No, Seriously: What’s a District Leader? (Pt. 3)

The last in our three-part 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. To see where District Leaders fit in the party structure, check out Chris’ awesome infographic. -Andrew

So in parts one and two we discussed what District Leaders are and what they do

Sounds Great!! How Do I Become a Democratic District Leader?

As stated above, elections are held every two years in September. To qualify you must:

  1. Be a resident of the Assembly District in which you plan to run. You DO NOT have to live in the specific leadership part, but you must live in the AD.
  2. Be a registered Democrat.
  3. Be either Male or Female depending which slot you plan to run for. This is admittedly quite weird. The idea is to promote gender equity. To my knowledge, no transgender person has ever tested this rule, though I’d love to see it done.

If you meet those metrics, you can petition your way onto the ballot and run. Manhattan District Leader spots are actually the most onerous petition requirements of any position in the state. You need 500 good signatures from registered Democrats in the Leadership Part. As this is a relatively small pool, it can be difficult. This is why almost all District Leaders are elected through the Democratic Club System. But it can be done without it. I was originally elected without club support – though I have now joined forces with the Downtown Independent Democrats. Petitioning takes place over a five-week period from early June through mid-July, and is a great campaigning opportunity.

Having successfully petitioned, you run a campaign. Develop a platform. Meet with your local clubs – even if you are not a member – and seek their support. Knock on doors. Make a website. Raise money and print material to distribute by hand or mail. If you raise money, you must register a candidate committee with the New York State Board of Elections Campaign Finance Unit and file reports (see mine here). This is easier than it sounds, and the people at the BoE are very helpful (even if their filing software is a user-unfriendly joke that was embarrassing when it was introduced 15-years ago and hasn’t been upgraded since). You are not required to file with the NYC Campaign Finance Board.

As stated above, most DLs have never run a contested race (uncontested races do not even appear on the ballot), so an energetic campaign can make a lot of headway even against a longtime incumbent. So, you get out there and run, count the votes in September, and hopefully win.

New York State had the lowest turnout in the nation this year. In large part this was due to a perception in the Democratic base that our party is run by a corrupt, unresponsive machine. Energetic District Leaders have a key role in changing this – and provide an important source of our next generation of elected leaders.