With so many people interested in being part of Open Seat 2013, we decided to put together a FAQ to address many of the questions surrounding the Project and to explain what the New York County Democratic Committee is all about. Remember, it’s never too late to become a candidate – click here to sign up.
About the Open Seat Project
In 2009, MYD launched the Open Seat Project with the goal of electing young progressive New Yorkers to vacant County Committee seats in Manhattan. We like to think we’re building the future leadership of the Democratic Party in New York City and beyond, one County Committee seat at a time.
There are currently around 700 vacant Democratic County Committee seats in Manhattan. The Open Seat Project recruits, trains, and helps young progressive New Yorkers get elected to these seats. In the project’s inaugural year, we successfully filled 68 County Committee seats with young progressives, ensuring our membership had a voice and official role within the party structure. In 2011, we expanded our presence on County Committee to 90 seats. This year, we’re hoping run 150 young progressives for County Committee.
Open Seat Project is especially focused on recruiting women, minorities and members of the LGBT community who are dramatically underrepresented in elected office. We want the Democratic party — and ultimately, the leadership of our city, state, and nation — to be more reflective of the electorate.
What is County Committee?
Political parties in America are broken up into “committees,” or groups of party representatives that make decisions at the national, state, and local level. We all know and love our National Committee – the DNC, but the major political parties, Republican and Democratic, are actually organized by a national committee, 50 state committees, and numerous county and local committees within each state.
In New York City, each of the 5 boroughs is its own county and has its own Democratic Committee. This County Committee:
Elects the County Officers,
Nominates judges to be Democrats in Judicial elections and,
Endorses candidates, even in primaries,
Appoints the Democratic candidate when an incumbent vacates their seat before their term is over.
Selects the Democratic Nominee in certain special elections within the county; which, because NYC is so Democratic, is tantamount to appointment.
Those last two happen far more frequently than you might think. In fact, about 30% of the elected officials currently serving in the New York Assembly were appointed by these bodies. Combine that with the fact NY State incumbents are more likely to die or go to jail than lose an election and you begin to see that County Committees have a very important democratic role.
Every County Committee member is elected to represent Democrats in their local election district. 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).
Manhattan has hundreds of vacant County Committee in our borough, which is why MYD is running the Open Seat Project. 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.
Who are County Committee Members?
County Committee Members are:
Un-paid elected officials who serve a two-year term
They must reside in the assembly district in which they are elected.
Each election district has two to four elected county committee positions.
Some election districts require one male and one female committee member.
What do County Committee Members Do?
Duties/Opportunities Entrusted To County Committee Members Include:
Select candidates for elected offices
Fill certain vacancies in elected offices
May provide a source of government appointees
Why is it Important?
Due to the very high concentration of Democrats in New York City, the Democratic Party is a critical institution with a great deal of influence over who gets selected as candidates in elections and ultimately, government policy. By bringing many more young people in to fill these open seats, we can strengthen the Democratic Party and ensure its responsiveness to the issues that are important to us.
What is the time commitment?
The County Committee meets every two years or so, to elect the County Executive Committee. We’ll definitely need you at this meeting. Beyond that, the commitment is what you want to make of it. You can become a voice in your community, attend County Meetings and work with your district leader and elected officials; or you can vote by proxy and never attend another meeting.
However though not much is asked of you in an official capacity, individuals can take charge, and it helps provide individuals a platform for leadership. A county committee member represents an election district, which is the smallest political unit, usually comprising of 700 – 1000 people, or 1 to 3 city blocks. In short, the individuals and groups that make up the party structure can have tremendous influence on nation, state, and local policy. A perfect place for young people to begin advocating for the things we think our elected officials should pay attention to.
Does it take stands on issues and endorse candidates?
Yes, the County Committee is able to adopt platforms and endorse candidates, even in primaries.
What do I have to do to run?
There are a couple of steps to running for County Committee. First, you must be a registered Democrat and you must live in Manhattan. Second, we’ll help you find an open seat on the County Committee in your Assembly District. Third, you’ll need to collect some petition signatures from your neighbors to become a candidate.
How many signatures will I need?
You’ll need between 25 and 40 signatures from registered Democrats, depending on the size of the Election District in which you’re running.
Who will help me collect these signatures? How do I do that?
Collecting petition signatures is a great way to get to know your neighborhood and community. MYD will provide information and training on how to collect signatures. And we always petition in pairs, so you’ll be with a fellow Young Dem every step of the way.
I don’t know anyone in my community, how difficult will getting signatures be?
Collecting signatures is a vital part of the democratic process – it’s also relatively easy. We’ve found in the past that if you just take a few minutes to explain why you’re running and that it’s not a contested election, people are very open to providing their signature.
Where can I run?
You can run in any Election District in your Assembly District. And don’t worry — we’ll explain more about what that means in our information sessions! You can find out when these are being held by checking the MYD calendar.
What if I move?
If you move, we’ll help you notify the County Committee and work with the local Democratic club to find another Young Dem to appoint to your seat.
What do I tell my employer?
Serving on County Committee is a very small time commitment and meetings take place after normal business hours. To many employers, showing a commitment to your community is a huge plus. Of course, this can be a sensitive topic depending on where you work. But we believe it’s a critical part of democracy for people to be able to engage freely in the political arena outside of the workplace.