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Likely new Brooklyn Dems boss gets big bucks from groups her bills aid

January 16, 2020 Clifford Michel, THE CITY
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This story was originally published on Jan. 16 by THE CITY. 

Five years after she joined the state legislature, Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte is all but set to take over the cash-strapped Kings County Democratic Party.

And she’s bringing with her a campaign fundraising record unusually prolific for a junior lawmaker — fueled, in part, by donations from groups her bills have aided.

Bichotte pulled in more cash than all but one Brooklyn Assembly Democrat in the first half of 2019 — beating out 17 other lawmakers, many of them senior to her, with a haul of $112,095 in an off-election year.

Overall, Bichotte had $411,702 in her campaign coffers as of July. The party she’s expected to soon lead, meanwhile, has only $32,833.95 in the bank, state filings show.

Key to her numbers are entrepreneurs who benefit from her actions as chair of the Assembly’s minority- and women-owned business subcommittee. She’s also drawn support from anesthesiologists battling to preserve their place in the operating room and players in Brooklyn courthouses with a stake in the county Democrats’ nods for judgeships.

Bichotte, who would become the first woman to head a county Democratic party in the city, told THE CITY that repairing the group’s finances is essential — and she vowed to pursue “big donors and small donors.”

“I’d certainly like to raise money for the county to help our candidates, to help the Democratic Party,” said Bichotte, who became the first Haitian-American elected to the New York state legislature when she arrived in 2015.

“I’m very particular about making sure that the treasury is healthy for the purpose of helping out candidates and also getting more civilians more engaged and included in our processes,” she added.

Boon for biz

Bichotte has bulked up her own campaign finances while sponsoring bills that advance business interests of some donor groups.

The lawmaker — who represents Flatbush, Midwood and Ditmas Park in the 42nd Assembly District — has chaired the Assembly Subcommittee on Oversight of Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises, or MWBEs, since her first term in Albany.

“It involves economic development, construction, and infrastructure,” said Bichotte. “It involves working with people who aren’t used to working with minorities and women and bringing change to that.”

She sponsored a 2018 bill that would have eliminated a $3.5 million cap on the net worth of business owners who qualified for competitive bidding exemptions for state contracts — a potential boon to some entrepreneurs.

After Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed that bill, Bichotte successfully came back with a $15 million cap — along with measures that allow MWBE firms to obtain city and state contracts of up to $500,000 without bidding, up from $200,000.

Bichotte’s campaign account is packed with donations from the principals of registered MWBEs, who gave about $20,000 at the time of a July 2019 fundraiser, just weeks after the measures passed.

The lawmaker dismissed the notion of a connection between their dollars and her actions. “I don’t ask people to come to my fundraisers or whatever,” Bichotte said. “They just want to help.”

Joycelyn Taylor, CEO of TaylorMade Contracting LLC and chair of the NYC MWBE alliance, told THE CITY that the changes were sorely needed to help the smallest MWBEs thrive by allowing them to more easily compete for bigger contracts without bidding and taking out loans.

“I think she’s doing incredible work as it relates to the MWBE community,” said Taylor of Bichotte. “The biggest challenge firms have don’t relate to doing the work. The issue is access to capital. The increase in discretionary contracts is a pretty big deal.”

Dollars from docs

Bichotte also has reaped sizable contributions from anesthesiologists and their association — and she says their support came only after she came to embrace their positions on her own.

In his January 2018 budget proposal, Cuomo sought to allow specially trained nurses to administer anesthesia, a measure that would save on Medicaid costs.

At a subsequent budget hearing, Bichotte warned of a “two-tiered care system … where the quality of anesthesia care will be determined by patients’ insurance.”

“I was discovered by these people,” she said of the anesthesiologists. “I was fighting for a bill. Against a bill initiative that the governor wanted…where they wanted to change the scope of work so nurses could do the same thing as an anesthesiologist without any supervision.”

Bichotte’s campaign that January had received a $1,000 donation from the NY Anesthesiologists Political Action Committee. She was the only assemblymember to get a contribution from the group during the six-month period that ended that month.

The PAC gave her committee another $6,900 in May and June of 2018, while the New York State Society of Anesthesiologists featured pictures from a Bichotte fundraiser in their newsletter that spring.

By the end of that election year, she had received a wave of contributions from individual anesthesiologists and in December 2018 was honored by their professional association as Public Servant of the Year. She brought attorney and Kings County Democratic Party powerhouse Frank Carone as her guest.

Photo: Rodneyse Bichotte/Facebook

Next to a photo posted to Facebook, Bichotte posed next to Society of Anesthesiologists lobbyist Robert Reid and called him “My friend Bob!”

The New York Society of Anesthesiologists did not respond to a request for comment.

Photo: Rodneyse Bichotte/Facebook

“They were like, ‘Hey we want to support you’ and whatever, whatever. And you know, they supported me,” said Bichotte.

“Did I go out to look for these people? No. There was just an issue and wow — there’s this person fighting for our issue,” she added.

In April 2019, Bichotte introduced a bill that would mandate an anesthesiologist physician be present when a nurse administers anesthesia — and allow only doctors to use the title “anesthesiologist.” That measure is still pending.

‘A generational change’

If elected Monday, in a likely unopposed vote, she’d be the first woman to lead a Democratic county organization in New York City.

The Kings County Democrats play a pivotal role in nominating judges who frequently run unopposed — a power reflected in contributions from judges, judicial candidates, court staff, attorneys and their family members in the assemblymember’s coffers.

Bichotte has been involved with the party since being elected district leader in 2010. She said she was inspired to run after seeing Haiti devastated by an earthquake that year.

Bichotte would take over the county committee from Frank Seddio, who’s chaired the party since 2012. Seddio consulted fellow executive committee members and elected officials and concluded that Bichotte was best equipped to succeed him.

“He wanted a generational change and Rodneyse is very smart, and has impressed people both in Brooklyn and Albany by her performance in office,” said Bob Liff, a party spokesperson.

This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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