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Brooklyn Dems’ district leaders form Judiciary Committee

Will enhance engagement in judicial elections

February 8, 2023 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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The Brooklyn Democratic Party plays a pivotal role in the nominations, endorsements and eventual elections of New York State Supreme Court Justices, Civil Court, and Surrogate Judges. Both the Republican and Conservative parties in Brooklyn also have District Leaders, but Brooklyn is so heavily registered as a Democratic stronghold, the Brooklyn Dems currently “call the shots.” 

The party’s new Ad-Hoc Judiciary Committee, composed of five Brooklyn District Leaders, aims to positively transform the process; engaging the community at all levels in these vital elections that have a lasting impact on Brooklynites. 

Besides knowing that judicial candidates are highly-qualified Democrats, “voters typically have little sense of who these judges are on a personal level—how they’re involved in the community, and if they understand voters’ diverse cultural needs and challenges,” says Party Chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, who formed the Ad-Hoc Judiciary Committee. 

“Voters really want to know if an Assemblymember, Congressmember, or any lawmaker, understands their community. They want to ask questions, not just read qualifications—and we’re making that involvement the new standard with judicial candidates.”

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Courtesy of the Brooklyn Democratic Party

District Leaders: A Traditional, Vital Community Liaison

The new Ad-Hoc Judiciary Committee is “another step forward for more unity and community involvement,” says Bichotte Hermelyn, and is comprised of appointed Committee Chair Dana Rachlin (District Leader, 50th AD), and Committee Members Sarana Purcell (DL, 43rd AD), Jacqui Painter (DL, 51st AD), Kenesha Traynham-Cooper (DL, 56th AD), and Michael Boomer (DL, 57th AD).

Although there is a Judicial Screening Committee, this new committee adds another important layer to the judicial election process, says Sarana Purcell: “I look forward to working with my fellow Judiciary Committee Members to bring about greater awareness and education on the judicial selection process, so we can raise voters’ awareness and participation.”

District 56 District Leader Kenesha Cooper, committee member.
Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Democratic Party

Here’s a 101 on the process: 

This year, there are seven elections for vacancies on the state Supreme Court in Brooklyn and nine for open seats on the Civil Court bench. (State Supreme Court Justices serve 14-year terms, and Civil Court Judges are elected for 10-year terms.)

The party nominates judicial candidates in the primary elections (who are virtually guaranteed a win in the heavily blue borough) and endorses them.

The vetting process for nominee hopefuls is done through the party’s existing Judicial Screening Committee, composed of experts from the legal community. The Executive Committee, following party laws, only considers candidates greenlit by this Screening Committee for placement on the ballot.

“But just because you are approved by the screening panel does not mean you are going to get our endorsement,” Bichotte Hermelyn said. “We want to ensure that there’s a level of cultural competency.”  That’s where the District Leaders of the Judiciary Committee come in. 

District 51 District Leader Jacqui Painter, committee member.
Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Democratic Party

With community meetings, forums and questionnaires from voices of all the stakeholders that are most impacted by judicial proceedings and decisions, the Judiciary Committee ”will be implementing a process that allows community participation and is grounded in integrity and transparency, resulting in endorsements of candidates because of their merit, experience, and record,” said Rachlin. 

“Transparency and accountability is the key request from the community and the stakeholders of the Democratic Party. The Ad Hoc Committee is delivering that commitment and is excited to continue to share the committee’s progress,” said Boomer. 

“It’s not just about vetting judges; it’s allowing people to have their own voice.” 

So says Judiciary Committee Member Kenesha Traynham-Cooper, emphasizing that the Ad-Hoc Judiciary Committee goes far beyond its role in nominations: “We’re encouraging voters, making them more knowledgeable on the role judges play, allowing voters to meet judges and see their temperament. 

By getting our communities to start paying more attention, they’ll be more inclined to vote.”

This process also goes beyond the District Leaders in the Committee. “We’re going district by district, involving DLs from every corner of Brooklyn to get all involved. We’re slowly but surely educating the people as we go around Kings County.” 

District Leader for AD43, Sarana Purcell, committee member.
Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Democratic Party

Committee Members Undertaking Unique Initiatives for Community Involvement 

Traynham-Cooper, a leader of Bed-Stuy’s longstanding and Black-run Vanguard Independent Democratic Association (VIDA), is holding monthly young professional meet & greets “to get the younger generation educated and excited about politics.” 

Joining the effort to implement inclusion is fellow 56th AD DL Henry Butler, who is also Vice Chair of the Brooklyn Dems and President of VIDA. 

“We really vet these judges, and also bring them to our community, holding forums to let them tell their stories so we ensure they’re culturally competent,” Butler told us, proudly pointing to last summer, when the party nominated a historically-diverse slate of 12 justices, including an unprecedented seven Black women Justices. 

District Leader for AD50, Dana Rachlin, committee chair.
Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Democratic Party

For Assembly Districts across Brooklyn, “We’re going to translate who the candidates are and ‘what does it mean to be a judge?’” says Dana Rachlin, who is also the executive director of We Build the Block, a public safety reform organization she co-founded with the late esteemed actor and beloved Brooklynite Michael K. Williams.

Dana said she aims to emulate how We Build the Block bolsters engagement between political candidates and the communities they want to serve–providing opportunities for voters to ask candidates about the questions affecting their community (especially if they are tough questions, she emphasized).

The Judicial Committee’s first Community Forum is being held on Monday, February 13th, featuring Civil Court Candidates, with a live Q&A. The public can register for the virtual event here, and we encourage you to stay tuned for Brooklyn Eagle’s coverage and analysis of the forum.

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