Traditionally, when there is a vacancy at the Democratic District Leader level, the party relies on the co-leader to pick who fills it. The new District leader for the 50th Assembly District, which covers Greenpoint, Williamsburg, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and parts of Clinton Hill and Fort Greene, Kristina Naplatarski is about to make that process a lot more transparent.
The male leader position is currently vacant, the result of the incumbent Nick Rizzo not getting on the primary ballot due to an insufficient number of signatures. As soon as the primary results were in – about a month after the June primary – and it was clear that Naplatarski had ousted the incumbent of 36 years Linda Minucci, she knew she would need to fill the male district leader vacancy.
“I decided from the beginning that I did not want to decide this unilaterally,” Naplatarski told us. “I wanted to create as much of a process as possible. I think it’s a really important way to step away from the way that the party has long done things, which is just backroom decision making with very little community input. And I think that having community input and kind of looking at who is going to fill this seat will lead to a stronger candidate at the end of the day.”
In mid-July, she’d reached out to the Assembly District Committee (ADC) and said she’d like to work with them to design a process that was better than “pick anybody you want.” The new process for selecting the male district leader started by an email that was sent out to the entire county committee and assembly district, as well as a few folks who are not part of the county committee.
“What I’m really prioritizing here in terms of candidates is first and foremost a person of color, and also hopefully having someone who is able to speak to portions of the district that have long been underrepresented in local leadership,” she told us. The candidates have submitted a questionnaire, created by the leadership of the ADC, and tonight there will be a virtual community forum, where all county committee members and members of the public are welcome to tune in.
“It’s going to be an opportunity, really, for the candidates to expand upon their questionnaires, which will be publicized, and to talk about what they’re planning to bring to the role. There’s going to be questioning portion, and then candidates are going to be asked to leave. And it’s just going to be an internal discussion with me,” Naplatarski explained.
“I’m hoping that the group is able to advise me on the merits of each candidate and help to guide my decision because according to the rules, it’s still that I need to nominate this person, but really hoping I have input from the group and to really use that and guide the decision at the end of the day.”
“Before she’s even been sworn in, Kristina is already bringing a level of increased transparency to the Brooklyn Democratic Party,” Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez said of Naplatarski’s efforts. “Filling a vacancy is never easy, but by bringing the community into the process, Kristina is delivering on her campaign promise of being a transparent and collaborative decision-maker alongside constituents. This unprecedented commitment to local input and transparent decision-making will ensure that we have a strong and accountable choice for male District Leader in the 50th Assembly District.”
What kind of person is Naplatarski hoping to pick?
“I felt like there was a lot of untapped potential in the position, and I really see the district leader role as someone who is able to be a steward of the community and really a connector. We have a lot of volunteer work that goes on here. We have a lot of advocacy work around these really longstanding issues in north Brooklyn. And so I think the district leader position is very well positioned to be a facilitator of the work that’s happening on the ground,” she said. “I think that that civic education piece is something that is very helpful for people. Balancing those two – the community work and helping to create good channels and dialog between the residents and local elected is something that I’m very passionate about, and I just see it as being the perfect role for that.”
“First of all, I would like for it to be someone who has done work in the community, someone who has shown that they are dedicated to giving back and someone who has a track record of that,” someone who will use the role as a steward in the community, not just a party position, “and then lastly, I think someone who’s really in a line in the values that I’m hoping to bring to the Brooklyn Democratic Party – values like transparency, inclusion, accountability, and making that the party of an organization more engaging with its residents. And so it’s critical that someone sees it in that in that light as well and wants to pull the party closer than those values. ”
What is Naplatarski hoping to jointly accomplish with the incoming male district leader?
“I think we’re going to have to be extremely nimble and very just flexible in terms of responding to what the immediate needs of the community are coming out this pandemic and whatever is coming down the pike. But I think it’s really got to be someone who to that point is willing to keep their pulse on the community. So that means just constantly engaging with residents, constantly being out there, talking to folks, putting in work to make sure that they are communicating things to residents, taking things in, and working in response to that.”
We also have a lot of perennial issues here in North Brooklyn. We’ve got huge issues with environmental remediation and legacy toxins. So that’s one issue that is huge for me. And that’s not going anywhere. That is going to be a legacy that North Brooklyn is going to continue to deal with for a long time.
Affordable housing is another issue that’s key for me. And then fighting against reckless development practices, really. So I think that fits in with the affordable housing and saying, you know, north Brooklyn has taken a huge brunt of development, especially after the 2005 rezoning. How do we make sure that we are creating housing here in North Brooklyn and across the city that is truly affordable and meeting the needs of residents?
And then also that we have infrastructure that is responsive to residents’ needs. Why, for example, are the bike lanes across the city not contiguous? Where are our protected bike lanes? Things like that. I think it should be a person who is interested in those issues, and someone who’s really looking to help facilitate efforts to find concrete solutions to them. I know the community is putting in the work to doing that, so this has to be a person who is going to be at those community meetings with me, is going to help out and pitch in to move along those efforts as best as they can.”
What the newly-elected Female Democratic District Leader is doing is creating a better process – something she hopes that the party will do more work around and perfect going forward to fill vacancies.
“What we’re doing to fill this vacancy – it’s not as good as an election. And I’m not going to pretend for it to be,” Naplatarski said. While she thinks a district-wide election would be ideal, the reality is that “we’re probably not going to be able to do district-wide elections to fill vacancies. But we do need a better stopgap measure to make sure that we don’t end up in this position again and that we can long term move away from unilateral appointments in the parties.”
“This is the first time that someone is not going to be straight appointed to this position in this situation,” Councilmember Antonio Reynoso lauded, praising his staffer for laying down the groundwork. “Appointed not elected is backward. This is the beginning of a more transparent and democratic process.”
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