In a primary election that saw few upsets, races for the committee that ran the Brooklyn Democratic Party were an exception: Insurgents and independents gained ground in races for district leaders, an unpaid but potentially powerful seat.
Candidates who lost included the husband of county party chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, who could now see her continued leadership challenged.
The insurgents, led by “Brooklyn Can’t Wait,” a coalition of progressive political clubs, picked up five district leader seats, for a total of 16.
Meanwhile, Bichotte Hermelyn, who also serves as a state Assembly member, saw her allied district leaders shrink from 26 to 22 out of the 44 seats — despite hardball tactics that included recruiting two new members representing just four residents on a houseboat in Red Hook.
The results raise the possibility that Bichotte Hermelyn could be topped by the insurgents and independents who now make up half of the county party’s controlling body.
Bichotte Hermelyn’s power as party boss relies on keeping the majority of the party’s executive committee on her side. That committee is made up of 44 elected district leaders, unpaid party executives who represent their neighborhoods in organizational meetings for two-year terms.
The district leader job is often a springboard to higher office. District leaders recommend poll workers to the city Board of Elections, and they oversee the nomination of judges at an annual judicial convention — an event that will take place next week.
“The victories of so many Brooklyn Can’t Wait candidates show that voters want more from our local party,” said Tony Melone, a spokesperson for the coalition formed by New Kings Democrats and nine other organizations. “These new leaders won’t just rubber-stamp the boss’s decisions, they’ll listen to their communities and build a party that works for all of us.”
Following an election marred by allegations of dirty tactics benefiting party-backed candidates that have led to calls for a probe by Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez,
Bichotte Hermelyn struck a note of conciliation in a statement sent to THE CITY on Wednesday morning.
“The Democratic voters have spoken and now it is time for us to unify,” Bichotte Hermelyn said. “We have a lot of work to do, starting with next week’s judicial convention and then the August congressional and state senate primaries, as we prepare to fight against an increasingly right-wing Republican party still enthralled with the former president and his attempt to overturn a free and fair election.”
She added: “After all our family fights, we are one party.”
Two jobs lost
The most notable establishment loss came close to home for Bichotte Hermelyn. Her husband, Edu Hermelyn, got trounced in his first bid to retain the Crown Heights and Prospect Lefferts Garden district leader seat she had helped appoint him to in 2020 — losing to New Kings Democrats-backed candidate Akel Williams.
This was after Edu Hermelyn chose to give up a $190,000 appointment to the administration of Mayor Eric Adams earlier this year — rather than the unpaid party position — after THE CITY raised questions in connection with a decades-old rule that bars management-level municipal workers from also holding political posts.
In a phone call late on primary night, Williams, an airline cargo agent, described his surprise showing as a victory against the kind of backdoor dealmaking that has defined Brooklyn politics for generations.
“The people of the 43rd Assembly District understood that something is inherently wrong when someone gives up a $190,000 job, an appointment by the mayor of the City of New York, for an unpaid, free position,” he said.
A number of other candidates for open party seats lost despite receiving significant backing from establishment leaders, including Renee Collymore — who was endorsed by Adams — and Esther Debbie Louis, the sister of City Council member Farah Louis.
Collymore and Louis had been among the county-backed candidates whom Bichotte Hermelyn allowed to assign poll workers — over the protests of already-elected district leaders who had the power yanked away.
Louis falsely portrayed herself as an incumbent district leader in official campaign communications, though she was only a candidate.
Even still, a number of close races ended up going the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s way.
In the 48th Assembly District, which includes Borough Park, City Hall operative Pinchas “Pinny” Ringel ousted incumbent district leader David Schwartz, after Schwartz backed entrepreneur Andrew Yang for mayor last year over Adams in the Democratic primary.
Ringel received considerable support from both the party apparatus and from the Adams administration — including a visit to a fundraiser last week by Adams.
Hermelyn, Ringel and Schwartz didn’t respond to messages left seeking comment.
Other establishment-backed incumbents and candidates won comfortably or with no competition at all.
In East Flatbush, veteran State Sen. Kevin Parker picked up an open district leader seat after party leaders encouraged him to jump in the race. He bested Nickolas A. Perry, the son of the US ambassador to Jamaica and former state Assembly member at odds with Bichotte Hermelyn.
In a district covering parts of Bushwick and Cypress Hills, Arleny Alvarado-McCalla — a Bichotte-Hermelyn ally who faced accusations she urged residents to volunteers for her campaign in exchange for paid poll worker assignments — beat her New Kings Democrats opponent, securing about two – Thirds of the vote.
Speaking to THE CITY Tuesday evening as polls were closing, Alvarado-McCalla said she had had good reception from voters. Asked about her priorities for the party office, Alvarado-McCalla did not go into specifics.
“The same one that it has been since I was first elected the first time, my community as a whole,” she said. “That’s basically it.”
Lenny and Mariya Markh also won, after agreeing to run for the specially carved out district representing the four houseboat residents.
The Markhs do not live in that district, a redistricting year allowance, but their votes — which will grow the executive committee from 42 to 44 come September — could prove critical to Bichotte Hermelyn’s continued grip on power.
Beyond the district leader races, the party establishment also suffered a loss in Brooklyn’s one competitive judicial race: The party’s endorsed candidate for civil court judge, Philip Grant, was defeated by insurgent attorney Pat Hayes Torres.
“Tonight’s result is a victory for Brooklyn,” Hayes Torres said in a text on Tuesday night. “A new judge that was not supported by the Democratic machine will be placed on the bench with no allegiances to the party politics.”
Grant, who was also endorsed by a number of prominently progressive elected officials, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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