The Role of a District Leader in the Village of Hastings-on-Hudson
What are District Leaders?
"District Leaders" (the official title is "Westchester County Committeemen/women") are members of the Democratic Party who are elected or appointed to this internal party office. Two District Leaders are assigned to each Electoral District—often, but not always, the District in which they live. Together, the sixteen District Leaders from the eight Electoral Districts of Hastings-on-Hudson (18th, 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 52nd, and 59th) make up the Hastings Democratic Committee. All District Leaders are also automatically members of the Town of Greenburgh Democratic Committee.
How Are District Leaders Selected?
A District Leader must stand for re-election every two years. Each time, a District Leader candidate must file a nominating petition containing sufficient, valid signatures of registered Democrats living in the District in which that candidate hopes to serve. The petition will place the candidate on the ballot. (One advantage of being a registered member of a political party is that you can vote in primaries and sign party petitions, which means that you select the candidates who represent the party in general elections.) Any registered Democrat can challenge a District Leader by also collecting sufficient valid signatures on a petition in the relevant District. If more than two people file enough signatures within the same District, a primary for the District Leader position will be held in June, during the same period as all other local primary elections in New York State.
If a District Leader resigns or is removed from office during his/her/their term, replacement is governed by local Committee rules, not state law. The government will not spend resources on a special election for an internal Party position. Nor will most political parties. Usually, as under the By-Laws of the Hastings Democratic Committee, the Chair appoints a replacement, based on recommendations from a Committee on Vacancies, also appointed by the Chair. Anyone appointed outside the regular election cycle will be up for election and face a possible primary in the next year that District Leaders are elected—just like all the other District Leaders.
What Are District Leaders Supposed to Do?
District Leaders have four main functions.
The largest part of the job is "getting out the vote." Before every party primary, general election, or referendum, using publicly available voting records, District Leaders engage in various activities to reach the voters in our districts. We bring literature door to door, make telephone calls, send out mailings and emails, put up posters and signs, write and place ads in local newspapers, write letters to the editor to remind people to vote and tell them about candidates or issues, etc. District Leaders now also use social media to communicate with potential supporters. The Hastings Democratic Committee maintains a website, Facebook page and an email list. We host virtual meetings and events. Hastings Democrats are invited to subscribe to our communications by going to www.hastingsdems.org.
District Leaders may host "coffees" or "know-your-candidates" forums, either in our homes or at a local meeting place like the James V. Harmon Community Center or on a remote platform. Each of us is primarily responsible for reaching the voters in our own district—which is one reason we try to get to know Democratic voters between elections—but we all work together on community-wide efforts to get Democratic, and sympathetic independent, voters to the polls.
Perhaps the most important aspect of our work is interviewing and nominating candidates for local village office. Our annual caucus is usually held during the third week of January before the March election. Starting in November, the Hastings Democratic Committee advertises for and interviews potential candidates for Village Trustee, Village Justice, and Mayor. We try to recruit people who have been active in community affairs, even if not in the Democratic Party, for these offices.
The entire Committee, constituted as a Nominating Committee, interviews potential candidates and decides whether to endorse them. But the Committee does not decide who receives the party nomination. The annual Caucus, open to all registered Democrats who live in Hastings, hears the report of the Village Committee, and then decides among competing candidates by majority vote.
If the Democratic candidates wish, the Village Committee plans and implements their campaign strategy. Often the Village Committee sponsors "Issues Forums" featuring local and regional experts on especially critical problems, such as the actual impact of additional residential development on local tax revenue. Educating and informing voters about such issues is, we believe, one of the best campaign strategies.
District Leaders are expected to participate to some degree in internal "party politics" such as meetings of the Town of Greenburgh Democratic Committee. The Chair of the Village Democratic Committee is automatically a member of the Executive Committee of the Greenburgh Democratic Committee. We vote at the conventions held by the Greenburgh Town Committee, as well as on certain decisions made at the County Convention, for example, selecting candidates for County judgeships and delegates to the State Democratic Convention. Our votes are public and part of the record of each committee.
Not all District Leaders choose whether to engage in internal party politics, but it is important that enough do to ensure that Hastings’ views are represented in Town, County, and State Democratic Party decisions about candidates, and that the Democratic Party platform and candidates give appropriate attention to and take good positions on issues important to Hastings (such as funding the State Superfund for toxic clean-ups). Telling District Leaders your views is one way to get them transmitted to the higher levels of the Democratic Party.
Finally, Democratic District Leaders are expected to "build" and maintain the structure of the Democratic Party in our village. The Committee holds monthly meetings, usually at 8:00 pm on the first Wednesday of the month (except August). Due to the pandemic, these meetings are currently held online. The meetings usually have a “public” segment which registered Democrats may attend to exchange ideas and meet with elected officials. The balance of the meetings are member-only discussions of internal procedures and party strategy. Although Committee meetings are not required to be public by either State law or party rules, the Committee chooses to do so to foster communication between voters and our local leaders. Hastings Democrats are notified of meetings via our email-blast list and can register to attend the public component by requesting a link at least one day in advance of the meeting via an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Committee sometimes passes resolutions about current Village issues, such as potential rezoning and development and other aspects of comprehensive planning, as well as about certain State/national issues—e.g., election security, tax policy, foreign policy, immigration policy, and the climate crisis, to name a few. The Committee may endorse candidates for Greenburgh, Westchester County, or New York State office. Before such endorsements, candidates or their representatives visit our meetings, giving us an opportunity to inform them of our views and question them on their positions.
Of course a certain amount of mundane work is associated with keeping a political party going: fund-raising and managing the bank account; preparing materials for mailings to voters or flyers to give out at the train station or petitions; organizing a party presence at village-wide events; filing financial and other statements in compliance with the election law; certifying District Leaders to the Town and County Committee chairs; etc. On Election Day, in addition to urging people to vote, District Leaders check the voting machines and voters' lists at each polling place at the beginning of the day (to make sure that they are "zero") and at the end when the results are compiled. In Hastings this is something of a ritual, but unfortunately, in many places it is necessary and important to prevent election fraud.
When Do I Contact My District Leaders?
You should never hesitate to contact any District Leader, not only with questions about where or when to register or vote, but with thoughts about topics that Democrats should include in our platform; questions about candidates' qualifications and positions on issues; or for general information about community resources and needs. As citizens who hope to make a positive difference not only in the Democratic Party, but in all aspects of our village life, we really need to understand what Hastings residents think. We would not be doing this work if we were not very interested in your ideas and concerns. The most satisfying part of being a District Leader is the one-on-one contact with constituents and whenever possible, managing to help them out. Please see the attached [linked] list for names and contact information for all Hastings District Leaders.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR YOUR TIME AND INTEREST!