New Kings Democrats’ mission is to bring more transparency, accountability, and inclusionary democracy to the Democratic Party in Brooklyn. But what does that mean and why does that matter? On December 4, NKD members and visitors participated in a Vision Project workshop that asked Brooklynites to think through that very question.
NKD wants Brooklyn to be home to a vibrant local democracy where residents are engaged in the political process and leaders govern in a representative way. Elected officials should work to achieve smart public policy that is responsive to Brooklyn’s everyday concerns and stand up for the values that unite us. We need a governance system that solves problems: ends poverty and housing displacement, provides a solid basic education, healthcare, and a solution to the climate crisis. An engaged public would hold those leaders accountable when they fail.
Currently, this is not what’s happening. There is an acute discrepancy between the core concerns of Brooklynites and the actions of our leaders. Our voting laws are restrictive and voter turnout is as low as our incumbency is high. Brooklyn is facing a slow-burning crisis of leadership and civic engagement.
There are many ways to improve political representation. Some activists focus on increasing voter registration, some volunteer for worthy political campaigns, and others push issues-driven pieces of legislation. NKD believes that a responsive and competent Democratic Party is a means to a better future. Why?
- The Kings County Democratic Committee (KCDC) is the ground floor of the Democratic Party in Brooklyn. It is supposed to be both representative of and accountable to Brooklyn Democrats, while simultaneously shaping Democratic political leadership - a political party is precisely the place where communities can come together to articulate and achieve common goals.
- KCDC has the structure already in place to be comprised of and accountable to the grassroots through its core body: a 4,000-person-strong Committee, with representation in every Assembly District and potentially every Election District in the county.
- KCDC is an enduring institution with a New York State mandate, and in a county where 72% of registered voters are Democrats, the Party has a large constituency.
KCDC, the largest Democratic organization in the country, should be the preeminent Democratic organization in the Country. It should produce ambitious leaders and policy agendas that serve as examples of a healthy democracy both locally and nationally. If not Brooklyn, where?
KCDC could be doing more to create that vibrant democracy and accountable leadership the Borough needs. It could:
Build bridges between communities: For all its diversity, Brooklyn is highly segregated. The majority of Brooklynites that can vote, however, belong to the same Democratic Party. The Party is something that could unite us, that could build understanding and awareness between communities so that when we go to the ballot box we are considering not just our needs but those of our neighbors as well.
Build up the grassroots infrastructure in the Party: The “County” -- the party’s leaders -- should be encouraging participation in the County Committee. It should focus on neighborhoods where KCDC engagement has been historically low. It should schedule and run KCDC meetings in such a way that its membership can actually participate (like announcing the agenda in advance, allowing debate before important votes, and having microphones throughout the crowd).
Activate Brooklyn voters: The Party is well placed to run coordinated voter registration drives and GOTV efforts during campaign season. It could be a forceful advocate for less restrictive voting and registration laws in our state and city, and could insist upon more accountability and transparency at the Board of Elections.
Provide impartial assistance to the next generation of Brooklyn leaders: The Party should be breaking down the barriers to running for office at all levels and working to create non-traditional paths to office.
Encourage electoral competition in Brooklyn: The Party should be encouraging, not discouraging, electoral competition in Brooklyn. Democracy requires voters to have a genuine choice when they show up to vote on primary day. Primaries are expensive but produce stronger and more accountable politicians.
Develop policy platforms: Policy platforms would help guide and coordinate Brooklyn’s legislators in City Hall and in Albany and help amplify our borough’s voice. The Party should develop these platforms in consultation with residents and community-based organizations. They should focus on issues relevant to Brooklynites such as housing displacement, healthcare, education, criminal justice, and voting rights.
Increase transparency in the judicial nominating process: KCDC should be working to take politics out of the process for electing judges by opening up and supporting competitive judicial screening processes.
Ensure its own house is in order: KCDC cannot create or sustain a functioning democracy if it does not follow its own rules. KCDC should hold its members and elected leaders to high ethical standards, taking public action against those who abuse their office or violate rules.
NKD is encouraged that the Party’s current leadership has stated that it welcomes participation in KCDC, that reforms have been made to how the party operates to make it more transparent, and the leadership the Party showed in supporting Andrew Gounardes’ successful campaign in Senate District 22. But there is more work to do.
NKD doesn’t represent every corner of this borough and that is why we are asking the Party to step up and lead, to do what one political club, or many political clubs in coordination, cannot do. What we are asking of the Brooklyn Democratic Party is not revolutionary - our vision speaks to the very reason political parties were established to begin with: to organize individuals with a shared vision of a better future so as to achieve that future through representative government.