Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Trio Of Democrats Face Ouster From Local Party Arm

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—More than the usual Democrats are expected to cast a vote Wednesday night to decide if three members of the Brockton Democratic City Committee—including Councilor-at-large Jass Stewart and School Committeeman Timothy Sullivan--will be removed from the local arm of the Democratic Party for publicly supporting Republicans in the November election.
To deal with what is expected to be a packed house, Democratic City Committee Chairman Steve Foote—who initiated the action against the three after the November election--said as a part of a letter to the City Committee’s membership about tomorrow night’s meeting at Brockton High School he has warned those who attend that if they are not members of the City Committee they will not be allowed to vote or take part in any of the discussion.
“If they come there as observers—that’s fine,” Foote said.
“If they cause a disturbance we’re going to have an executive session and clear the room,” he said. (Pictured above)
The letter, Foote said, clearly notes those who are not members of the City Committee will not be allowed to speak or vote. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 30, and will be held in the Red Cafeteria at Brockton High.
A two-thirds vote of the committee is required to remove the three members.
Stewart, who is the city’s only African-American and openly gay councilor, has hired a local attorney Elizabeth “Betsy” Clague to ensure the process follows City Committee regulations and that Stewart, Sullivan and Dineen are given a fair hearing.
“It’s important that individuals don’t abuse their power. This issue extends beyond me. It’s about everyone in the membership,” Stewart said. (Pictured below)
Questions of jumping party lines by Stewart, Sullivan and Dineen arose during last November’s election when Democrats and Republicans were in hotly contested races for nearly all state-wide seats, including Gov. Deval Patrick’s reelection against Republican challenger Charlie Baker.
On his website Stewart supported Republican candidates for reelection Timothy Cruz for Plymouth County District Attorney and Joseph McDonald for Plymouth County Sheriff.
Sullivan and Dineen attended a rally at City Hall where Charlie Baker was speaking and were quoted in a local newspaper stating they supported Baker over Patrick.
Some have said Sullivan and Dineen are fallout in a grudge Foote has against Stewart, but Foote has been adamant the action is not just against Stewart and that Sullivan’s actions broke the committee’s rule not to publicly support an opponent of a Democratic Party nominee.
Stewart’s lawyer Betsy Clague said she has sent a letter outlining issues she and Stewart have with the process and bylaws to each of the nine members of the City Committee’s Executive Board--which includes each ward chairman and two other members.
At Foote’s request, the Executive Board voted 8-0 to move ahead with asking for the resignation of Stewart, Sullivan and Dineen. State Senator Thomas Kennedy was absent and did not vote.
When the trio did not resign, the next step is a two-thirds vote of the membership to remove.
Clague said it is unclear, in her opinion, if the City Committee is following its own rules.
She noted the City Committee’s bylaws posted on its website do not reference any kind of disciplinary matters or removal if bylaws are broken.
“There’s nothing there referencing there’s any removal or disciplinary action,” Clague said.
“So how the heck do you know if you did anything wrong if there’s nothing there to tell you what you can and cannot do,” she said.
Foote has said the committee is following the State Democratic Committee’s charter, but Clague points out the Brockton City Committee’s rules do not show the committee has actually voted to accept the State Charter and does not guide members to the State Charter for further regulations.
Historically in Massachusetts, members of the Democratic and Republican Party can cross party lines in local elections, but for statewide or county seats with power and budgets, such as governor or district attorney, it is usually considered a no-no to publicly support a candidate of the opposing party.
However many observers--in Brockton and outside-have said they are unaware of any Democratic Town or City Committee moving to remove members for breaking the written—and unwritten—election rule.
John Walsh, head of the Democratic Party’s State Committee said any disciplinary matters are “local” and he is unaware of any other city or town taking any steps to remove its members.
“There hasn’t been any big push for enforcement,” Walsh said.
“As far as I know, to the best of my knowledge, it’s only Brockton,” he said. Brockton Democrats—many involved for 30 to 50 years—could not remember another instance when the City Committee moved to remove one or more of its members.
Walsh noted he does not agree with the regulation preventing Democrats from publicly supporting opponents and its subsequent discipline.
However--like enforcement of the rule-there has not been a “big push” to change it. If the three Brockton Democrats are removed by a two-thirds majority vote, there is an appeal to the Democratic State Committee’s Judicial Council.
Stewart’s lawyer Besty Clague also noted neither Stewart, Sullivan or Dineen were notified the Executive Board was going to be asked to decide to request their resignations--a meeting none of the three attended or knew their status as members was on the agenda.
“It’s about due process and fairness,” Clague said.
Foote said Clague’s arguments are a lot of “nit-picking” and “splitting-hairs.” Ward 7 Chairman and Executive Board member Bill Black agrees.
Black said he believes Foote is doing the right thing because Stewart, Sullivan and Dineen broke the rules and it is not a grudge against Stewart.
“I was on the East Side with the Governor and the rest of the Democrats while Tim Sullivan was on the West Side with Charlie Baker,” Black said. “We have rules,” he said.
Usually Democratic City Committee meetings are poorly attended.
Maybe 25, 30 or 50 of the more than 150 members show up depending on the agenda or event.
Each of the city’s seven wards is allowed up to 35 members, or a total of 245, but each ward does not have a full complement.
Foote said there is between 150 and 180 members of the City Committee and with a vote to oust three members expects to get a quorum of actual members, but also a contingent of non-voting supporters and opponents—the main reason why he made it clear non City Committee members would not be allowed to vote or speak.
City Councilor-at-large Thomas Brophy said he supports Stewart, Sullivan and Dineen and will not vote in favor of removing them.
Brophy said he believes the Executive Board vote in January and tomorrow’s membership vote are “unnecessary.”
He said the situation could have been handled by meeting and talking with Stewart, Sullivan and Dineen and adamantly demonstrating to each how important it is not to publicly—in the press or on a website—support Democratic Party opponents.
“I’m not going to vote to remove anyone,” Brophy said. “We have such poor attendance...we should be looking to get more members not remove the ones we have,” he said. Click here for an earlier BrocktonPost article about the Democratic City Committee action and
Click here for BrocktonPost's article about the November election and Stewart's website

1 comment:

  1. "Historically in Massachusetts, members of the Democratic and Republican Party can cross party lines in local elections".

    I realize Mr. Foote probably hand-fed this line to BrocktonPost, given his history in the '05 election endorsing Republican Bill Pribusauskas. But this statement is off the mark. As his contention that the "non-partisn" tag given City elections gets him off the hook. Here is the Democratic Charter governing local committees:

    Town, Ward and City Committees
    Functions of Local Committees
    "The local committees shall conduct, according to duly established and recorded local by-laws, such activities as are suitable for a political organization; among which (without limitation) are: the endorsement of enrolled Democratic candidates in partisan and nonpartisan primaries, preliminaries and elections".