Reforming the Brooklyn Party
County Committee Reform
The Kings County Democratic County Committee (“KCDCC,” or “County Committee”) is the organizing body of Brooklyn’s Democratic Party. With approximately 4,500 seats, this committee is meant to be representative of Brooklyn’s Democrats, with members from every neighborhood of the borough. It plays an important role in shaping Brooklyn’s political arena by nominating judges and candidates in special elections.
County Committee has failed to function as an engaging, deliberative, and representative body. Leadership of County Committee (“The Executive Committee”) has denied members substantial opportunities to debate or vote on Party business and to participate in functional standing committees, thus barring them from taking on a substantive role in the operation of their Party.
Currently, KCDCC does not comply with many of its own rules, especially those rules that would help the Committee function more transparently and inclusively. For example, the County website does not provide guidance on how to run for KCDCC and the required standing committees have not been formed. The Executive Committee frequently changes the KCDCC rules with no advance notice to members, making participation more difficult.
The Party should comply with its rules as adopted by the whole organizing body and filed with the State Board of Elections. The following platform lays out the ways in which New Kings Democrats (NKD) believes that KCDCC can adapt to function more democratically and accommodate Brooklyn Democrats’ interest in meaningful involvement.
For earlier versions of this platform see timeline. Adopted March 2023.
Table of Contents
- County Committee Meeting Announcements
- County Committee Meeting Operations
Engaged & inclusive membership
- Rules Amendments
- Party Leadership
- Eligibility for County Committee
- Gender Designated County Committee Seats
- Assembly District Committees (ADCs)
- Vacancy Nomination Process
- Standing Committees of the Executive Committee
- Financial Oversight
- Judicial Screening Committee
- Ethics Commission
Quorum: Quorum is the number of individuals required to be present in person or by proxy in order for the KCDCC to conduct business. Quorum cannot be so low that business can be conducted by a non-representative sample of KCDCC. On the other hand, quorum cannot be so high as to make it impossible for any business to be conducted at all.
- The Brooklyn Democratic Party’s current quorum requirement for official meetings - 450 members of a total County Committee membership of more than 4000 - appears to achieve a balance between representativeness and practicality. But under County rules the quorum can include absent members who are not participating in the meetings but have given proxy voting rights to party leaders. This is inconsistent with the standard practice for determining quorums in membership and legislative bodies (including at Democratic National Committee meetings), which counts only those members who are present and participating, either in person or by authorized virtual attendance.
- Going forward, proxy votes from non-participating members should no longer be used for the purpose of establishing a quorum for County Committee meetings, and no official business should be conducted without a quorum remaining present for the duration of the meeting, as defined in Robert’s Rules 40.6.
- To ensure equitable representation of Committee members from throughout the County, it is further recommended that the minimum quorum of 450 members also includes a majority of representation from Brooklyn’s Assembly Districts. This would be consistent with established practices in other Democratic Party County Committees.
Proxies: While members should make their best effort to attend all meetings, we recognize issues including accessibility, work schedules, and family responsibilities sometimes require a member to miss a meeting. Members should retain their right to a vote, even if they cannot physically come to a meeting. County Committee proxy voting has been abused to concentrate hundreds of votes in the hands of the Chair of the Executive Committee, and in the district leaders. Often, the Chair holds more votes than the entire number of members attending a meeting in person. The proxy form mailed to each member with the meeting notice defaults to the Chair unless the member designates otherwise. This needs reform as it serves to give the Party’s Executive Committee Chair disproportionate control over Party business and other matters being voted on.
- Party rules should be revised to limit how many proxy votes each KCDCC member can hold, limit the nature of proxies to the specific votes identifying the candidates and matters chosen in writing, and require filing and disclosure of proxies to all County Committee members before the meeting.
- Party leadership should notify members about any scheduled votes, prior to a meeting, with enough notice that proxy givers can provide voting instructions to their proxy holders.
- Party leadership should ensure all proxy holders are notified of how many proxies they have been designated at the outset of any County Committee meeting, and make known to the entire Committee how many votes will be ‘in person’ versus ‘by proxy’.
County Committee Meeting Announcements: KCDCC meetings are required to occur after notice to members by mail or telegram at least five days before the scheduled meeting date. A pre-distributed agenda is not required and little space exists for the KCDCC general membership to discuss the business of KCDCC. Rules changes introduced in 2022 created a new process for filing rules amendments and officer amendments without notice to and adoption by the County Committee, which appears to contravene New York State Election Law Section 2-114.2 requirements for notice to all members and a majority vote of the County Committee to adopt the rules.
- The Party should collect email [and phone] contact details for all County Committee members and reach out to members by these means. Members should be able to request receipt of written meeting notices by mail, but the default communication method should be email.
- Party Rules should be amended to require (1) notification to all County Committee members at least thirty days before a meeting takes place; (2) distribution of the agenda, including the meeting time, location, URL link, and log-in instructions, for any such meeting to all County Committee members at least five days before such meetings by email as well as posting of the same agenda on the KCDCC website; and (3) inclusion in the agenda of any declared candidates for Committee officer positions and the full text of any proposed resolutions, rule amendments, or other planned initiatives requiring a vote.
- All votes and all candidates running for officer positions should be announced prior to the meeting so members can make an informed decision.
- Any announcement of votes on rules amendments or resolutions should include the full text of the rule amendment or resolution.
- Meeting locations should be accessible by public transportation as well as including accommodations for visually impaired participants and closed captioning at such meetings.
- Meeting locations should be ADA-compliant and efforts should be made to ensure members of different languages and/or abilities can participate in meetings.
County Committee Meeting Operations: KCDCC meetings are required under County Committee by-laws to operate under Robert’s Rules of Order, but meetings typically proceed ad hoc, with little ability for members to be heard, make motions, or to ensure that the voting process is efficient and correctly tabulated and communicated in the course of the meeting. Rules changes introduced in 2021 and 2022 further limit public access as well as the ability of members to present rules amendments and bring resolutions before the KCDCC. Several changes are needed to have transparent, well-ordered, and functional meetings.
- The Chairperson of the Organizational meeting should be elected by the County Committee at the outset of the Organizational meeting.
- The Chairperson of the County Committee should be certified in Parliamentary Procedures, and if not, the Party should hire a neutral Parliamentarian to advise the Chairperson during County Committee meetings.
- The Chairperson should ensure all members can be heard during the meeting, when speaking within the rules of order.
- The Chairperson should ensure integrity in the voting process, including ensuring that all proxy votes are appropriately applied, that District Leaders have an opportunity to review the process prior to the Organizational Meeting, and that a record of any votes counted by electronic means are produced immediately after the meeting.
- The Chairperson should ensure that all resolutions properly submitted are brought to a vote, and Party rules should allow any member to bring a resolution before the County Committee.
- The Chairperson may also delegate the responsibilities outlined in the above bullet points to an Executive Director, if the Party employs one, but the Chairperson should hold ultimate responsibility.
- KCDCC meetings should include opportunities for ADCs and Standing Committees to report back to the rest of KCDCC.
- Party rules should be amended to require New Business be heard first, prior to any public policy discussion, at all KCDCC meetings except the Organizational Meeting, due to certain business, such as the Adoption of Rules and the election of the Organizational Meeting Chair, which should take place first at the Organizational Meeting.
- Party rules should be amended to restore the Adoption of Rules as the first item of business at the Organizational meeting.
- All County Committee meetings should be open to the public and the news media and follow the rules of the New York State ‘Open Meetings’ Law.
- County Committee meetings should be webcast (‘livestreamed’) on a channel or platform freely accessible to the public; video recordings of the meetings should be archived and made accessible for viewing through the KCDCC website. Executive Committee meetings should be administered in the same manner.
- The Party should archive and make available minutes as well as audio and video recording of all general membership meetings. Minutes should be distributed to all members by email.
- The Party should prescribe a second date and location in the Organizational meeting notice where any business not completed on the first meeting date will be addressed. If the meeting agenda is not completed, any continuation or adjournment of the meeting on a different day not prescribed in the original meeting notice should occur with the same standards of accessibility, in the evening or on a weekend, and be accomplished by a new notification to all County Committee members with at least five days notice, a new filing of proxies, and the continued establishment of a quorum otherwise consistent with the standards described herein.
Engaged & Inclusive Membership
Party Leadership: The Party's Executive Committee is currently composed of District Leaders and the officers of the KCDCC. The officers are elected by the KCDCC general membership. Because these officer positions have typically only been filled by District Leaders, rank and file KCDCC members have had no representation in Party Leadership. Additionally, KCDCC leadership has not mitigated conflicts of interest of its District Leaders.
- Elected officers of KCDCC should be filled at least in part by KCDCC members who are not District Leaders.
- KCDCC members running for one of the officer positions should be required to present what they consider to be their qualifications known to the entire KCDCC prior to a vote taking place. This change should occur after the proxy reforms mentioned above are implemented, so that the Chairperson of the Executive Committee is not able to hand-pick party officers.
- The Party rules should be amended to bar District Leaders and state committee-level members from simultaneously holding another elected office.
- The Party rules should be amended such that, if a vacancy occurs in a District Leader position, the Executive Committee cannot appoint a District Leader’s family member to fill that vacancy.
- The Party rules should be amended to require, where an Assembly District Committee has been organized, the Assembly District Committee should appoint interim District Leaders in the event of a vacancy due to resignation, death, or other reasons. In the absence of an organized Assembly District Committee, the Executive Committee may appoint an interim District Leader for the remainder of the term in consultation with County Committee members from the Assembly District.
- Any interim District Leader must be a member in good standing of the County Committee from the pertinent Assembly District. Members of families or households of anyone in the Executive Committee are not eligible for such interim appointments.
Rules Amendments: Currently, the Party’s rules allow for the Party’s Executive Committee (i.e. the District Leaders) to adopt changes to the Party’s rules without input from the larger KCDCC membership. This gives them undue control over the general membership.
- The Party rules should be amended to require that any proposed changes to the KCDCC rules can only be adopted by a majority vote of the full County Committee membership. Proposals for rules changes should first be presented in writing to the Rules Committee, which can then provide its recommendation on the proposal before the vote at the County Committee. This change should occur after the proxy reforms mentioned above are implemented.
- The Rules Committee is authorized to revise any such proposal before their report is prepared, provided it is with the consent of the County Committee Member who submitted the proposal.
- The members of the Rules Committee should include members of the County Committee who are not members of the Executive Committee.
Eligibility for County Committee: NKD has encountered many incidents of candidates “running” or being appointed to KCDCC without their knowledge—making it unlikely that they would ever engage as representatives of their community within the County Committee.
- Every candidate for County Committee, who either appears on a petition or appointment list for a KCDCC seat should know and provide verified written consent to running or being appointed and should be aware of the responsibilities of the position.
- The Party should maintain a clear and accessible list of filled seats and vacancies on its website.
- There should be a clear and public process for challenging individual memberships on the grounds that verified written consent was not provided.
Gender Designated County Committee Seats: Previously, County Committee seats in each Election District were divided equally between “male” and “female”. This precluded Democrats who do not identify as either male or female from running for a seat and put unnecessary restrictions on how many people of one gender can run in the same election district.
- This goal was achieved in 2021, when the gender designation of County Committee seats was eliminated, opening all seats to people of all genders.
Assembly District Committees (ADCs): KCDCC’s capacity to function as a grassroots organization is limited because ADCs have not been established in most Assembly Districts. These Committees perform important functions such as filling vacancies in special elections and can provide members an opportunity to organize for the Party within their district. In 2022, the KCDCC Rules were amended to limit the ability of ADCs to organize.
- As required by the rules, District Leaders should convene ADCs in every Assembly District and meet regularly. Party rules should be amended to restore the ability of ADCs to fill vacancies in the County Committee by appointments and to meet prior to the Organizational meeting.
- If District Leaders are unwilling or unable to organize an ADC in their district, the Executive Committee Chairperson, in consultation with County Committee members from the Assembly District, must convene an ADC in that district within ninety days of the Organizational meeting and must notify and clearly invite with adequate notice all KCDCC members in that district who wish to participate.
- ADCs should be convened through either of the two means outlined above within 60 days of the primary at which the County Committee members are elected.
Vacancy Nomination Process: Representative democracy is a fundamental component of the American system of government. Undermining voters’ opportunity to choose their representatives distances voters from the policymakers who can shape daily life. When Democratic Party leaders unilaterally anoint candidates without the participation of voters, the whole system of lawmaking suffers. As such, New Kings Democrats support a reform of the Party’s system of filling vacancies to the greatest extent permitted by law.
- In the event a primary election is unfeasible, the nomination of the Democratic candidate for all vacant public offices in all political subdivisions that include any part of Kings County should require a vote of the County Committee.
- If the public office is County-wide, the Party’s nominee should be chosen through a majority vote of the County Committee in whole, rather than the Executive Committee.
- Notices for any special meeting of the County Committee to nominate a Democratic candidate for public office should be simple and must include the complete names and addresses of all potential nominees.
- The County Committee’s endorsement by majority vote of the Democratic nominee for public office should bind the KCDCC to endorse the County Committee’s selected nominee.
- Members newly appointed to fill vacancies in the County Committee are allowed to vote at any subsequent meetings for the remainder of their term. Standard rules for notice of meeting time, place, and agenda should apply.
For an outline detailing how the County Committee rules should change to accommodate a more democratic vacancy nomination process, please see our page here.
Standing Committees of the Executive Committee: These committees are advisory and consider issues such as upcoming elections, fundraising, and legislation. KCDCC’s capacity to function as an effective, responsive political party is hampered by the fact that most of its 15 standing committees have not been convened in some time, despite the KCDCC rules mandating their existence. The Rules Committee, which has most often been convened, is not open to general membership. Under current rules, leaders of standing committees are selected by the Chair of the Executive Committee.
- A County Committee member should be able to propose the establishment of a Standing Committee at any KCDCC meeting (not just at the organizational meeting). This change should be accompanied by a rules amendment, whereby the County Committee elects the Chairs of the Standing Committees, instead of Chairs being appointed by the Chair of the Executive Committee per current practice.
- The Rules Committee has the duty to construe the KCDCC Rules whenever a question as to their interpretation shall be referred to it by the Executive Committee to ensure that the intent and purpose of these Rules shall be fully achieved. This Committee should issue a report to the Executive Committee, containing the outcome of each rules interpretation, within 30 days of referral.
Financial Oversight: The Party’s Treasurer is required to post quarterly financial statements on the KCDCC website - this requirement has almost never been met. The level of detail in financial statements should sufficiently make clear the nature of the Party’s expenditures. In particular, there is a sizable “housekeeping” account that does not classify expenditures by type.
- The Party’s financial statements should contain a meaningful level of detail so that Party donors, KCDCC members, and Brooklyn Democrats as a whole can form a clear view of Party finances.
- The Finance Committee should be convened and its purview should be expanded to oversight over KCDCC expenditures, in addition to KCDCC fundraising.
- The Party should fully disclose the sources of its funding. Specifically, the Principals of any private entity, including Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) and Political Action Committees (PACs), that have donated to KCDCC should be identified and disclosed.
Judicial Screening Committee: The Party convenes a Judicial Screening Committee each election cycle to assess the qualifications of judicial candidates. The Party’s Executive Committee may only endorse candidates that are deemed qualified by the screening panel. The Judicial Screening Committee is one part of a larger, flawed process, which urgently needs reform.
- The rules of the Judicial Screening Committee should be integrated into the KCDCC rules (they currently exist in a separate document). The Chair of the Judicial Screening Committee should be elected by the County Committee, and the Executive Committee should regularly review the Judicial Screening Committee rules. Such Judicial Screening Committee rules should also be posted on the KCDCC website.
- On an annual basis, the Chair of the Judicial Screening Committee should present a report detailing the age, race, gender, and geographic diversity of its members for the most recent cycle.
- The Party rules should be amended so meetings where the Executive Committee discusses the endorsement of judicial candidates are mandated to be public, with notice given to all members of the KCDCC.
Ethics Commission: The KCDCC rules contain an approximately 30-year old “Code of Ethics,” (the Code) which is copied from the New York State Democratic Committee’s “Ethics Code.” While this Code provides for an Ethics Commission and includes language referencing integrity and inclusionary democracy, there is no enforcement mechanism for violations of the Code, nor are there any policies or standards for administering the County Committee. The following reforms should be implemented to enhance the Code:
- The Code should be amended to to include standards and policies for the County Committee itself, as a body, including commitments to both physical and online public access to meetings, and full and prompt disclosure on its website of KCDCC membership, meeting records, finances, and endorsements.
- The language in the Statement of Principles counterbalancing restrictions on abuses of political positions with avoiding creation of “unnecessary barriers to party service” should be removed.
- The Ethics Commission should issue an annual report of its decisions to the County Committee, including the number of complaints received, and statistics about how many complaints resulted in convictions.
- A permanent standing committee on Ethics should be established and charged with revising the Code to reflect the above reforms.