Brooklyn Focus: Fighting Corruption in Brooklyn
This was our third County Committee meeting. The first was when Joy was already overdue with Jacob. We had kind of hoped she would go into labor right then and there and disrupt the script. That would have been especially satisfying because it would have disrupted former Party Boss Clarence Norman's last hurrah before he went to prison. But Jacob debut came days later, so he didn't manage to upsatge Clarence Norman. That first meeting was also our entry into the insurgency as we saw what a farce it was, nothing more than a rubber stamp to the Party Boss's power with no real democracy as part of the Democratic Party in Brooklyn. The highlight was Ken Diamondstone's efforts to expose the farce for what it was. Diamondstone's efforts were ineffective, but they were both entertaining and illustrative. Sometimes the only way to fight a farce is with farce.
This year was far more exciting. First off, it seems Marty Connor was given HIS last hurrah this year. Connor, a long-time incumbent, was defeated by upstart Daniel Squadron. Remember as you read this that I endorsed Marty Connor against Squadron. Marty Connor was chosen this year to be the emcee of Vito Lopez's farce. Meanwhile, many Squadron supporters were there and quickly joined the insurgency against Vito's Farce. I endorsed Marty Connor for ideological reasons. But if Squadron is going to help bring down Vito Lopez, well, I'm listening. This also makes me wonder if my holding Squadron's connection with sleaze monger Michael Tobman against Squadron was wrong. Tobman seems to be Vito's latest lackey while Squadron's supporters seem to be Vito's latest irritation.
Joy and I were part of the old reform insurgency that has mildly disrupted the Party Script before. Interestingly, it was Charles Barron who began the disruption this year. Now I am no fan of Charles Barron's, but when he gets it right he has quite a knack of saying it just right. I believe "farce," "travesty," and "insult" were among the words he used to describe Vito's Farce. He got some loud applause from people who normally would not side with him.
New Kings Democrats were also there. This was an outgrowth of the Brooklyn Obama campaign, though it seemed to me that they also were something of a force for Squadron at least unofficially. Their goal is to democraticize the process in Brooklyn at least in part by electing people to County Committee. This was their first entry into County Committee and they quickly realized the script didn't include them, that Marty's running of the proceedings was biased towards the Party Boss, and that they had every intention of digging in and fighting the machine.
So at this point Vito had three vocal factions, completely disorganized, of course, but all disrupting Vito's Farce. These included the old reform movement (which is generally ineffective but did help defeat Vito in two Surrogate Court races and the Adler/Cohen Civil Court race), Charles Barron, and an organization inspireed by Obama and Squadron. Disorganized, but with considerable potential to damage the machine.
There also seemed a clear dispute over who would represent some EDs in another Assembly district and I was not clear on who was opposing the machine slate...but it was also clear that Marty Connor basically allowed the machine slate to push aside the insurgent slate.
Afterwards, Vito Lopez looked grim. Of course he never really looks happy. But I suspect that this was the first time he seriously felt his grip slipping on Brooklyn. And I suspect that Obama and Squadron's ground troops almost certainly were the most frightening to Lopez because they represent emerging forces nationally and statewide. I suspect that the state level party is getting a bit sick of Vito Lopez who, as far as I am aware, never carries out Democratic voter registration, never seriously helps a campaign defeat a Republican (in fact discourages challenges to Republicans) and is constantly dogged by charges of corruption and investigations. And remember that Vito has been losing for some time. Margarita Lopez-Torres won a very close election for Surrogate judge. That was a big loss for Vito since Surrogate Judge was one of Vito's biggest plums to give to supporters. Then he lost the SECOND Surrogate Judge seat to Diane Johnson (ironically his candidate against Margarita Lopez-Torres). This year he lost the 1st Civil Court race where he and Brooklyn's own Karl Rove, Michael Tobman, ran an expensive and nasty smear campaign on behalf of Roger Adler against Devin Cohen...and Cohen won. So Vito's power is shrinking already and now several new groups are joining the fray against him.
More battles are to come. The Vito Lopez/Michael Tobman sleaze team that was behind the failed and expensive Adler run are reportedly eying at least two city council races, including my own district (Yassky's seat). Defeating the sleaze team yet again will be my main goal next year. And I am sure we will have more Vito Lopez backed judicial candidates like the homophobic Noach Dear (who never practiced law in his life yet was muscled in by Vito into a judicial spot with the help of people like Marty Markowitz and Dominic Recchia).
But the real question, and one I am frequently asked by machine supporters, is who will replace Vito Lopez? Of course the best answer would be "no one" because what we need is a real reform of the whole system where party bosses aren't able to lord it over Brooklyn like a personal political fiefdom. But unless voters really get organized and reject the sleazier people like Vito Lopez and Marty Markowitz, reform may just have to start with a future party boss. Can that happen? It wouldn't be unprecedented, but it could happen. I had once thought the reform of Los Angeles politics could be a model for Brooklyn reform, but my friend who specializes in the history of progressive politics in California explained that reform happened in Los Angeles because the developers turned against the machine and favored reform. Hard to imagine THAT happening here in Brooklyn, particularly since some of the biggest backers of the likes of Lopez and Markowitz are developers.
But the election of Daniel Squadron tells us one thing. Incumbents aren't as secure as they once were. Problem is, it takes tons of money to defeat them. I have been saying there is a new force in NYC politics, or maybe not so new so much as maturing: The Schumer Clan. Will it become a Schumer machine? Will it favor reform or merely its own form of machine domination? Squadron isn't the first of the Schumer clan to win office, of course. But he was a major blow to the establishment in NYC. Adler's loss was a more minor blow, but a blow none the less. And that establishment in Brooklyn had already suffered several blows by losing both Surrogate Court seats. And now Charles Barron seems in on the insurgency. Vito Lopez is losing, slowly but surely. The question is, who will win?