The will leave a power vacuum in the Democratic Party.
It's not an "if" Lopez will be out as Brooklyn's County Leader, it's a "when." In a nutshell, Democrats want to keep sexual harrasser Lopez in the Party leadership as much as Republicans embrace "legitimate rape" expert and Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin. (Did you notice how quickly Christine Quinn abandoned her former patron?)
Questions surrounding Mr. Lopez's relationships with problem-plagued non-profits and politically-connected and overpaid administrators were expected to plague Lopez's future. It was complaints made by interns, however, that ended up doing to Lopez what tax evasion did to Al Capone. All of his paranoid leadership style and legislative power could not protect Lopez from himself. He should salvage some honor and resign as County Leader now -- and resign from the Assembly as well. We owe our thanks to the two women who stepped forward -- it could not have been easy and they were courageous.
So, now what?
Brooklyn's Democrats are faced with another golden opportunity -- an opportunity to redefine the Party's role in local elections and, more importantly, an opportunity to redefine the Party's relationship with public policy. These opportunities have come and gone in the past, but we live in the Obama/Cuomo/Schneiderman age now, so let's have HOPE and pursue CHANGE.
Whatever changes will take place, however, they won't all happen overnight so let's start with easier steps:
1. The King is dead. Long live the Queen! The next County Leader in Kings County should be a woman. There hasn't been one, folks. Just as Clarence Thomas made 1992 a groundbreaking year for women in politics, Vito Lopez can do the same for 2012. Personally, I have a favorite candidate in mind, but it's not fair to name names at this point in time.
If a current female State Committee member is not selected, however, then let's find someone else with the gravitas and open-minded political perspective to take the position. Maybe a retired Judge would be appropriate; it worked for baseball back in the day.
2. The Executive Committee needs to be representative of the Democratic voters. The Executive Committee currently includes 42 elected State Committee members (one male, one female elected per Assembly District) and 11 at-large members appointed by the County Leader. The at-large members were created and imposed upon the Executive Committee by County Leader Lopez. Lopez claimed to want to increase the diversity of the Executive Committee (he did add an Asian staff member to the Committee) but he really wanted to ensure that he would always have the votes he needed to do what he wanted.
At-large appointees need to be terminated immediately, and the By-Laws amended to prevent such a power grab from happening in the future. To take actions, therefore, a majority vote would be 22 -- not the 27 votes presently needed. (This is not to see that all actions should be decided by a simple majority, however. Countywide endorsements, for example, should require a higher threshhold.)
3. The Executive Committee should start a multi-phase implementation of standards for its own operations (such as transparent finances) AND minimum performance standards for party and public officeholders in Kings County.
Let's be real trendsetters. After all, evaluations and "report cards" seem to be the order of the day.
In the case of party officials, such standards could include bi-annual new voter registration goals, bi-annual re-registration goals, and adherence to Countywide endorsements. In the case of public officials, such standards could include attendance, number of votes cast, amount of legislation authored and/or sponsored, voting record on issues that the County has taken a position on, etc. For the Democratic Party itself, let's have a professional Executive Director -- someone who is held accountable to performance standards as well.
Let's give the voters something to talk about -- and be proud of.
4. The Executive Committee should implement progressive policies -- policies, for example, that ...
(a) aggressively discourage individuals from holding both public and party offices -- a practice that suppresses participation at the "club" level and limits the pool of good-quality Democratic workers and officeholders;
(b) aggressively discourage candidates from serving in the same office for more than a set number of years (whether or not formal term limits are adopted); and
(c) establish a more decentralized and merit-based judicial nomination system. (Relatives of Party officials should not have the inside track on judicial nominations -- or exclusive access to judicial staff appointments. The best people, relatives or not, should always be nominated or selected.)
These steps -- and others -- can create a foundation for a new morning in Brooklyn -- the nation's second-largest Democratic county.
The two challenges facing the Party are the alienation of new voters (an increase in the percentage of non-enrolled voters, for example), and the tension between winning elections and governing well. Both of these issues will be dealt with in more detail at a later time.
Let me be clear about one thing, however. To protect the Democratic Party's true mission here in Brooklyn and in New York State, I don't have a problem with writing off social conservatives who are really right-wing Republicans -- or worse. If you oppress women, discriminate against people different from you, and pursue ridiculously selfish public policies, we really don't need you -- and we certainly can't trust you. The tent just ain't big enough for that level of disagreement.
Bottom line ... I don't believe Brooklyn Democrats should be losing potential new members (such as young people or people moving here from outside New York) simply because we are perceived as corrupt, inefficient -- or visionless. And we shouldn't gain members for those reasons, either.
So let's start the changes now!