, as far as it was chaotic, it wasn't a show stopper. Not everyone got what they wanted Monday night, but everyone received a promise to move forward. Whatever you thought of the people talking, please remember, everyone involved in a human being. They all have their own interests and their own biases. Things will never be perfect, and it will always be hard for new people to jump right into the middle of long running stand-offs. But, ironically, it is only the presence of those new people, and their potential votes, that forces all sides to make the best case they possibly can and to change from insular to open.

The reality is that reform is not easy and it's not always fast. But for those who are getting involved this year, you will be participating in something special. So please stay involved. You may feel left out, but in reality, this is all because of you.

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