Breakdown: The Democratic State Convention
Taken from the email update sent last week. If you want to receive the Breakdown when it’s release sign up at benjaminyee.com
Petitioning season is upon us! And, whenever there’s a Governor’s race the NY Democratic Party held holds a once-every-four-year Convention.
That key event happened last Wednesday and Thursday. But, perhaps you’re wondering:
What’s the Democratic Convention?
What is the State Committee even doing right now?
What have I been doing in my role as an elected State Committee member?
Let’s break it down!
Before we get started, I want to make a short request.
This year I have a challenger for the State Committee. If you’ve generally enjoyed these emails and the work I’ve been doing to improve our democratic process (more on that later), I need your help.
My opponent has deep pockets and will likely use his own money to try and win the seat. My goal is to raise $10,000 — and I’d be incredibly grateful — for any donation from $5 to $500 (or more, if you’re so inclined). State Committee districts cover an entire Assembly District so there are a lot of voters to reach!
I want to thank you all for having supported me in the past — it’s been an incredible honor serving on the State Committee for the past 5 years. In that time, I’ve been one of the most active members of the State Committee, passing more resolutions and rules changes than anyone else, including:
Resolutions about providing sanctuary for immigrants, condemning ICE and opposing Donald Trump
Updating the NY Party website to publicize all the State Committee members and their districts
Live Streaming all of the State Committee meetings for the public on the State Committee Youtube Channel (next step is publishing archived meeting videos)
Allocating resources to the opponent of former IDC State Senator Simcha Felder
Teaching hundreds of civic workshops and training thousands of New Yorkers in local politics and activism.
Leading the creation of an Ethics Committee (more and that below)
Helping to establish a Messaging Committee (more on that below)
In addition, during my time on the Committee, I’ve taught hundreds of civic workshops and educated thousands of New Yorkers about local politics.
For the past 5 years, I’ve fought for inclusivity and transparency within the State Democratic Committee, but there’s more work to be done. With your support, we’re poised to achieve even bigger success in my next term (see email below).
I’m so grateful for the opportunity you’ve given me to represent our shared values in the Democratic Party. I look forward to even bigger success (see email below) in my next term.
What is the State Convention
The Democratic Convention is one of the most important legal functions of the State Committee, but like many Party processes it’s pretty much impossible to find an explanation.
In New York State, if you’re running for office in New York, you are generally required to petition to show up on the Primary ballot. If you win the Primary, you’re put on the general election ballot, but getting on that first ballot in the Primary isn’t easy.
For Statewide office it’s particularly difficult — you need 15,000 signatures, with at least half of the Congressional Districts, each contributing 100 signatures. With 27 Congressional Districts in NYS, getting representation from 13 of them requires covering a large geographic area. So, any statewide candidate needs a truly statewide operation with canvassers all over NY. And, if you’re thinking that 100 isn’t that big a number, you’re right. But when registered Democrats are a tiny sliver of the population who live 10 miles apart or more, it’s not easy.
There is, however, a way out. Similarly how County Committees can put candidates on the ballot in Special Elections, the State Committee can put candidates on the ballot in Primary Elections for Statewide office (i.e. Governor, Lt. Governor, Comptroller, Attorney General and Federal Senator). Any candidate receiving 25% or more of the weighted vote of the State Committee (we’ll come back to this) is relieved of the petitioning requirement. This is called “Designation.” When a candidate is Designated, they are placed on the ballot by the Party itself.
While incumbents and frontrunners often have no problem gathering the required signature count, the State Convention provides a unique opportunity for challengers to demonstrate viability and avoid petitioning. It also creates a situation where even the most powerful politician may find themselves in a legitimate primary contest with candidates who might lack the resources to petition but would coalesce into real competition if they somehow made the ballot. With only about 250 State Committee members, the opportunity to expand voters’ options is no small power of the Convention.
What have I been working on leading up to the Convention?
In the run-up to the Convention I’ve been working on three projects within the State Committee:
Combatting AAPI Hate
Four meetings ago I introduced the first updates to the Democratic Party Ethics Rules in 32 years. These reforms proposed identifying forms of harassment and discrimination — including on the basis of sex, gender and race — as against the ethics of the Democratic Party. They also proposed removing the Chair’s power to directly choose the people who adjudicate ethics complaints — after all, how much faith can people have in reporting problems when the people in power effectively decide the outcome?
While the proposed language didn’t pass, it led the State Committee to vote on the creation of a new Ethics Committee — to which I was appointed. After months of meetings, we’re incredibly close to updating our rules for the first time in three decades with language that has the support of experts and advocates in the field. These changes will have the Democratic Party live up to its own values on some of the biggest political issues of our day.
Though Committees were not on the agenda for the Convention, the gathering provided me an opportunity to meet with fellow Ethics Committee members, talk about our work with other State Committee members, and get confirmation of a timeline from Party Chair Jay Jacobs.
After my introduction of new Ethics Rules several months ago, the first Ethics reforms in 32 years will be on the agenda at the September State Committee meeting. These reforms address harassment and discrimination, including those based on sex, gender and race.
In the aftermath of the 2021 election cycle there was a deep sense of disappointment among some members of the State Committee. Many local elections upstate had seen a red wave and two ballot initiatives designed to increase voter participation — including allowing vote by mail and short registration deadlines — failed miserably. How?
While not often talked about, the State Democratic Party is the institution tasked with statewide messaging, coordination and campaigning. In the recent past (i.e. under Andrew Cuomo), it was primarily an outlet for the Governor’s objectives while the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) and the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee (DACC) worried about legislative battles. As such, many saw the loss of local elections and the loss of the ballot initiatives as a result of inaction by the Democratic Party.
At the Democratic State Committee meeting following the election a resolution was introduced calling for no confidence in the strategy of Party leadership. I was one of the strategists of this measure, and particularly urged for focus on the strategy of the Party and not a personal attack on individuals in leadership. Why?
Though the measure failed, it allowed for an open and frank discussion about what had happened in 2021. And, because of the discussion’s framing, the resolution’s author, Nobles Crawford from Harlem, was able to propose a united path forward: the creation of a new Messaging Committee that would work to identify key issues, incorporate perspectives from all political and geographic aspects of the Democratic Party and synthesize a messaging strategy.
While this may seem like a no-brainer Committee it has, in fact, been a long time coming. I’m incredibly excited to say that Nobles Crawford is now Chair of this Committee and has asked me to serve on it with him due to the advice I offered leading to its creation.
The NY State Democratic Party has a NEW Messaging Committee that will be working to develop proactive campaign narratives that include all voices in the party across the political and geographic spectrum. I’m honored to have been asked to join by the new Chair.
Combatting AAPI Hate
Aside from the Ethics Committee where I’ve been working on rules banning racial discrimination (along with other forms), I have also authored a resolution condemning the recent attacks we’ve seen on Asians in New York City, requesting government resources for support services to vulnerable areas and calling on racially motivated attacks to be tried as hate crimes.
Though no resolutions were on the agenda for the Convention, a finished version will be submitted for our next State Committee meeting.
I am working to submit a resolution on addressing AAPI Hate at the next State Committee meeting.
What happened at the Convention
Just to set the context, there was a single contested race at this year’s Convention for Governor. All other positions were uncontested (see results at the end).
Caucus Meetings — Updates…But Also Unequal Time for Candidates In an Election
For the most part, the State Convention is pomp and circumstance. The three caucuses of the Democratic State Committee (Progressive, Rural and Young Democrats) met, but for the most part, the meetings were used by incumbent candidates to update caucus members on their last 4 years in office. Important information, for sure, but effectively campaign opportunities for people currently in power (again, only the Governor’s race was contested).
That said, knowing the nature of the Convention, the Progressive Caucus held a virtual meeting a week before inviting all candidates in the Governor’s race to participate. What’s more, when a complaint was made during the meeting that challengers would have no opportunity to address State Committee members at the Convention, an agreement was struck with the Democratic Committee Chair, Jay Jacobs, that any candidate with 10 signatures from State Committee members and two nominators would be able to speak at the Convention breakfast. While an afterthought, this at least represented a step forward in actual debate at the Convention and can lay the foundation for rules that provide a better, more inclusive process.
I want to thank the Chair of the Caucus, Rachel Lavine, for putting the virtual forum together, and for taking advantage of the opportunity to provide a chance for candidates to be heard at the Convention.
Multiple Receptions — Providing More Unequal Time
There are more than just State Committee members at the Convention. Elected officials, candidates for office, Union leaders, consultants and campaign workers all come to mingle and grab a drink at events sponsored either by the Party or by big name politicians.
Again, I can appreciate that our Statewide elected officials do incredibly important work and the Convention is packed with politically interested people who want to hear about it, but I personally believe that a Party sponsored function is not the place to privilege one candidate’s voice over another. If the candidates want to attend, I think that’s wonderful and of course they should be allowed to speak with whomever they like. But, if a candidate in a contested election is going to speak, other qualifying candidates should be given the opportunity.
The Breakfast — More equal time
True to the compact made on the Progressive Caucus call, every candidate with 10 signatures and two nominators was given an opportunity to address the crowd. However, one candidate, Paul Nichols, found himself given short shrift when the breakfast ended before he spoke and he was unceremoniously informed that his two nominators had backed out. Based on a conversation I was part of, this is allegedly due to pressure from Party leaders, but the claim is unsubstantiated.
The Executive Committee Meeting — Quite a nice meeting
With no resolutions or rules changes to consider there was little for the Executive Committee to do. Two things of note happened:
Nobles Crawford presented on the new Messaging Committee
Chair Jay Jacobs confirmed that Ethics reform would be addressed at the September meeting agenda after a question from Executive Board member Rachel Lavine, my State Committee counterpart in Assembly District 66
The Full State Committee Meeting — Possibly the least equal time
The Full Meeting with the designating votes was done in two parts — before and after lunch. Before lunch, it was largely perfunctory. All the candidates were unopposed and saw three nominating speeches per candidate and then the candidate themselves.
The post-lunch meeting saw some commotion. As described in this Twitter thread. Although we had officially entered nominations in the morning session, the afternoon session began with speeches from elected officials. A fact which was lost on me as I heard candidate after candidate stand to extoll Gubernatorial candidate Kathy Hochul.
No aspersion to the Governor, I mean I literally thought I was still listening to nomination speeches. I didn’t think otherwise until another State Committeemember asked me if this would be considered out of order because we had just listened to speeches in favor of a single candidate for half an hour. The candidate who had lost the coin toss and was being nominated second. In the end, that Committee member, Patrick Nelson, went to the podium and made a Point of Order, calling for us to move ahead with nominations. The Chair, to his credit, acknowledged the point of order (something that would not have been normal without quite a bit of yelling with the previous Chair), but dismissed it.
This led to a second Point of Order as the speeches dragged on from State Committeemember Michelle Winfield. To this, the Chair responded that these are invited Party dignitaries and what they say is their own choosing, it just so happened that all of them except Eric Adams chose to say “I endorse Kathy Hochul.” And here lay the issue, a potential loophole in our rules.
Now, it’s very unlikely the extra 1hr+ of speeches supporting Hochul changed anyone’s opinion. But given that, the whole ordeal is a demonstration of bad politics. It upset many people, it’s bad optics publicly, it’s not good for internal Party unity — a key theme of the day before, and it’s just unnecessary.
Either way, after over an hour, the speeches were done and we finally moved to nominations. There’s not much to say here other than:
Paul Nichols, the candidate who had not been allowed to speak at the breakfast, was nominated from the floor by two State Committeemembers from Manhattan who rose to prevent him from being removed from the ballot.
Tom Suozzi, who had spoken at the breakfast, withdrew from the race.
These actions ultimately created a slightly unexpected outcome to the voting.
State Committee members have weighted votes. The more people in your district who voted for Governor on the Democratic line, the more votes you get. That is, if Candidate A is running on both the Democratic and Working Family Party (WFP) lines, and your district votes for Candidate A on the WFP line, you get fewer votes than a district where people voted for the same candidate on the Democrat line. Likewise, if you have a lot of Republicans in your district who aren’t voting for Candidate A at all, you get a lot fewer votes. The logic here being that this creates an incentive for Democratic State Committee members to encourage the voting for the Democratic Party.
The most important part is that districts that have a lot of Democrats (like NYC) have more votes than places with fewer Democrats. So, the percentage breakdown of the Convention is proportional to population, but not geography. Getting a few members from high voting parts of NYC can give you an outsized number of votes. For example, as a representative of Lower Manhattan, I had nearly 20,000 votes to cast while some people from upstate had hundreds.
Now that you know how the votes work, here’s how it broke down:
Jumaane Williams: 12%
Gov Kathy Hochul: 85%
Paul Nichols: 2%
In the end, the designated candidates from the 2022 Convention are:
Governor: Kathy Hochul
Lt. Governor: Brian Benjamin
Comptroller: Tom DiNapoli
Attorney General: Leticia James
Senator: Chuck Schumer
If you enjoyed this breakdown, please consider donating to my re-election campaign.
State Committee districts cover an entire Assembly District so there are a lot of voters to reach. My opponent has deep pockets and will likely use his own money to try and win the seat.
My goal is to raise $10,000, and I’d be incredibly grateful for any donation from $5 to $500 (or more, if you’re so inclined).
Thank you for reading!