The County Committee of the Democratic Party of the County of New York held its biannual organizational meeting Thursday, electing its officers in a raucous 90 minutes amid hundreds of chanting and shouting county committee members. The highly structured organizational meeting was in reality rather disorganized, with a lengthy delay to the start and mid-meeting disputes as the organizers were pressed to follow the party’s rules.
The main focus was on the selection of county committee chair, as Nico Minerva ran for a fourth two year term with the support of committee leadership. He defeated three opponents, receiving 518 votes to Ben Yee’s 233 and Theo Chino’s 16 votes. Patrick Bobilin did not receive any votes. The Committee also elected Barry Weinberg as secretary, Kyle Ishmael as 1st vice chair, Louise Dankberg as 2nd vice chair, Kelmy Rodriquez as 3rd vice chair, Charlette Mimiasie as treasurer, Ny Whitaker as vice-treasurer and NYS Senator Robert Jackson as sergeant-at-arms.
The County Committee is composed of roughly 2,000 members elected by election district and it was this body that met and elected its officers. The Manhattan Democratic Party also has an executive committee, composed of the elected district leaders and some of the county committee officers, which is the more powerful body. Former Assembly member Keith Wright is the “County Leader,” elected by the executive committee. Under the party rules the county leader is “the principal political, executive and administrative officer” of the county party. Wright was not running for election at this meeting, held to select only county committee and not executive committee officers, but the three candidates opposing his candidate were certainly challenging his power.
Party leaders struggled to comply with the party rules, beginning with difficulty in establishing a quorum, and with a poorly functioning sound system. The meeting was delayed nearly 30 minutes from its scheduled 7:00 p.m. start, while facing a fixed 9:00 p.m. ending based on the rental arrangements for the gym. The meeting concluded before 9:00 p.m., so the delay did not force a shortening of the meeting, but that was not a certainty as the meeting began.
Once it got going the meeting featured two distinct sets of trouble. First was the organizers failure to comply with significant items in procedures and party rules and the objections by nominees that forced compliance. Second was the decidedly personal nature of one nominee’s criticism of another nominee.
On the organizers failures, they first refused to allow chair nominees to address the audience before the vote was held. The three non-incumbent nominees, Ben Yee, Theo Chino and Patrick Bobilin, immediately went out on the floor to demand speaking time. After discussions, and some confrontation, the meeting MC acknowledged that “we forgot” and each nominee was given two minutes to speak.
Those speeches produced the other trouble, an intensely personal conflict between chair nominees Patrick Bobilin and Ben Yee. Bobilin, speaking first, angrily criticized Yee on accusations of “harassment and stalking.” Terming it “shameful that he’s running” Bobilin made broad statements on supporting and believing victims, urging committee members to not vote for Yee. Yee, speaking next, cast Bobilin’s speech as a political attack, saying that he had been told that he would be publicly humiliated if he ran. Saying that the less said “about rumors and false claims the better” Yee then devoted his brief speech time to arguing for his election. Bobilin, who had returned to the bleachers, emerged as Yee spoke, shouting and headed towards Yee. He was physically restrained and returned to his seat. (There was no further physical confrontation between Bobilin and Yee during the meeting, despite frequent proximity.)
Voting was also problematic, as the meeting organizers first held a voice vote. With a loud crowd and substantial support for Ben Yee the voice vote was not unequivocally clear that Minerva won so organizers then asked for a modified voice vote, instead asking members to stand when their candidate’s name was called. Yee and Chino then demanded a roll call vote, as specifically provided for in the party rules. After extended discussion featuring a committee member showing the committee leaders the applicable rule provision a roll call vote was held, with district leaders in each Assembly district holding and recording such vote. District leaders then announced their district’s vote totals to the full audience.
Yee and Chino appeared to have a cooperative relationship, joining together on demanding the opportunity to speak and for a roll call vote, and Chino walked Yee around the gym for a congratulatory lap as the roll call vote was held. Both were candidates in the public advocate special election held in February, albeit with significantly different organizational abilities and results. Yee finished 8th in the field of 17 candidates on the ballot while Chino, an energetic idiosyncratic presence at many of the candidate forums, failed to petition onto the ballot.
As noted above Nico Minerva won the election with 518 votes to Ben Yee’s 233 and Theo Chino’s 16 votes. Patrick Bobilin did not receive any votes. One district included a vote for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as it announced its vote, but that vote was not included in the totals given to me by a committee officer after the meeting. (Note that Bronx resident Ocasio-Cortez is not a member of the Manhattan County Committee.)
Elected officials attending included Rep. Adriano Espaillat, NYS Senators Robert Jackson and Brian Benjamin, NYS Assembly Members Dick Gottfried, Inez Dickens, Yuh-Line Niou and Al Taylor and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Brewer was given a short speaking slot just before the meeting adjourned and Jackson spoke briefly upon his election as committee sergeant-at-arms. The other elected officials did not address the meeting.