Richmond County Committee Can’t Change if it’s Run by an Elected Official
By Nicole Negron and Roxanne Mustafa
In New York State, the Democratic County Committee is the most local level of Democratic Party governance. Its responsibilities include establishing the party platform, endorsing Democratic candidates and selecting the party’s nominee in special elections, and determining the party’s budget. The Committee’s decisions determine how effectively the party operates and represents local members of the party. Here on Staten Island, where hundreds of committee seats have been sitting vacant, effectively ceding control to those in power, a movement by community leaders, organizers, and residents is pushing for a more representative, diverse and open Democratic County Committee.
On April 23, the Staten Island Democratic Party Chair, John Gulino, announced that he would not be seeking reelection this July. This vacancy is an opportunity to strengthen Staten Island’s Democratic Party by selecting party leaders through a truly democratic process that reflects principles of accountability and transparency, and resists corruption and abuse of power. We believe that to achieve this, the party should select a leader who is not an elected official or beholden to an elected official.
1. Selecting an elected official as County Committee Chair would be a dangerous consolidation of power, as well as a conflict of interest.
To achieve a County Committee that reflects the diverse voices of the local Democratic voters, the Chairperson must make decisions based on the interests of all members of the party, and build a broad coalition of Democrats under one tent. Having an elected official serving as chair would inherently put a thumb on the scale towards an official’s own political agenda, and threaten to thwart the voices of the broader community.
2. Public service and “party bossing” serve incompatible goals.
An elected public official is tasked with serving all constituents, regardless of political affiliation. A party chair’s mission is to benefit the local party and achieve electoral wins for their own party exclusively. Neither goal can be zealously pursued without some sacrifice to the other.
3. Elected officials now, more than ever, need to focus on the jobs we elected them to do.
In City Hall, Albany, and Washington DC, transformational legislation is being put forth at a breakneck pace. We are counting on our electeds to rescue our economy, infrastructure, education, healthcare, and civil protections. The issues affecting constituents’ lives require the full attention of our elected officials. We can’t afford for our public servants to have an additional full time job at our expense.
On June 25, 2019, Primary Election Day, droves of community members from all over Staten Island came out to vote for their neighbors for County Committee seats, District Leaders and Judicial delegates. Reform efforts in other boroughs have recently resulted in more representative county committees, with increased membership and collaborative leadership. Here on Staten Island, we are on the cusp of an exciting time for Democrats. After 12 years of unchecked party control in Richmond County, electing a principled leader, clear of conflicts of interest, will be a major step towards making our County Committee more accountable, accessible, and representative of our Democratic community.
Nicole Negron and Roxanne Mustafa are lead organizers for Staten Island Women who March, a local grassroots group dedicated to advancing the issues of women and other under-represented communities on Staten Island.