A group of residents and activists in Queens, known as the New Reformers, are fighting for a more transparent political process in the Queens Democratic Party, but rather than sitting on the sidelines they are running for seats in hyper-local political positions and as district leaders, a volunteer political position that coordinates the party’s function, determines the borough’s party boss and local judges.
On Oct. 22, the New Reformers will have a launch party at the Cobblestone’s Pub in Forest Hills located at 117-18 Queens Blvd. to introduce guests to their candidates running for district leader, county committee and other hyper-local positions, according to one of its co-founders, Bright Limm.
“What we are trying to accomplish with the New Reformers is a transformation of the Democratic Party so that it is really small-d democratic, particularly in Queens,” said Limm. “The party has been very top-down for a very long time. So our goal is not taking issue with any one specific decision taken by the Democratic Party or who is making the decisions, but the way the decisions are made.”
The New Reformers seek to make policy decisions within the party more democratic and to hold political leaders accountable to the public, according to Limm.
“The process of endorsing candidates is a very silent affair,” Limm added. “There are not just 72 district leaders, but county committee leaders from 2,000 plus divisions, who are not invited to be in that process in any way.”
While district leaders have more political say in who gets endorsed for a primary, or gets elected to a judgeship, the county committee members are treated as “foot soldiers” in Queens and are expected to collect petition signatures for the endorsees that are chosen, according to Maria Kaufer, a candidate for District Leader Part 28a in Forest Hills.
“I went to a County Committee meeting, which is a very scripted thing that occurs once every two years and I was like ‘what, this is 15 minutes.’ We did nothing,” said Kaufer, a County Committee member in Forest Hills. “There is a state law that each major political party has to have a County Committee and you meet every two years after a primary election, and that’s it.”
There are people that would like to run for public office and serve their community at a grassroots level, but feel like the Queens County Party system is actively working against them before they even have the opportunity to file to run in a primary, according to Kaufer, who had to spend months educating herself about the County Committee before she became a member and had read the bylaws at least six times because they were opaque.
“The Queens District Attorney primary race showed to what length they were willing to go to make sure that their endorsed candidate wins,” said Kaufer. “The county lawyers were even willing to work pro bono to work against a challenger.”
Kaufer simply wants an open-playing field within the party that doesn’t favor the wealthy or those with political connections as the sole heirs to public office, according to the committee member who is a mother to a public-schooled high-schooler and is taking care of elderly parents.
“I want an open-system with people that really want to serve their neighbors and their communities,” said Kaufer. “I just want people to be able to do that without having such a higher bar compared to an incumbent who has name recognition. A good challenger with good ideas or different ideas should feel that they can run and that the process is fair.”
If elected as district leader, Kaufer wants to help make the party more accessible, engaging and functional in Forest Hills, Queens at large and throughout the state.
“There should be a working updated website for heaven’s sake,” said Kaufer, and on the County Committee level, she wants “more meetings, more engagement for voter registration, to make information on candidates and issues more readily available and have more robust debates. Trust the voters.”
Zachariah Boyer is another candidate supported by the New Reformers and he is running District Leader 36b in Astoria.
Limm, Kaufer and Boyer all take issue with politicians running not only taking public office, but also running for district leader, county committee, and sometimes judicial delegates positions at the same time.
“I see this consolidation of power happening,” said Boyer. “We’ve elected these City Council Members, Assembly Members and Senators and give them legislative power, but quite a few hold multiple seats of power besides being a paid elected official members.”
This makes it near impossible to hold politicians accountable to the public, according to Boyer, an LGBT-activist.
“It creates an environment where one person holds the power and that power should be with the average voter,” said Boyer. “They can use these other positions to remain in power even after they are term-limited out of office.”
Boyer feels this makes a democracy less healthy.
“We call ourselves a big tent and you think of a big open door, but the thing that I feel is that [the Queens Democratic Party] will open this door if you go along with some of the decisions we already made for you, and I don’t think that is right,” said Boyer. “I want to make sure that the decisions that are being made are by the people that are on the ballot, that polling sites don’t go down and if they do they get reported, that information is being disseminated to voters and that we are enabling everybody to participate.”