No, Seriously: What’s a District Leader? (Pt. 2)

Part two in a series of guest posts from Paul Newell, answering one of the weirder questions in NY politics. Paul ran for State Assembly in 2008, and is now a Democratic District Leader in lower Manhattan. Here’s the link to part one. To see where District Leaders fit in the party structure, check out Chris’ awesome infographic. -Andrew

Ok, But What Does a District Leader Actually Do?

Good question. The formal powers of a DL are very limited, so the role depends on what the specific DL chooses to make of it. I view the position primarily as a community organizing tool. It is a title that can be used to help build consensus at community meetings. Local media and grassroots groups regularly reach out to active DLs on community issues. Elected officials and administrators generally respond to inquiries from DLs promptly – enabling them to act as conduits to the community.

Now, many District Leaders view the role quite differently. In fact, most District Leaders in Manhattan do almost nothing at all – other than signing proxies for the monthly Executive Committee meetings. Most Manhattan DLs do not attend these meetings in person. Very few of them have ever faced a competitive election.

District Leaders also play a very important role in electing judges for the Civil, Supreme and Surrogate Courts. The Democratic Party’s nomination process is heavily influenced by District Leaders – and in Manhattan that is tantamount to election. If you become a District Leader, you will quickly find current and aspiring judges reaching out to you.

In addition to advocacy, the District Leader performs an essential role in our electoral process. Below is a list of a District Leader’s formal responsibilities.

  • Sits on the Executive Committee of the County Democratic Committee.
  • Hires poll workers and election inspectors for the primary elections every September and the general elections in November. (BTW, if anyone reading this is interested in working for the Board of Elections on election days, please contact me.)
  • Attends Democratic Party meetings and events on behalf of the district.
  • Listens to the residents of the district to learn what issues are affecting their quality of life, such as housing, employment, education, environment and crime.
  • Organizes meetings and events in the district to give community members a strong voice.
  • Works with the district’s city, state, and federal elected officials to insure that the voices of the community are heard.
  • Organizes opposition when elected officials or state/city agencies ignore local residents. (One of my favorite parts).
  • Provides support to elect good candidates to public office in the district
  • Is an information resource for the district’s voters in numerous ways including poll site locations, election results and general information about candidates
  • Is responsible for promoting Democratic turnout in general elections.

Tune in tomorrow for part three: “SOUNDS GREAT! HOW DO I BECOME A DISTRICT LEADER?”