Queens Democratic Party endorses CM Donovan Richards in contested process

Max Parrott/QNS

Queens County Party leaders appealed for party unity, while reform-minded members protested for inter-party reforms at the Queens County Democratic Party headquarters in Forest Hills on Monday morning.

The party leadership made a late-notice call for a meeting of its district leaders on Dec. 30 where they pushed the officials to endorse Councilman Donovan Richards for borough president in the special election expected to take place in March. 

The officials voted to approve the endorsement for Richards over the din of chanting from a group of reform-minded progressives, who organized a press conference outside the building to protest an endorsement process that they say does not reflect the wishes of the party’s rank and file. 

The groups outside — the New Reformers and Queen County Committee For All — both committed to reforming the positions of district leader and county commissioner, demanded that the party stop the practice of endorsing candidates, period.

Before the vote took place, the Party Chair and Congressman Gregory Meeks first presented Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman, who conceded her campaign for borough president. Meeks then invited Richards on to the stage, who delivered a speech thanking the district leaders for their support.

“I want to thank each and everyone of you for your encouragement and I want to continue to grow,” said Richards, who would be the first African-American to take on the role of Queens borough president if elected.

Meeks explained that he thought it necessary to make an endorsement now in order to meet the 10-day window to get petitions after Mayor de Blasio announces the special election. Election lawyers expect the petition process to go from Jan. 2 to 13 and the special election to happen on March 24.

“It’s important for us — in this nonpartisan election — to try to get behind someone. To get those petitions done. To knock on doors. That’s what the democratic process is all about,” said Meeks.

In his speech, Richards addressed the criticism of the protesters outside that district leaders are not doing enough to listen to the political leanings of their constituents when they divulge from those of the party leadership.

“In this room right here, people have demonized and said you are the establishment, and it’s not true,” said Richards, addressing the district leaders. “Yes, we want to ensure that we are giving olive branches to other folks but they have to want to work with us.”

Meeks put forth Richards’ name for nomination and asked if there were any other individuals the district leaders would like to nominate. 

One of the district leaders, former state Senator Hiram Monserrate, who was expelled from the Senate after a domestic violence conviction, raised a point of order about the voting process.

“Have any of the other candidates who are seeking a run for borough president been invited so that they can make their appeal also to this body?” Monserratte asked. 

Meeks responded that other candidates have indicated publicly they did not want the nomination. No one else was nominated, and the district leaders overwhelmingly voted to approve the endorsement.

Two other councilmen running for borough president against Richards, Jimmy Van Bramer and Costa Constantinides, both previously signed a pledge not to participate in the Queens Democratic Party’s endorsement process. Meeks said that former Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley had also indicated that she was not seeking the endorsement.

Speaking before the vote took place, Moumita Ahmed, one of the co-founders the New Reformers, said that any decision of the party under the circumstances of the meeting “may be legal but it cannot be legitimate.”

Ahmed organized the demonstration after she got a tip that the party would not only be endorsing a candidate for borough president at the meeting, but that it would be endorsing Vice President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election as well. Although Meeks did solicit district leaders who would want to be Biden delegates in the meeting, he did ask for a vote on the presidential election endorsement.

After the meeting, Nick Haby, a member of the New Reformers and candidate for district leader, who was protesting outside when the vote was taking place, criticized the outsized influence of Meeks’ preference on the vote for district leader. He also poked holes in the process, saying that the portion of the 72 district leaders who showed up for a rushed vote didn’t represent a rigorous enough effort to engage Queens voters.

“That’s not democracy,” said Haby. 

Asked how he came to favor Richards, Meeks claimed that he was informed by conversations he had the district leaders on their preferences.