Volume 20, Number 50 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | APRIL 25 - MAY 1, 2008
Downtown political club moves toward peace
By Josh Rogers
A Downtown political club’s leaders moved to make peace this week after yelling and acrimony broke up last week’s meeting.
To supporters of Sean Sweeney, president of Downtown Independent Democrats for the last six years, the unexpected challenge to his leadership last week amounted to a “coup d’etat” orchestrated by the “Meninites,” a not so passive group backing Julie Menin, chairperson of Community Board 1 and a likely City Council candidate next year.
To Menin and her supporters, she was just one of many people unhappy with club disorganization and stagnation and was not at all a driving force behind the candidacy of Pat Moore, a C.B. 1 leader who has emerged as a spokesperson for residents living next to the World Trade Center site.
Sweeney and Menin met Tuesday for two hours and both said after the meeting they would work together with the rest of the club to make improvements. Moore and Sweeney also spoke cordially Tuesday. Moore said she felt Sweeney was open to her ideas to increase club membership and voter registration. As for pursuing her bid to become club president, she said she is “in a holding pattern” until she sees what sort of changes are made at the club’s executive committee meeting Monday.
The club, founded in 1972, was a reaction to political machine politics. It was centered around the South Village and the burgeoning artist colony in Soho, but it also included the more desolate neighborhoods south of Canal St. Although political clubs are not nearly as powerful as they were decades ago, D.I.D. remains influential particularly with its endorsements in locally contested races, which are published in the club’s trademark voter guides known as D-notes.
There is much agreement as to what happened last Wednesday night in the backroom at the Woolworth Tower Kitchen (“Can you call it a rear room,” one club member with connotation fears said of the site of the open public meeting):
Sweeney had been tipped off that he might have a leadership challenge. Several members criticized his leadership and the club’s organization. Some attendees were at their first meeting or had not been to too many meetings, and some in this group were C.B. 1 members supporting Moore for president. People started yelling charges and countercharges about Sweeney’s leadership and there were disputes over who was a paid member. No one was certain who was eligible to vote. Moore supporters were pushing for the vote, which had been scheduled for that night, and Sweeney abruptly adjourned the meeting despite the protests.
“When you’re sucker punched you don’t have time to think,” Sweeney said. He says he would have won 17 12, but he’s still glad he didn’t bring it to a vote because he didn’t want to win under a cloud.
Moore said “isn’t it ridiculous that nobody could say who was a member in good standing. There were several lists and they conflicted with each other.”
Next week’s meeting is supposed to address bylaws, procedures for club elections, meeting notifications and delegating more responsibilities.
Although endorsement arguments are common in the club, the last leadership dispute was in 1983. Jim Stratton, the club’s co-founder, was involved in that fight. This week he said it had been so long since there had been an election dispute, the club had neglected to keep its bylaws up to date, which added fuel to the fire this time.
Stratton said most members agree on the big political questions, which means “there’s not much to fight over other than people.”
Some members feel not enough attention is paid to reaching out to potential voters in neighborhoods in the C.B. 1 area, like Tribeca, Battery Park City and the Financial District.
Sweeney sounded outraged that people whom he had not seen before and who did not seem to know much about the club, were supporting his ouster.
“They didn’t know who Jim Stratton is,” he said. “They didn’t know what the D-note is.”
Though some of the combatants are not far apart in age Sweeney is 62 and Moore is 54 there also appears to be a generational component to the dispute. Sweeney said it’s hard to get volunteers to stuff envelopes when print jobs are done, for example, and he does not like hearing people say they’ll wait for the weekend to help.
“We would never do that,” he said. “Jim Stratton would never do that. You do it in the evening. You revolve around the D.I.D., not vice versa.”
Although Menin and perhaps Moore have made up with Sweeney, at least a few others in the club think a new leader is needed. Not many said that publicly.
“To me it’s very clear Sean is the problem,” said Bill Love, a C.B. 1 member. “I don’t think he wants to delegate anything.”
But Tom Goodkind, a C.B. 1 member who was not at last week’s meeting, said he doesn’t want the club to change. He likes Sweeney’s style.
“It is a little disorganized you need something like this where it’s more casual, someone comes and it’s ‘I’m glad you showed up,’” he said.
As for Sweeney, he’ll undoubtedly be there at the next meeting to vote for club president but he won’t be voting for U.S. president this November. Though he spends countless hours of political organizing, helping candidates get on the ballot and campaigning, Sweeney never votes. He is not an American citizen.
“It is ironic, isn’t it,” he said.