I am the first in my family to graduate from law school and the first to be a political activist in the United States.
Unfortunately, I am certainly not the first woman of color to be slandered and have my qualifications called into question by those who are afraid of my voice.
Last week, on the heels of passing the NYS Bar Exam, I was the subject of a hit piece by a disreputable local blogger, Stephen Witt of Kings County Politics, whose evidence-free attack on my character, and that of a distinguished public servant, Commissioner Joni Kletter, was picked up by the New York Post on Saturday.
In short, these articles alleged that I received a one-year post-graduate fellowship at the city’s Office of Administrative Trials & Hearings (OATH) in exchange for the Brooklyn Young Democrats (BYD), for which I serve as President, endorsing City Council candidate Doug Schneider, the husband of Commissioner Kletter.
This story, while obviously preposterous to anyone with a pulse on progressive organizing in Brooklyn, appeals to a certain cynicism New Yorkers have about politics and city government. It also undeniably appeals to popular but sexist assumptions about whether women are qualified to serve in the public roles that they do.
But the facts simply do not support the “patronage” narrative.
Like most law school graduates, I entered an historically tough job market while preparing for the bar exam. I applied to numerous jobs and fellowships. I was fortunate to receive my current fellowship at OATH, and I am proud of the fact that despite my earned professional relationships (for men, this is called “networking”) the process was entirely above board. I submitted to three interviews by Law Clerks, ALJs and Special Counsel; and at no point was provided with any special advantage.
Neither Witt nor the Post article could identify any actual impropriety. That isn’t surprising, as there simply was none. I was hired because I was qualified. In addition to graduating magna cum laude from CUNY Law School, I had previously interned at the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund and the New York State Attorney General’s Office. While Witt and the Post couldn’t be bothered to investigate OATH’s hiring process, each took space to note my boyfriend as if to demean my credentials.
It is true Schneider received BYD’s endorsement last week – following a lengthy general membership meeting at which all the major candidates in the race had a chance to make their case to our members. Like all BYD members, I had one vote in the process – which was conducted by secret ballot through a secure online system that I made sure was inaccessible to me. Cognizant of my connection to Doug, I had my VP, Julia Elmaleh-Sachs, Esq. moderate the 39th Council District race. This can all be viewed online on the BYD Facebook page.
Yet, I must be honest: these attacks have been traumatic. I entered public service – and, yes, politics – because I was determined to make my community and city a better place. As the daughter of Indian immigrants, and a first-generation American, I was raised to be fair – it was the only chance a working class kid had to succeed. I have no interest in being another machine operative who trades favors.
But these smears will not stop me, and it won’t stop the countless other women who are taking their rightful place at the table. We have waited far too long, and have endured too much, to give up now.
I can’t say for sure who dropped the bread crumbs leading to this misleading story, but I am almost certain it is connected to my public and vocal support for reforming the Brooklyn Democratic Party, an institution that claims unity and yet has resisted change for far too long.
Just this past June, BYD helped elect three reform-minded District Leaders to the party’s governing executive committee. As president, I publicly seconded progressive reforms for greater transparency and accountability opposed by the party leadership.
BYD is the official youth arm of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, and so you can imagine my “betrayal” has ruffled more than a few feathers.
My message to the people attempting to erase my work is simple: I am not going anywhere. Anyone who knows me will see these lies as part of the smear campaign that they are; and many, many more people will know me soon enough.
Christina Das, Esq., is a Flatbush-based community organizer and County -Committee Member. This op-ed expresses only her opinions and not that of her employer.