Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Plight of Monroe Democrats

If it comes as a surprise to you that the New York Republican Party, and by extension, the Monroe County chapter of that party, is in some serious trouble, you should probably get caught up on events not happening in Fantasy Land.

The irony of the situation is that Monroe Democrats aren't exactly sitting pretty either. If anything, while they succeed due to their numbers, they fail because of their lack of organization. Take the revolving door on the county party Chair's office, the relatively empty money coffers, and the sheer volume of fringe groups attempting to weigh in on the balance of power. Whether the county Democratic Party is a microcosm of the state of the national party, it certainly proves that old Will Rogers quote, "I'm not a member of any organized political party, I'm a Democrat!"

The current issue of City Newspaper sums things up reasonably well in this article by Krestia Degeorge. The line that stuck out in my mind that illustrates the factional divisions that local Democrats face is here, when discussing the local chapter of Democracy for America:

"They're 15 strong, and they've got everyone intimidated, because that's 10 more than any other faction," says one party insider speaking on condition of anonymity."Everyone's trying to curry favor with them."

10 more than any other faction? I hope he's overstating that factions are typically made up of around five people. It seems to me, that if you can't get up there into the double digits for your pet project, you really shouldn't be out there pimping your faction. Your cause would likely be better served by forming factional alliances. All these little groups are out there sucking up all the air. Money, volunteers, and time are all commodities and if these local factions are so bound and determined to champion their pet project while the overall progressive infrastructure that is the Monroe County Democratic Party suffocates, then so be it. While I am a confessed progressive that has an interest in all this, I'm also fairly Darwinist when it comes to the ebbs and flows of power concentrations.

So whose fault is it? Well, I can say everybody. Hell, it's my fault. Why do people gravitate to these little factional groups? Maybe because so many of the other factions are inaccessible. And when I say inaccessible I mean, they aren't doing anything to raise their profile and build up membership. What is the local Democratic Party doing to get people involved? What kind of efforts are they putting into recruitment? Sure you can go to their site and sign up to volunteer. That's good. I mean it. Volunteering is one of the best things a person can do with their time. I should do it more often. I'm sure you should too.

But the problem is bigger than that. This isn't about putting in five hours at your church's rummage sale. This is about getting engaged in you community. This is about bringing people on board for your cause, because it is their cause too! Look at the webpage for the Monroe Democrats. They've got news on the party. The selections from their convention. Even a letter from Joe Morelle from when he became chair last month. They're letting people know what they're doing. There is no vision, no news, nothing to engage someone into being drawn into the party. Why should I volunteer? I don't know these people. They aren't speaking to me. They aren't reaching out to me. I don't understand why they choose the candidates they choose. Why shouldn't I primary against one of their appointees for a nomination? At least I know what I stand for, and maybe I can voice it better than they are.

And that's the problem all these groups have. They're all too concerned with speaking to potential volunteers and voters without ever pausing to listen; without stopping to answer some questions. Joe Morelle is new on the job and he's trying to form some solidarity quickly. So he's being heavy handed with the primary stuff, and I can excuse that if he does something else in its place. If the only way for new ideas to percolate up in the party is through primaries, then we have a larger issue.

Both the local progressive factions and the local Democrats have a problem. The solution is hard to figure, but I would start with some outreach. I'd start with some discussion. The Dems should start a blog on their site. At the very least, it would provide for some amount of interaction. A narrative that people can get to know. Blogging in the political arena has shown to be able to appeal to a broad number of people and speak to them personally where they are more apt to give up their time and money. Having some voice that people can become familiar with will lead to higher turnout for events and fund raisers.

Local progressives need to form a more coherent alliance. Look, some progressives will likely be at odds with each other. However, I can't fathom why members of Sierra Club, NOW, and NYPIRG can't all mobilize to support an event staged by Metro Justice. Building a network of support between progressive groups increases the likelihood that they'll all succeed. Setting up some kind of meta-blog would reduce the factional barriers between them all and help cross-promotion of their issues. Using something like Scoop to construct the blog would allow a reasonably good flow of ideas.

Clearly what you can take away from all this is the top down structure and my-issue-first mentality is going to squelch any progress possible by progressive people and their groups. All politics are local, and it doesn't look like many people are talking to each other back home.


Andrea said...

Hello. My name is Andrea DiGiorgio. I am the member of dfa Rochester quoted in the article. Just writing in to say that although our group is not huge at this point, we are definitely larger than 15 :).

Chris J. said...

Hello. My name is Chris Jaun and I am a member of dfaRochester and a member of the Monroe County Democratic Committee.

dfaRochester was not created to compete with the Democratic party. We work along side it and support who we believe are the best candidates in a race. Some in the party may not like the fact that we aren't under their control, but our end goals are the same. Winning elections and putting good people in office. I don't feel as if there is a huge barrier between us. How can there be? I'm a part of both groups and proud of both my affiliations.

Anonymous said...

I would estimate that DFA Rochester probably has 30-40 people willing to work HARD for a political campaign in Monroe County and another 30 that would devote some level of effort.

If I'm not mistaken there are 150+ that are members of the DFA Rochester Yahoo Group.

The group probably would have voted to approve Bob Duffy and Wade Norwood, but they didn't request it.

They may have approved George Moses and Pat Amato as well, if the candidates had applied and provided more information on their views.

theshelldog said...

one of the "more than 15" here

Zubalove said...

I'm glad you guys are leaving comments and I intend to let the county Dems know about this write up as well.

I'd be interested to know if there is any kind of collusion between your group and other progressive groups in the area. A "grassroots Network" as it would be. And has the local Dem party reached out in anyway to ask for support or manpower, like with the recent convention? I'm interested in how these "factions" relate to one another. Are they disjointed or is there some varying degree of coordination?

Thanks for swinging by and posting too! Feel free to e-mail me materials your group releases to the media, as well.

Anonymous said...

my name is Fred and am a working member of DFA Rochester.i can guarantee that there are more than 15 "working" members of our organization. many more and growing daily! if the Democratic
Party in Monroe County doesn't beleive we're relevant to the Party
than i would ask them after the September primaries what they think then. they are not are enemies by any means and we worked for many Dem candidates in the '04 elections. they need to get on "our" bandwagon,not the other way around!

Dan said...

Hello, my name is Daniel Aman and I too am a member of dfaRochester.

I joined DFA after my initial inquires into helping the MCDC went unanswered last year.

I've since joined the the Brighton Democratic Committee this spring to do my best to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

I invite everyone to check out the dfaRochester website ( and stop by our next meeting. We are always looking for new progressively minded members.

riverleaf said...

Another dfaRochester member here...I'm also a member of the Monroe County Democratic Committee, as are many dfaRochester members.

Keith said...

Hi - another of the "15"... For a political leader (Morelle) to acknowledge the existence of this energetic group and then dismiss it seems impolitic and lacking in leadership.

Andrea said...

Forgot to mention that I am also a very active member of the Monroe County Democratic Committee in Henrietta. Like the others have said - I see no problem with being involved in both organizations!

Mike H. said...

Hi ther I am another one of the famous "15". I am an active member of the Henrietta Committee, and a member of the Monroe County Committee as well. I have been active since Howard Dean ignited the fire in me and many others. I was Bob Cook's webmaster for his County Clerk race last year as well as a general volunteer for him at events. I think he could tell you there are definately more than 15 members in dfaRochester as many of us volunteered for him as well as for our members who were running.

Tom Janowski said...

I had to laugh...a local "political insider" called dfaROCHESTER intimidating. I guess some people do find hard working, honest people very intimidating.

While I can't dispute what the author of the article wrote, I can easily dispute the other quoted sources. dfaROCHESTER has many more than 15 active members. We can have upwards of 60 people at our monthly meetings and what's almost impossible for the rest of the world to comprehend is the number of other meetings and events we have per month. We are ACTIVE. And delving even deeper there are members in our group who read every source of news available and report back to the group; we have a member who runs a nationwide "talent bank" of people with skills and talents useful in political campaigns such as graphic design. There are many levels of being active..some you see, some you don't see.

What I found most hilarious about the story was that the "political insider" would offer up a quote only if that person could remain anonymous. There is a simple word for that---COWARD.

I find it very strange that earlier this year dfaROCHESTER was named 2004 Activist Organization of the Year. What changed? Not the hard working, dedicated people of dfaROCHESTER.

Sometimes I believe people using the term "Deaniac" think it is a negative comment. I wear the Deaniac label proudly--especially today now that Dean is the leader of our party. Many people asked me how I felt to be on the losing team when Dean ended his campaign for the presidency. My response was "we did not lose, we were empowered." Today we continue to act out of that sense of empowerment and the hope it brings.

With so many people uninvolved or disconnected from the process of government, I would think everyone could find a reason to be happy with the existence of DFA and dfaROCHESTER. People are disillusioned with "politics as usual." dfaROCHESTER is definitely "politics unusual." Though we are definitely not the outsiders the article implies. So many of our members have joined their local Democratic committees. (I have been active on the Gates Dem committee.) As Dem committee members, dfaROCHESTER members are out collecting signatures on petitions to get ALL the Democrats on the ballot in November. Would someone suggest we stop doing that?

My name is Tom Janowski. I am a member, co-founder and organizer of dfaROCHESTER. I have opinions and I'm not afraid to state them, stand by them and defend them!

shrodgers said...

I joined DFA last November, and I think I was about the 150th member then. What has pleased me about the group is that there was no pause to lick our wounds after the November election, just a strong desire to be sure progressive candidates will win the next elections. The future for Democrats, and also for other progressive candidates, depends on strong grassroots support and new ways of getting support and assistance in the upcoming races. We are working together to achieve that future.

RainyinRochester said...

I'm Rainy Becktell and a member of the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party - in other words, dfaRochester.

Anonymous said...

I'm Carol Mulligan from Mendon. I am a long standing, active member of DFA Rochester and a long standing member of the Mendon Dems. I am co-chairing our Town's Democratic Campaign where we have 4 Democrats running for possibly the first time in history. We currently have a Democratic supervisor for the first time in 64 years and I was inspired by Howard Dean when I suggested that Moe run for this position 2 years ago.
DFA Rochester is an enthusiastic group that makes up for in energy what it lacks in funding. We endorse and approve candidates and give them what we can in volunteers and support. We are kindred spirits who are united in our appreciation of Howard Dean and what he has given to the Democratic Party. We are all progressives, but we are not all Democrats. We will give equal time to anyone who shares our political/philosophical ideals and we are far greater than 15 strong !!!

theshelldog said...

While I'm an active member of DFA, I can also speak from the point of view of the campaigns themselves. I was a Deputy Manager on Samara Barend's congressional campaign last cycle, and the aid and support of DFA Rochester was instrumental in the successes we achieved in this area. A Democrat doesn't win in places like Pittsford, Chili, and Gates without putting in long hours and knocking on all the doors; what better way to do that than with a large group (larger than 15) of active, hungry, enthusiastic volunteers?

I don't think there is any large-scale animosity between MCDC and DFA. There are individual members of both groups that probably don't like the other, but a number of us are committee members and active in the county party as well. Overall, each serves to bolster the efforts of the other.

Anonymous said...

Tom Wega here,
I have been an active Demorat for decades. Serving on committees in Broome and all over Monroe ounty, I was Democratic Town Leader in Pittsford. I have had the pleasure and responsibility of being a Democratic "INSIDER". I found the inside very restrictive, neitherliberating nor empowering. The party should be a forum to come together for the benefit of the community, to consider ideas, to cultivate and nurture membership and leadership for the future, to commune, to promote our ideas, ideals and vision. I have found a place where I can express my views, hear others express theirs, where I can join others to seek unique solutions, where petty jealousies and turf prtection are dropped aside, where the power of the people is more important than power to the party.
By his own definition, Joe Morelle, unfortunately, expresses the irrelevance if not also the failure of MCDC. How many Democrats have we in elective office? Outside the City or Brighton what public entity do we controlor have even the slightest influence? What is the party's credbility?
I ran for Democratic Committee Chain with Rick Dollinger because, in part, I feel the positive vibrations and grassroots power of DFA. Without saying so at the time (because I feared it an easily misunderstood position and immediate neative, could seem as a take over, which it was not), I wanted to bring grassroots empowerment to MCDC. I was soundly defeated and returned happily to my activity in dfaRochester. I offered to help Rick, which was accepted. But I was never called on. That was a mistake, and to me represents the fickle elitism that often is the Democratic Party.
Be sure to notice, we are many more than 15. We are progressive minded individuals, some elected officials, and many just hard working people with the goal of electing progresives to office. We are here to stay, get used to it!If all politics is local, we are politics.
We are hardly intimidaing, none of us is a bully, nor given to threats or intimidation. We are open. In fact we hold our meetups in public places like restaurants where everyone can view and hear our discussions, presentations or deliberations. To be sure, our meetings have attracted a share of negative people, we have had opposition join us, we have had main stream MCDC pop in and like us enough to stay, join and supplement our effort. Despite the frustration some of that brings, we have never, never ever retreated to behind the closed doors. Everything about us is on our website.
We are open, public, and engaged. Joe, come meet us, learn about how democratic and effective a committee can be.
Sure some are mad because we did not endorse all Party candidates, We endorsed only those that applied. Did MCDC endorse anyone who did not ask for it? If not, then why would you exect it of us? We are not opponents, we are effective, progressive, and will elect progressives including Democrats come November
Howard recruited me by his vision, values and effort in the really early days of the '04 campaign. He was saying what I needed to hear, "backbone" insertion, "Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party" and all. Members of dfaRochester sustain me still. Grassroots participation inclusiveness is the future, come join us in making a better future!

andrea said...

Zubalove -
In answer to your questions, please check out I am in the process of getting dfa Rochester listed there too. There is a very effective listserv on there for all the progressive groups to join. We get announcements of each others events. The best example I can think of is the recent counter rally to protect social security - there was a huge turnout from all groups for this event. Credit for that one needs to go to the Working Families Party and Metro Justice who got everyone invloved in that.

Anonymous said...

Monica here. I am a lifelong Democrat and a member of DFA. I left political life in exhaustion when the U.S. finally got out of Vietnam and most of our guys were home. Not all, though. Like many of you, I have names on that wall in Washington.

I got back into active politics because I was so refreshed by the truth-telling and grass roots activism of Howard Dean, a true anti-war candidate. I am pleased that he is our national chairman, and I send small amounts of money every time he "gives 'em hell." I notice that everything he says is absolutely true.

I support the national, state, and local Democratic parties, but like most people of the 21st century, I vote for particular candidates. To vote for them, I have to agree with their beliefs, admire their records, and trust their integrity.
Attorney General Spitzer, for example will get my vote and more.

DFA Rochester, a grassroots movement, asks of candidates that they prove they are socially progressive and fiscally sensible. I attend meetups, and I have noticed that the candidates who ASKED for our endorsement had self-selected. By that I mean that they could easily show that they were socially progressive and fiscally conservative.

If I recall correctly, every candidate who asked for our endorsement, all twelve of them, got our approval. We are supporting three candidates at a more intense level: Ted O'Brien who is in the County Legislature seat in Irondequoit; Ted Nixon, a great businessman turned dedicated teacher, for the County Legislature from Pittsford; and Mary Ellen Blanchard, a long-time Brighton resident and a former Brighton High School Teacher of the Year for the County Legislature in the 14th, the seat soon to be vacated by our excellent Lynda Garner Goldstein who is term-limited.

I have been carrying petitions to get the local Brighton Democratic slate of candidates on the ballot, going from door to door in this heat to do my civic duty. Unless I am mistaken, DFA Rochester turned in a sheaf of petitions several inches thick to the Monroe County Democratic Committee and ultimately to the Board of Elections. Surely the Brighton Democratic Committee and the Monroe County Democratic Committee, both of which count me as a member, are pleased to have them.

From 1974 until now, the Democratic Party didn't get any of my time, effort, or money. Now, they do. But, I get to choose the candidates for whom I will work. They have to be socially progressive, fiscally conservative, and they have to ask for my support.

It just seems reasonable to me to let the voters decide the important issues and whom they would like for candidates.

Vicki said...

hello there, although I am not technically a member of DFA Rochester, I am the communications chair of Fingerlakes for Democracy, which is has members in Cayuga and Onondaga County, you see we are all around the state. And if you had read any of the stories in your home town paper (D&C) concerning President Bush's appearance in Rochester, you would have learned that we (DFA groups all over NYS are working along side labor and citizen action groups on alot of issues. Social Security comes to the forefront.

We are not fringe people. I mean when the republican party talks about family values, I have to laugh since I am the epitamy of one (Stay at home mom, 2 children under 6 yrs old and a blue collar husband.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Sue Eckert here, another of the "15".

I've been a registered Democrat and an active campaigner for presidential candidates for more than 20 years. It was as a campaigner for Howard Dean that I discovered the local Dean for America group that eventually became Democracy for America.

I have never been as deeply activist as many in DFA are, but I am becoming more active due to the group. The reason for this is that DFA, being smaller, is less "political" in the everyday sense. There are no factions or cliques to navigate or credential into as there almost always are in larger bodies. We are just a group of practical, everyday people who have become friends through common interest.

Because of this, I am now becoming more interested in local elections. I had not previously considered the positive effect well-chosen local candidates can have on up-ticket races. Because DFA is not strictly for Democrats, we can help good candidates of third parties amplify their message, as well as helping good Democrats who already have the tools to get their message out. It's all about democracy and choices, and if an open marketplace is a good thing in business, I think it's good in politics too.

Once I have settled into the new job I just started, I plan to join the Greece Democratic Committee and perhaps in the future, to run for town council.

Smmypie said...

My name is Samantha Golden, a member of DFA since August 2003.

I am also a proud member of DFA Rochester, the Monroe County Democratic Committee, Treasurer of the Clarkson Democratic Committee and Democratic-Endorsed Candidiate for Clarkson Town Justice.

I found the article unsettling, as once more our hard working members are being painted as a "fringe" group. I would counter this with my belief that WE THE PEOPLE in DFA are the mainstream, and not the anomaly that many establishment Dems believe. Here lies the difficulty. Some in the party are content with "more of the same." I wish to push MY PARTY to truly represent the views of the people they elect. This is the bedrock of Democracy.

Ted Nixon said...

I have been active in DFA for over two years. I have attended every Meetup. The smallest number I can remember is around 40. The largest involved multipole sites and added up to 150.

There is nothing exclusionary about DFA. Sometimes when a person attends for the first time he/she is overwhelmed by the size and enthusiasm of the group, but we welcome new members quickly and easily.

It would be impossible to describe DFA accurately in the way the anonymous source did in your article. DFA cares about democracy and involving everyone in the process. Come and see for yourself.

Ted Nixon

Tony Eckel said...

I too am an active member of DFA Rochester. Make no mistake that this is a powerful group of people dedicated to posititve change in the way that politics is practiced. Current political leadership should embrace the participation if they are dedicated to democractic principals.

Hear that sound? It's the winds of change!