by Maxine Harrison Gallmon, Queens County Committee Member
During the Obama campaign for president, many of us became familiar with caucuses, e.g., the Iowa Caucuses. I surmised the Iowa Caucuses consisted of regular people who believe in actively participating in the selection process of their representatives. In Iowa, citizens come together to discuss the candidates and their records before they cast their votes.
NYS does not have an official structure that encourages caucusing but the NYS Democratic Party does have County Committee (CC) and District Leader (DL) positions. If more people knew about these positions, they could be an effective way of bringing more citizens into political discussions that would empower them. Although the Democratic Party has slightly different campaigning and voting policies in each state, throughout the United Stated the citizens are clustered into small groups of voters (approximately 500 people).
The geographic size of an electoral district (ED) varies with the density of the community. An ED with single-family homes can be a10 block square. In a large apartment complex, an ED might be three floors of the building. Regardless of the shape or size, in Queens County, each ED should have 2 male and 2 female representatives known as County Committee people. Please note that the number of representatives may be different if you live in a different county.
County Committee(CC) is the entry-level position in politics. It is a non-paid position that is crucial to the stability of the democratic process. The four (4) CC representatives in each ED should be the links that ensure that the District Leader and paid elected officials know the needs and wishes of the constituents. CC is the most powerful political secret.
The most important duty of CC members is to choose the Democratic Party’s nominee in special elections (special elections happens frequently since many of our elected officials are often removed from office to do stints in prison). Other duties are to choose local judicial candidates, to assist in creating the Democratic party platform, to organize their neighborhood and in general, to be the eyes and ears of their community (potholes, abandoned buildings, cleanliness, transportation needs, etc.). CC members are the “go to” people of the community; the liaison between the people of the community and the elected officials. Nothing should take place in your community without the knowledge of the members of the county committee.
Meetings should be held several times per year with the District Leader and county committee members of the entire district where the concerns of the communities are laid out to the District Leaders who then take those concerns to the state assembly and up the political chain.
In one Assembly District, there could be as many as 280 county committee members, with 4 district leaders presiding.
If this process works efficiently, “keeping our politicians accountable” would not just be rhetoric; “checks & balances” would be in place to assure that if an elected official is missing in action and/or is not carrying out the mandates of the community, the district leader and county committee members would “check” him or her and pass the word on to their neighbors to vote them out in the next election.
Right now, in many neighborhoods around the country, the county committee positions are non-functional. This is so for several reasons:
(1) the positions are filled by people who do not know they hold the seats (District Leaders run friends or acquaintances for the seats without their knowledge)
(2) the positions are filled by people who’ve passed away
(3) the community isn’t aware the position exists
(4) District Leaders hold another official elected seats such as State Assembly, City Council or a Congressional seat (which is the most important reason to highlight)
When an elected official holds a District Leader seat, it assures he or she will continue to hold that position, no matter how ineffective they are.
Presently, numerous county committee positions are non-functional or the members are not actively connected to their neighbors in their elected districts/community, so therefore they are unable to inform or mobilize the neighborhood as to whether the current elected official is best serving the community.
Bottom line, that elected official cannot be held accountable for his or her actions or inactions and their positions are never threatened.
I am led to believe that Community Boards have taken the place of CC’s. Elected officials can easily get their projects through the Community Boards because those positions are appointed and not elected. If they do not carry out the elected officials’ demands, they can easily be removed. Therefore, CC positions should never be appointed. Now, if County Committee members and District Leaders were well-represented in these meetings, the process would actually work quite well since Community Boards are believed to be where the people go to get their neighborhood issues addressed.
The process is very simple and elections take place every two (2) years. If only 4 people run for CC in their ED, the names will not show up on the ballot and those four people will automatically get the position. To best educate the community of this position, at least 6 or more people should campaign for this position. Having the names of your neighbors appear on the ballot ensures a conversation that raises awareness of the position and the electoral process.
In conclusion, I recently read a guest editorial by the creator of Kwanzaa and Professor and Chair of Africana Studies at my alma mater California State University, Long Beach. Dr. Maulana Karenga states: “we need to cultivate and demand leadership worthy of its claim; a leadership that is morally sensitive to the needs and aspirations of our diverse communities; that is sensitive to human suffering; and profoundly committed to the pursuit of justice… It will be a leadership not looking for back-patting approval or bankrupt ideas from the established order, but one which values the voice and vision of the people and struggles with them to achieve the conditions and means of a good life.