Brooklyn Democratic Party reformers walked out of Wednesday’s continued full membership Zoom meeting after a party-hired parliamentarian tossed out a slate of progressive reforms passed at last week’s infamous 13-hour gathering.
More than 100 Democrats left the meeting in protest after its seventh hour — or 20th hour including the meeting’s first iteration on Dec. 16 — claiming party bigwigs changed the rules of the meeting mid-game specifically to unravel last week’s reforms.
“Tonight’s meeting showed the lengths that the Party is willing to go to block these changes in order to maintain their power,” said Caitlin Kawaguchi, a spokeswoman for the reform-oriented club New Kings Democrats. “With no way to engage, and the Party showing their true intentions of deliberate disenfranchisement, County Committee members walked out.”
Several members voiced their despair on social media via the hashtag #CCMeeting2020, including one Democrat who previously sued the party for its gender restrictions for hyper-local office.
“I ran for County Committee and was denied because of my gender, I ran for secretary because it is the lowest seat that a transgender person can be elected into,” wrote Derek Gaskill. “But Party leadership made that impossible by blocking a fair process. After 20 hours, I’m walking out.”
Party chair and outgoing Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright presided over the meeting after her predecessor and building trade group honcho Carlo Scissura abruptly stepped down Monday.
Progressives, chiefly NKD, were able to pass an array of key progressive victories last week, including a first ever limit on the controversial proxy vote system, after outnumbering party allies during that meeting.
But those gains came undone when registered parliamentarian Rob Robinson — whom the party hired to manage the second meeting on Dec. 23 – seized on the freshly-passed Robert’s Rules of Order to declare the additions violated an earlier judge’s order and a clause of the party’s own rules.
“I know it was 2:25 in the morning and everybody was ready to log off, but you cannot violate your own rules by adopting a motion that goes against your rules,” Robinson said.
Robinson argued the late-night motion didn’t comply with Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Edgar Walker’s Dec. 10 order, which was focused on nullifying thousands of illegal appointments the party’s executive committee made earlier this month.
Justice Walker’s order stated that the party needed to fill those vacancies during the full county committee meeting, and Robinson argued that this had to be the first order of business, not the second item after electing officers as proposed by the reformers.
The parliamentarian also said that last week’s vote violated party rules which state that no motions or resolutions requiring a vote could be held during the “unfinished business” or “new business” sections of the meeting.
Because all of the progressive additions were packaged together, Robinson claimed none of them would remain in effect, meaning the party reverted to its old rules.
The parliamentarian’s blow to progressives came after hours of delays and clashes between party leaders and reformer politicians reminiscent of last week’s long meeting and the Dems’ in-person gatherings pre-pandemic.
At the beginning of the meeting, Marine Park District Leader Lori Maslow put forth the first motion to adopt Robert’s Rules for the meeting, which progressives immediately feared would be used by the party to undo last week’s resolutions.
“My feeling is that this vote to adopt Robert’s Rules will turn out to be a way go back and nullify that previous vote,” said County Committee Member Anthony Melone.
Party boss and Flatbush Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte countered that they were simply trying to have a structured meeting and that they were following an earlier push by progressives to adopt Robert’s Rules.
“This is not tyranny, this is not dictatorship, this is what everybody asked for,” Bichotte said. “We are trying to get through this meeting in a structured, efficient, and lawful way.”
The previous progressive reforms did already include Robert’s Rules, but not for effect until after the adjournment of Wednesday’s meeting, and Kawaguchi, of NKD, said earlier concerns were confirmed when Robinson immediately used the rules to undo last week’s gains.
“The Party’s parliamentarian claiming that the omnibus motion was out of order was just another tactic to prevent a fair meeting — as they changed the rules and process mid-meeting,” she said.
However, Robinson maintained that he was a neutral party and not biased toward reformers or party allies.
“I am not in the New Kings [Democrats], I am not in County, I am not in any of these political organizations, I don’t have a dog in the fight,” he said.
The rules regulator added that he received threatening messages to his personal email account during the meeting, which he forwarded to police.
“I want to be very clear about this, do not threaten me, I’m here to do a job as a professional,” Robinson said. “You are Democrats. You’re supposed to be about the process and about fairness, this is not the way that you do that and I’m not going to accept that.”
Similarly to last week, the count for that first vote took several hours with party leaders and their hired Long Island-based accountants Grassi and Company disappearing from the Zoom call for some four hours before returning with the results, which showed that the motion to adopt Robert’s Rules was passed with more than 55 percent, or 1,192 votes.
A rep for Grassi blamed the lag on using voting data from last week’s meeting which didn’t mesh well with this week’s count.
“We’ve encountered issues with that model with the votes that we had today,” said Jim O’Brien. “We’ve taken the time to fix those problems and one thing for sure is we want to verify that we’re getting the votes counted properly and unfortunately that’s taken longer than we expected.”
Like last week, many politicos demanded to see the raw data that produced those numbers, but Wright declined to provide those until after the end of the meeting.
O’Brien and the party leaders repeatedly maintained that the accounting firm was an independent “third party.”
But state campaign finance filings from the last 10 years show that the firm has donated thousands to political races and political action committees, including at least $7,000 to Republicans and almost another $7,000 to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, both Democrats, which one county committee member said made them unfit for the job.
“Check out who is ‘verifying’ the vote count at @BkDemocrats’s meeting. It’s corporate real estate lobbyists, the people who gave us the Trump presidency. They are really trying to steal our democracy right now,” tweeted Sunset Parker Jorge Muñiz-Reyes.
A spokeswoman for the party did not respond to a request for comment regarding Grassi’s political spending.
After the walk-out, Wright continued with the meeting filling vacancies for uncontested county committee seats and holding elections for contested positions, including officer roles, and a vote on two separate rule proposals from Aaron Maslow and Mariana Alexander.
Wright adjourned the meeting around 1:40 am, after a combined 26 hours, and said the accountants would circulate the results of the elections to party members Thursday morning.
This story first appeared on our sister publication brooklynpaper.com.