Queens County Committee members call for transparency in letter to Meeks

U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, the new chairperson of the Queens County Democratic Committee.  Eagle  file photo by Andy Katz

U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, the new chairperson of the Queens County Democratic Committee. Eagle file photo by Andy Katz

By David Brand

[UPDATE 5:15 p.m. — Queens County Democratic Party Executive Director responded to request for comment]

A group of Queens County Democratic Committee members have submitted a letter to new party chairperson U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks outlining various reforms that would foster transparency and decentralize power in the influential, but at times insular, organization.

The group, known as the Queens County Committee for All, hand-delivered the letter to the party office in Forest Hills Thursday and posted the text on Medium. A party official told the Eagle that she scanned and sent the letter to Meeks in Washington, D.C.

The letter, signed by 43 County Committee members, contains a comprehensive “list of proposed constructive changes to the current procedures and activities” that they say will foster engagement and participation. Several county committee members say they have been excluded from party decision-making.

The reforms include abolishing primary endorsements; limiting district leaders to five consecutive terms; mandating that all leaders, committee members and executive committee members live in Queens; and preventing elected officials or lobbyists from serving as district leaders or committee members. At least 15 current lawmakers — like State Sen. Michael Gianaris, Assemblymember Ron Kim and Councilmember Francisco Moya —currently serve as district leaders, according to a list of district leaders posted on the party website. There are 72 total district leaders.

“[I]t is our belief that the Democratic County Committee of Queens County should be a democratic, transparent, inclusive, accountable, and accessible organization,” the letter states.

The Queens County Committee for All specifically called on Meeks and party leadership to “create a robust screening system that results in multiple candidates and competitive elections” for judicial candidates who are traditionally tapped by party leadership and voted on by district leaders.

The group also proposes abolishing primary endorsements, an opaque process decided by the executive committee, which includes 72 district leaders and 10 at-large seats selected by the party executives.

Several county committee members bristled when party leadership endorsed Borough President Melinda Katz for district attorney and Assemblymember Danny O’Donnell for New York City public advocate without their knowledge or involvement. The endorsements were announced at a morning meeting inside a restaurant.

County Committee member Peter Beadle, who signed the letter to Meeks, told the Eagle in February that he was “deeply disappointed” that district leaders did not consult County Democratic Committee members before voting on designations for district attorney and public advocate.

“This isn't about the worthiness of the individuals, but the continued failure of County Leadership to be transparent in its actions, and to function as a truly democratic organization,” Beadle said in February. “There should be no endorsements in primaries, regardless of what the party's bylaws might allow. The very purpose of a primary is for party members to have their voices heard on who they want. It is a deeply flawed system when party leadership puts their thumb on the scale in this way.”

County Committee member Melissa Bair of AD 30 signed the letter and said she would like to meet with the Executive Committee to discuss the issues she and her peers outlined.

“We recognize the list is long, but none of the requests are unreasonable,” Bair said. “We wrote and sent this letter and made it available to the public mainly because we value transparency. It's really that simple.”

Queens County Democratic Party Executive Director Michael Reich said he was aware of the letter and that leadership would review it.

“We listen to everybody and it will be presented to the chairman,” Reich said. “We’ll see if there’s anything in there that can make the party stronger.”

“Some of it doesn’t make sense,” he continued, citing term limits as an example. “I don’t know what you do with that. Elected office has them but party rules are something else.”

“You’re talking about jobs that have no salary. It’s hard enough to get county committee people to participate and then you tell them they can only run a couple terms.”

Meeks did not immediately provide comment when reached by the Eagle. His office took a message and this story will be updated to include his responses.