The mayoral debate should not be debated

ASSEMBLYMEMBER RODNEYSE BICHOTTE HERMELYN | 1/28/2021, midnight
A debate during the most important elections in NYC history is being unfairly held hostage by a small faction.
Rodneyse Bichotte

A debate during the most important elections in NYC history is being unfairly held hostage by a small faction.

This Sunday, Jan. 31, the Brooklyn Democratic Party will host the first debate for mayoral, comptroller and Brooklyn borough president candidates. I assumed all Brooklynites would be excited at the opportunity to hear the viewpoints of candidates during such a consequential election season. After all, the fate of our city’s recovery largely rests in the hands of these candidates.

I also assumed the candidates themselves would jump at the first opportunity to present their viewpoints to a major swath of voters (there are roughly 1.2 million registered Democratic voters in the Brooklyn Democratic Party). Especially when the debates are being moderated by esteemed political anchor Errol Louis. So, it came as a major surprise when calls to boycott the debate gained traction and some candidates dropped out of the debate as a result.

The squelching of democracy––authoritarianism disguised as reform

A few self-proclaimed critics are urging candidates to boycott the debates supposedly because of comments by one Democratic district leader that were condemned by leadership and for which she has apologized.

A petition, circulated online by so-called reformers, calls for a boycott of the debate because we have not “denounced her violent rhetoric” or “taken swift action.” That is patently false.

Lori Maslow (41st AD) made repugnant remarks on Twitter that were racist and hateful. Brooklyn Democratic Party leadership and I immediately and repeatedly denounced those remarks. We made it clear that they don’t represent the Party’s key tenets.

Furthermore, Maslow apologized, announced she would step down from the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s sixth vice chair position and attend racial sensitivity training, which she did. I also apologized and conferred with leaders of the communities affected by the remarks.

Although Ms. Maslow’s remarks are inexcusable, they are antithetical to our party’s key values and should hold no bearing on a democratic debate that has nothing to do with her.

For the critics, this is more about self-promotion and disruption than it is about promoting any cause. The people of Brooklyn want a debate, and it should not be held hostage by the aggrandizing demands of a small faction. It’s oppugnant to democracy.

Voters need to know where the candidates stand on important issues in this election, which will determine our city’s recovery from the pandemic. The people will also decide who represents them in the 41st AD. Unfortunately, opportunists are trying to equate those two unrelated issues to advance their own agenda at the expense of the people of Brooklyn.

It is disappointing to see a single district leader’s repugnant remarks become falsely conflated with a party that stands for inclusivity and promotes unity. The Brooklyn Democratic Party has diverse leadership from every corner of Brooklyn and stands for all Brooklynites.

Squelching democratic debate is not what any segment of the Democratic Party should be about. There is a great resemblance to Trump’s tactics of bullying and manipulation. There is no high-ground in this Democracy with authoritarianism––even from a small faction.

We must all focus on finding the best candidates to help us pull through the pandemic, rather than engaging in a circular firing squad. We need to be united. As President Joe Biden poignantly said during his inauguration, “For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury...This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward.”

Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn represents the 42nd District of the New York State Assembly which includes portions of East Flatbush, Flatbush, Ditmas Park and Midwood, Brooklyn.