Brooklyn Democratic Party Cuts Ties With Youth Arm After Year of Open Conflict

Brooklyn Democratic Party Cuts Ties With Youth Arm After Year of Open Conflict
Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte, who chairs the Brooklyn Democratic Party.

The ongoing battle between the Brooklyn Democratic Party and its official youth arm reached a new low last week, after party chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn declined to re-certify the charter of the Brooklyn Young Democrats (BYD).

The decision was the latest in a series of increasingly public conflicts between county party leadership and BYD, which has lately sided with reform-minded political clubs who say the party is insufficiently transparent and undemocratic.

Since its inception about a decade ago, BYD has been chartered by the New York State Young Democrats (NYSYD). But the renewal of the group’s charter, which occurs every two years, requires the submission of a one-page certification signed by the local county party chair.

In the past, the process has been a relatively uncontroversial, pro-forma one. But it became clear that this year would be different when, in a series of emails and phone calls throughout February and March, party leadership requested that BYD provide extensive information about its finances, political endorsements, and the contact information of its members.

While BYD provided much of the information requested in a 120-page document, it declined to share its membership’s phone numbers and addresses, saying the information was confidential and not required for recertification.

“As a lawyer, it’s inconceivable to me, as it is to the rest of our executive board, that we would share confidential information without our members’ explicit consent and approval thereof,” BYD Executive Vice-President Julia Elmaleh-Sachs wrote in a March email to Bichotte Hermelyn, who is also a state Assembly Member from Flatbush.

Bichotte Hermelyn evidently disagreed with that decision, because despite stating days earlier that she was “happy to move forward” with recertification, she circulated on March 13th a “de-recognition notice” stating she would “no longer recognize the Brooklyn Young Democrats as the official Young Democrats chapter of this county and prohibit the New York State Young Democrats from issuing it a Charter.”

The Brooklyn Young Democrats. (Image: BYD)

The decision prompted anger and frustration not only from BYD, but also from some of the city’s top elected officials, who saw the decision as a political one.

“Helping young people be engaged in politics is vital for sustaining democratic activism,” Scott Stringer, the city’s comptroller and a leading candidate for mayor, wrote on Twitter. “The Democratic Party isn’t a monolith — dissent and diversity of thought should be welcomed. It’s a shame that the Brooklyn Democratic Party refuses to accept that.”

The party responded by saying that “we cannot recertify an org. that doesn’t share their membership, rules, finances or policies, per the recertification rules.”

“We welcome diversity & dissent, but must follow the Party rules first and foremost.”

A party spokesperson told Bklyner via email that BYD “refused to provide information requested by the Chair on their recertification that would allow their group to be open to public review and inspection.”

“We cannot charter an organization that has not shared with us their membership, rules, finances or policies,” the spokesperson said. “The NYSYD collects the same credentials and roster from each chapter and this information is necessary to perform basic due diligence. We are all Democrats who should endeavor to work together.”

But BYD said such information had never been previously requested by the county chair, and that Bichotte Hermelyn did not have the authority to decertify the group.

“Attempting to cancel BYD’s charter is a divisive and retaliatory course of action that will have a harsh impact on the strength of the party,” the club said in a statement. “Chair Bichotte-Hermelyn’s decision will reverberate in Brooklyn and beyond for years to come.”

The statement said BYD would attempt to get the NYSYD’s approval of its charter without the Brooklyn party’s support.

Distrust between BYD and its parent party has been building since last March, when BYD President Christina Das and fellow member John Wasserman were removed from the June primary ballot as judicial delegates in what they called an act of retribution for pushing back against party leaders who had asked them to canvass during the pandemic.

Since then, BYD has largely sided with reform-focused political clubs like the New Kings Democrats (NKD), which has been deeply critical of the party’s leadership and helped organize two lawsuits over the party’s engagement with rank-and-file County Committee members during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, voices allied with the party have accused BYD of “nepotism and patronage” for their decision to endorse City Council candidate Doug Schneider while Das worked at a city agency run by Schneider’s wife, an allegation all involved have forcefully denied.

The concerns cut both ways: Bichotte Hermelyn recently endorsed Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams in his run for mayor, while her husband, Edu Hermelyn, is consulting on Adams’ campaign.

In any case, the party’s decision not to re-certify BYD makes clear that the divide between the reformers and the party establishment has not been bridged.

But if the current divide feels rooted in an of-the-moment fight over the future of the Democratic Party, it also has echoes of earlier battles. Brooklyn NAACP President L. Joy Williams similarly clashed with the county party when she managed an earlier iteration of the Brooklyn Young Democrats.

She urged the county party to reconsider its decision, warning that “these types of tactics don’t work. They become organizing tools against you.”

And as recently as last August, the Brooklyn GOP severed ties with its own youth arm over disagreements about then-president Donald Trump and the future of the party.

“I encourage the BK Young Dems to take this as a sign of liberation,” Joel Acevedo, president of the Brooklyn Young Republicans Club, told Bklyner. “To do what you think is right for Brooklyn without fear of a master hanging over you.”