Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte was selected as the new chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party Monday night, becoming the first woman to hold the position and the first black woman to lead a county party in New York City. She will succeed Frank Seddio, who held the position for seven years and presided over a decline in the organization’s financial strength and faced criticism of the party’s operations and lack of transparency.
“It’s a very humbling experience, obviously historic,” Bichotte told reporters. “And I’m really excited. I’m very happy to get the support of my district leaders.”
Bichotte has represented Flatbush, East Flatbush, Ditmas Park, and Midwood in the State Assembly since 2015, and was the first Haitian-American ever elected to the State Legislature.
In a speech to district leaders and spectators, she said that her priorities as chair would include rebuilding the organization’s treasury, increasing transparency, unifying the party, and cultivating a more “diverse” and “culturally competent” slate of judges.
“My goal is to ensure that our diverse party remains the most inclusive in the city and in the country,” Bichotte told the room. “The Democratic Party is a party of working people, and we will be the party of working people from every corner of the borough.”
Bichotte was Seddio’s handpicked successor and faced no opposition in being named county boss after fellow Assemblymember Walter Mosley withdrew from consideration last week.
The selection was performed behind closed doors at the Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club in Canarsie. Reporters and the public were barred from entering for most of the meeting. The vote among the borough’s 42 district leaders was 39 in favor and one abstention, with two not in attendance.
Seddio told reporters that the abstention was former Assemblymember Joan Millman, and the no-shows were Charles and Inez Barron, respectively an Assemblymember and Council Member from East New York.
“I think we’ve accomplished everything we wanted to accomplish,” Seddio said of his time as the chair. “My disappointment has been that despite our greatest efforts to accommodate the progressive movement in the party, no matter what we did or no matter how much we did, it was never enough in their eyes.”
Bichotte, Chair of the Assembly’s Subcommittee on Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises, is a prolific fundraiser, boasting $450,000 in her campaign war chest per January disclosures with the State Campaign Finance Board. The City notes that some of her money comes “from groups her bills have aided.”
In contrast, Seddio’s reign has coincided with a substantial decline in the party’s finances. In this month’s financial disclosure statement with the State Board of Elections, the party reported a balance of about $40,000, a far cry from the over $500,000 the party reported in its first disclosure after Seddio took over from his disgraced predecessor, the late former Assemblymember Vito Lopez.
Bichotte told reporters that she wants to rebuild the organization’s finances by establishing a finance committee (which she said has already met), having district leaders play a greater role in fundraising, and implementing an annual budget.
Seddio and the county machine have also faced criticism for such county practices as “proxy voting,” whereby county committee members can cede their votes to other members. Bichotte said that she was “very open” to reforming, but not eliminating, the proxy system, but said that specific reforms would have to be decided in subcommittee.
“We should continue to have proxies no matter what,” Bichotte said. “I do believe that we should. It’s just a matter of how we’re gonna continue to roll out the proxy votes.”
Though county bosses have less outright influence over elections than they once did, the Kings County machine still exercises substantial power by choosing nominees in judicial elections and in special elections for state legislative seats. The candidates for these positions are nominally chosen by the county committee writ large, but the party boss has an outsize role in the process, owing largely to proxy votes and typically non-competitive elections for delegates.
Bichotte’s historic ascendancy to the leadership position elicited reactions from the city’s political class.
“I’m so proud of history-maker Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte @AMBichotte for becoming chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party,” US Senator Chuck Schumer tweeted. “I look forward to continuing to work with her to fight for Brooklyn and for a more just America.”
“Congratulations to my Assemblymember and our newly elected Democratic county leader @AMBichotte,” Council Member Chaim Deutsch tweeted. “Assemblymember Bichotte’s devotion has long been an asset for our community, and I’m excited to share her with the entire borough!”
“White smoke billows from the chimney at 77 Conklin Avenue as my sister @AMBichotte is elected first woman to lead the Brooklyn Democratic Party,” tweeted Council Member Justin Brannan. “Congratulations to the new Queen of Kings.”
Thurston, of New Kings Democrats, also welcomed Bichotte’s selection.
“Assembly Member and District Leader Bichotte’s elevation to Chair is historic, and we’re looking forward to building on the progress we made with a Chair Seddio and working together to modernize the Brooklyn Democratic Party,” Thurston said in an email. “For too long, the Party has failed to seriously engage the thousands of people looking to get involved and make the Democratic Party a more productive organizing body that works on behalf of everyday Brooklynites. We hope this change in leadership is an opportunity to also make a change in that direction, and we’re looking forward to Chair Bichotte sharing her vision for the Party.”