A public schoolteacher who took the Democratic Party's advice about working from the inside got a first-hand taste of the kind of resistance the party will display when a progressive tries to enter the halls of power.
"They see the writing on the wall, they know what people like us want to do. And they are terrified."
Kat Brezler, a first grade teacher in White Plains, New York and a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) during his 2016 presidential bid, is running for one of three seats on the city's Common Council. Her presence in the race as the fourth candidate for three positions has triggered a primary, despite the efforts of the White Plains City Committee of Democrats—where Brezler is the recording secretary.
The committee and Brezler's three opponents in the race turned to litigation to try and knock Brezler off the ballot, claiming that enough of the signatures on Brezler's ballot drive were invalid as to deny her a place on the Democratic line. The committee finally accepted defeat on June 7 when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit refused to hear their case, effectively ruling in Brezler's favor.
Brezler told Common Dreams that while she was surprised at the lengths to which her opponents went in their hostility to her candidacy, she gets why they did it: she's challenging the existing power structure.
"They don't want to cede power," said Brezler.
As The Intercept's Aida Chavez reported in May, Brezler's fight for ballot access has dragged on for months. And even though she's now on the ballot, the time wasted on the court battle is time that Brezler could have spent getting out the vote.
"Imagine if Democrats fought against Republicans with this level of tenacity," Intercept editor Ryan Grim tweeted June 8.
Normally, Brezler said in an interview with Common Dreams, the committee handpicks the Democratic candidates in citywide elections, thereby nullifying any actual contest for votes. And White Plains is a "two-to-one" city, providing an advantage to Democrats that means whoever wins the party's nod is a lock to land on the council.
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White Plains isn't unique in its treatment of an upstart challenger to the party's established order. In March, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) decided to issue a policy blacklisting vendors who work with anyone running against an incumbent Democrat. That includes primary contests against incumbents.
Common Dreams has reported on those efforts, which exposed a division in the party between the old guard and an upstart progressive wing, for the last three months. The DCCC, much like the White Plains committee, is taking drastic measures to keep the party's left at heel—but those efforts are backfiring.
"There is a gatekeeper mentality that sometimes can diminish new ideas," Rep. Jahan Hayes (D-Conn.) said on June 1.
In a tweet, Brezler's lawyer, Leo Glickman, said pointing out the party's bad behavior to his client is part of the political struggle of the moment.
"I know in this age of Trump many of us just don't want to hear complaints about Democrats," said Glickman. "And frankly, I do get it. But the people critical of the shenanigans within the party are not your enemy."
It remains to be seen if the White Plains committee's efforts were worth it and Brezler has lost too much time to make up the difference between herself and the three establishment picks for office. On the one hand, the grassroots energy behind her race is real—Brezler has an army of volunteers making a sincere and sustained effort on her behalf by knocking on doors and pushing to raise awareness of the progressive candidate. On the other, however, is a citywide party machine that is opposed to her candidacy and is already sending out mailers for her opponents.
The entire experience has left Brezler with a sense of disappointment in the party establishment and an understanding of why they will fight against her and her allies.
"They see the writing on the wall, they know what people like us want to do," said Brezler. "And they are terrified."