Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Brooklyn Democrats’ Judicial Nominating Convention Proceeds Without a Hitch

by Elizabeth Stull (, published online 09-26-2007

REMSEN STREET — The Brooklyn Democratic Party began its annual judicial nominating convention yesterday afternoon with an unconventional tribute to a longtime executive committee member, Bernard C. (Bernie) Catcher, Esq.
“Keep on doing what you’re doing — You’re truly a hero,” Brooklyn party Chairman Vito Lopez told Catcher, an active Brooklyn Democrat for more than 30 years. Catcher, who was diagnosed with cancer and has undergone aggressive chemotherapy and radiation, expressed his gratitude to Lopez and the Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club.

“I discovered I had the biggest family in the world,” Catcher said in a hoarse voice. “They’ve been like brothers to me. The Vito that’s in the newspaper — they don’t know the Vito that I know.”

Assemblyman Joseph Lentol was recognized as chairman of the convention with the roll call. Attorney Carl Landicino estimated that 125 judicial delegates out of a total of 150 to 160 were present in Founders Hall at St. Francis College.

In New York, local Civil Court judges and Surrogate’s Court judges are nominated in open primary elections, while candidates for the state Supreme Court are nominated in judicial conventions and appellate judges are appointed.

Almost two dozen contenders had been found qualified for the bench by the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s judicial screening panel. In heavily Democratic Kings County, a spot on the Democratic ticket virtually guarantees a victory in November.

Incumbent state Supreme Court Justices L. Priscilla Hall, Larry Martin and Albert Tomei were nominated for re-election to the Brooklyn bench and Robert J. Miller was nominated to fill the position left open by Justice Theodore Jones, who resigned early last spring after being appointed to the state Court of Appeals.

Following the official nominations process yesterday, there was an awkward moment when Lentol, a veteran convention chairman, apparently forgot to bring in the nominees, who were waiting in the hallway behind the auditorium. Many delegates had risen to leave when Lentol invited the judicial candidates to say a few words. Each of them stepped forward to express his or her gratitude to the party leaders and delegates.

“There is a renaissance in Brooklyn right now,” Justice Tomei said. “We’re on the map, and we’re one of the most visited places in the world.” Tomei, who is 68, said this is his last election because of New York’s mandatory retirement rule.

Justice Hall said she enjoys the campaign process because “it gives me a chance to run all around Brooklyn and find out what’s going on with each of you. It’s good to hear about what’s going on in Brooklyn.”

“The process of running for office is a very humbling one, and I think that’s very important because judges, with all of the power that we exercise on a daily basis, can use a dose of humiliation,” Justice Martin said. Martin said this will also be his last term on the bench, because of mandatory retirement. Miller, an attorney and the only candidate who has never served on the bench, said he was honored to be nominated.

“I guess I’m the virgin here,” Miller said. Miller, a graduate of Georgetown Law School, has been involved in politics for many years but has never been elected to office. Party Chairman “Vito Lopez personifies what this party is about,” he said.

“They call us the ‘Excedrin borough’” Miller continued, alluding to a recent newspaper article about Brooklyn politics. Lopez has been under fire because the party’s candidate for surrogate judge lost the primary election.

“He’s [Vito Lopez’s] trying to bring us all together, and some people don’t want to be brought together … Let’s stay focused on what our values are, which is helping working people every single day,” Miller said.

The nominating convention was scheduled for 3 p.m. and began about 30 minutes late, perhaps because it followed a press conference about swastikas that had been drawn on two Remsen Street synagogues the night before. The convention was over by 4:30 p.m.

Judicial nominating conventions have been challenged by critics who say they exclude voters and deny candidates access to the ballot. Last year, a federal judge in Brooklyn ruled that the process is unconstitutional and must be changed. An appeal in that lawsuit, Lopez-Torres v. New York State Board of Elections, will be heard next Wednesday by the U.S. Supreme Court.

One delegate-alternate at yesterday’s convention said she had met the candidates at political club meetings in Coney Island. A delegate from another district, Lester Culpepper, said he had met one of the candidates because he works in Downtown Brooklyn. “It’s democratic here,” he said, “We all have an equal vote.”

“Some of the folks who think that politics and conventions are evil ought to have been here today to see this,” Lentol said yesterday. He said the nomination process had been “rigorous and fair.” Lentol also applauded Lopez for his work during a difficult time for the party in Brooklyn, saying, “Vito, I believe you were born to be the leader of the Brooklyn Democratic Party … The best is yet to be.”

— Elizabeth Stull
Brooklyn Daily Eagle

No comments: