The Democratic primary on Tuesday, September 13, 2016, will determine candidates for state assembly as well as more arcane party roles such as “delegate to judicial convention.” Among these is also state committee member, or “district leader,” an elected but unpaid party position that’s more important than many people realize or understand. We talked to Chris McCreight, who’s running for district leader in the 46th Assembly District (which covers most of southern Bay Ridge, as far north as part of 79th Street, as well as parts of Dyker Heights, Bath Beach, Coney Island, Sea Gate and Brighton Beach; see a map here), about the position, what he hopes to accomplish and who, exactly, he is. His opponent is Councilmember Mark Treyger, who represents parts of Coney Island, Gravesend and Bensonhurst.
What does a district leader do, exactly?
A district leader has several official and unofficial responsibilities. First and foremost, this is a Democratic Party position. The reason all political parties exists is to organize likeminded people to win elections in order to advance a certain set of ideas and ideals. So, a district leader is supposed to support and help local Democrats win elections, which is something I have a lot of experience doing in Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and throughout Brooklyn.
District leaders also make up the Executive Committee of the Kings County Democratic Party. The 42 district leaders elect the party chairman, nominate candidates for office and help set the tone and platform for the party. This is especially important in Brooklyn as we send more representatives to Albany than any other county in New York and more members of the city council to City Hall than any other borough. The Kings County Democratic Party could go a long way in fixing a lot of the issues our city and state face.
An ideal district leader should also be an advocate for neighborhood concerns and make sure our government is working for us.
Why should people vote in this election? What’s at stake?
This is a very important election! For over 30 years, our district has been basically cut in half between Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights and Coney Island and Brighton Beach. During that time, no one from Bay Ridge or Dyker Heights has held this position! I live in Bay Ridge and work in Coney Island, so I will be in both sides of the district almost every day. I’ve been involved in numerous issues affecting both sides, and I am in a unique position to continue doing that as a district leader who will fight for all the different neighborhoods in the district equally.
How do the needs of the Bay Ridge side of the district differ from those of the Coney Island side this cycle?
Politicians love to say that all neighborhoods really have the same issues. Somebody must have polled that once, as politicians have been saying it forever. In a true macro-sense, it’s true: everybody wants to feel safe, have good schools, modern infrastructure, etc. There is one major difference that is particularly important for a Democratic district leader in this district, though. Coney Island’s main concern, politically speaking, is electing good Democrats who will care for the neighborhood and fight to make a difference. In Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, though, we are still fighting to dislodge Republicans who still control several elected positions due mainly to this area being historically more conservative. A strong district leader and a solid, more organized Democratic Party should be able to change that. People are often surprised to learn that Barack Obama beat John McCain and Mitt Romney by about 20 points in both 2008 and 2012 in Bay Ridge. With some hard work and good organizing, we’ll be electing Democrats across the board in Bay Ridge soon.
What do or will you look for in a local candidate or judge before endorsing him or her?
For judges, the first thing will be if they’ve been found qualified by the judicial screening panel. Beyond that, I will look at their background, court room experience and general independence from politics. We need to have judges who are not beholden to political machines.
For legislative positions, we need Democrats who share our Democratic values. I believe we need a Democratic Party that works for all New Yorkers, no matter age, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, income or zip code. I will look for candidates who will fight to protect a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body, improve our public schools and stand up against greedy developers looking to make a quick buck off our neighborhoods. Beyond that, I will look for candidates who will be independent thinkers and not just rubber stamps for a speaker or party boss.
How do you think we can get locals more engaged in the political process, especially voting?
There are several reasons that many people do not vote. In New York, a lot of it has to do with New York’s archaic and confusing election laws. One of the biggest problems is our primary system. 2016 will see three primaries this year: April for president, June for federal races and September for state and local races. This makes no sense, wastes the taxpayer money and is very confusing to new voters. There a lot of cynical reasons for these multiple primaries, but in reality, the main reason is to protect incumbents.
As district leader, I plan to do two things. The first is work hard to change our laws so that it’s easier and less confusing for people to vote. The goal of any democracy should be full-participation. The last thing we want is for people to just give up. The second thing I will do, especially until our archaic elections laws are reformed, is to educate local residents. This is an official responsibility of a district leader, and I plan to take it very seriously.
Many people don’t know you. Where are you from? What do you do? Who are you!
Like I mentioned previously, I live in Bay Ridge and work in Coney Island. Specifically, Erin and I (and our two cats Zelda and Cosmo) have been in the same apartment near 80th and Fifth for more than 10 years now. Every morning, I make my way to Coney Island where I work in building management in one of the largest high-rise complexes. Currently, I’m working on an energy-efficiency project that will save residents a lot of money and be good for the environment.
I almost don’t remember what it’s like to have free time at this point—I’ve been campaigning since February! After the campaign, though, I look forward to watching some soccer—I’m a big Barcelona fan—reading the new Irvine Welsh novel and checking out some of the new restaurants that have opened recently in the neighborhood. I also have tickets to see a concert (Lush) the day after the election!
Full disclosure: Chris McCreight and I have mutual friends and know each other socially.