Party politics is complicated and people throw terms around like state committeeman, district leader, party club, and county committee and almost no one knows what they all mean. Over the last week or so, I’ve been working to decode the tea leaves and come to grips with all the various layers of the Democratic Party here in the city and the state.
The start of the confusion is that there are many different “districts” that every voter belongs to. Lets go through the types of districts that are important to Democratic party structure from biggest to smallest, starting with the Assembly District. As a disclaimer, I am only sure of this structure in Manhattan. The state committee is the same everywhere, but district leader can mean different things in different Boroughs, and certainly the structure does not translate well to different parts of the state which can have assembly districts spanning multiple counties, town committees, etc.
State Assembly Districts
Each voter is in an assembly district, and each assembly district (shockingly!) elects a member of the state assembly, the New York State equivalent of the House of Representatives. There are 12 assembly districts that are within New York County (a.k.a. Manhattan), numbered from 64 to 75. After the 2000 Census, each assembly district contained about 126,510 people. Obviously that has changed over time, and the districts will be redrawn soon after the upcoming census. Every assembly district is represented in the New York State Democratic Committee (the state-level governing body of the Democratic Party) by two Democratic State Committee members: one male and one female.
Executive Districts (Assembly District “Parts”)
In certain counties within New York City, each assembly district is broken down into “parts.” In these counties, each assembly district can have between two and four parts. Unlike assembly districts, these parts need not be contiguous, but are always within the same assembly district. Each part is presented by two elected District Leaders: one male and one female. District Leaders serve on the Executive Committee of their County Democratic Committee, and are more or less the NYC analog to Democratic chairmen of cities/towns/villages outside the five boroughs. Local Clubs, which often exist within one assembly district, can represent more than one Assembly District Part.
Election districts (sometimes called “EDs” by people who spend time on campaigns) are the smallest and most basic district type, and they are the building blocks out of which all the larger district types are constructed. The ED is made up of all the people who are assigned to vote on a particular voting machine (certain large EDs may have two voting machines, but you get the point). A typical ED has between 400 to 800 registered voters and never more than 1,000. Each ED can be directly represented on its County Democratic Committee by two (or sometimes up to four) county committee members.
We’re represented by various Democratic committees, that correspond to each of the districts above. Let’s go through them from biggest to smallest.
New York State Democratic Committee
This is the official arm of the Democratic party in New York State. According to Wikipedia: “The New York State Democratic Committee was established in 1792 by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. It is reportedly the longest-enduring political party in the world.” You can read their rules here. The New York State Democratic Committee has several functions: They elect members to the Democratic National Committee (DNC), elect the party chair and other officers, and nominate people for state-wide public office. Also, at the party’s State Convention a certain number of committee people need to vote for a statewide candidate for them to be on the primary ballot without having to go through an arduous petition process.
Elections to Democratic State Committee are held in even years, and are often uncontested. The positions are usually current or former district leaders, active members of local Democratic Clubs, or politician’s hand-picked people. The President of the New York State Young Democrats serves on the executive committee of the State Committee.
A list of New York County’s (Manhattan’s) State Committee members can be found here.
New York County Democratic Committee
All of the members of the county committee elected from all the election districts in Manhattan make up the New York County Democratic Committee. It is the largest county party in the state and has the largest weighted vote at conventions of the state Democratic party (10.03 percent). You can see the results of last year’s elections to these positions here and read the rules here. As you can see there are a lot of vacant seats, which is why MYD ran the Open Seat Project last year and got so many young democrats elected to County Committee. The county party endorses candidates, even in primaries, and also elects the county officers. More importantly, the County Committee selects the Democratic Nominee in certain special elections within the county (Assembly, State Senate, and Congress).
Manhattan Committee members are elected to two-year terms. Manhattan and Staten Island are elected in odd-numbered years. Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx are elected in even-numbered years.
County Executive Committee
The District Leaders, along with the elected officers of the county Democratic committee, make up the County Executive Committee. A list of Manhattan’s District Leaders can be found here.
Local Democratic Clubs
Political clubs are exactly what they sound like–local clubs that help get Democrats (often their own members) elected to various political offices. They are generally organized within individual assembly districts (or even executive districts), and to be an “official” club they have to have a district leader as a member. Sometimes there are several clubs that have overlapping areas and clubs compete for district leadership positions. Since the clubs are made up of active, dedicated members, they are often coveted endorsements, particularly for smaller races. Currently, there is no easy way to look up your local Democratic Club. The New York County Democratic Committee is working on it, but in the meantime, contact Alex Voestch (political [at] gomy [dot] .com) for help finding yours.
You can look up your election and assembly districts here.
I would like to thank Al Benninghoff and Andrew Goldston for their helpful edits and additions to this post.