The Facebook page is called “New York Democrats.” Its profile picture is an official-looking blue “D,” and its administrator posts multiple times per day, updating its roughly 1,800 followers on political events and legislators’ birthdays.
In late December, the page made an announcement:
“The New York Democrats facebook group proudly endorses Steven D. Patzer for candidate for city council District 47,” a post from December 27th said. The post highlighted Patzer’s community service during the coronavirus pandemic, and said “there wasn’t a grandma or grandpa in his district that was without a number to call when they were homebound.”
Patzer, who is looking to replace the term-limited Council Member Mark Treyger in the Coney Island Council seat, shared the post from his own Facebook account, calling the endorsement “a great start going into 2021. I was expecting to get this endorsement next year but in light of recent attacks about my loyalty to the Democratic party, they decided to endorse me now!”
But the website URL listed on the New York Democrats Facebook page goes to a dead link. And despite what it may seem, the page has no relationship to the Democratic Party.
Nevertheless, the confusion was apparently enough to prompt the real New York State Democratic Committee to send out a clarifying press release yesterday.
“The New York State Democratic Committee wants to be clear that it has not endorsed and does not endorse any candidate in the New York City Council races at this point in time,” the party’s press release said:
“Social media posts from Steven Patzer and any others indicating that they have our endorsement are inaccurate. No endorsements have been requested by any candidate and none have been granted by the NYS Democratic Committee.”
“The Facebook group that has identified themselves as ‘New York Democrats’ is illegitimate,” the statement continued. “It is not an authorized committee of the Party nor has it received permission to use our likeness and/or branding. We have contacted Facebook to have this group removed.”
A spokesperson for state Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte, chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, confirmed the local wing of the party had no affiliation with the page.
Shortly after the state party sent its press release, a new disclaimer appeared in description written on the New York Democrats Facebook page:
Patzer also added a disclaimer to his own post:
He said the Facebook page’s administrator approached him in December in the midst of criticism from Treyger, a political rival, about Patzer’s recent endorsement by former Sopranos star Steve Schirripa. Schirripa is originally from Bensonhurst but now lives in lower Manhattan, and in a Facebook post, Treyger called Schirripa “a major donor to the Republican Party” and “a celebrity Trump supporter from Manhattan.”
(Querying Schirripa’s name in New York State’s campaign finance database turns up one donation, a May 2017 contribution of $300 to Friends of Bo Deitl, then a Republican candidate for Mayor. In a 2018 conversation with Dietl, Schirripa seems to suggest actors should avoid getting too involved in politics, though he did also attend a 2013 fundraiser for Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota.)
Patzer said there was no evidence Schirripa was a Trump supporter, and that a photo of the actor and president together was taken in 2004, long before Trump ran for office. Nevertheless, looking to respond in a way that would shore up his Democratic bonafides, Patzer accepted the administrator’s offer for help.
“Mark Treyger was trying to basically say that I’m a Republican,” Patzer said.
He identified the Facebook page administrator as a man named Girshel Bartaia. “So this guy Girshel is in my office,” Patzer said. “It’s the first time I’m meeting him. He says ‘Steve, we’re just a Facebook page that wants to help.’ I said, I’m not going to turn it down, but I have to clearly label that you guys are just a Facebook page.”
Even so, several days after he shared the page’s endorsement, Patzer said he received a call from state Democratic Party chair Jay Jacobs, who asked him about the post.
“I said, ‘well this is a big misunderstanding,'” Patzer recalled. “And he said, ‘can you take the post down?’ And I said, ‘with all due respect, there’s nothing done wrong here. There’s a different name than you guys. A different website than you guys. And they don’t claim whatsoever to be a party.'”
That apparently was insufficient for Jacobs; the party sent out its press release a few days after the conversation.
The New York State Democratic Committee did not immediately respond to an email request for more information, and calls to the party’s phone number were directed to a full voicemail.
For his part, Bartaia also said he had no intent to deceive. In a direct message sent through the Facebook page, Bartaia wrote: “We’re not the state Democratic Party. We never claimed we were, nor were we ever contacted by the party or are part of political clubs. We are local Democrats getting together to chat online.”
“The pages, to us, are very different,” he said. “For instance, the logo and the name are not same. We also aren’t verified. We hope anyone coming to our page would read it and have conversations with us.”
Bartaia does not appear to have endorsed any other candidates for local races. And while his page’s posts often refer to “our” Democratic elected officials, Bartaia also makes comments unlikely to come from the state Democratic party, like suggesting Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez deserves “much higher office” and asking followers “On the scale 1-10 how much is Mayor Bill de Blasio‘s score?” (Responses ranged from 10 to “negative 1,000,000,000.”)
“I’ve always played it clean,” Patzer said. “I’ve always been upfront and honest. I have a track record of honesty, and I’m sticking to it.”