Last night, 181 Members of the Kings County Democratic County Committee huddled in an auditorium at St. Francis College in downtown Brooklyn to participate in the theatre of the absurd.
Move over Samuel Beckett, Vito Lopez in the hizzy.
Despite my unflappable optimism, I can't say I was surprised at how the night went. Though this was the first time I had attended the notorious affair, I had been warned in advance as to how these performances go. Basically, a bunch of elected officials and party loyalists take turns literally reading from a script to dutifully enact whatever agenda Vito Lopez has decided upon, and then call the meeting to a close as quickly as possible, so that its members don't get a headache from too much democracy all in one night.
Except for a few hiccups, that's precisely how last night played out. Taking every opportunity to eschew debate and neutralize dissent, the officials cast by Vito to read the script handed out to them earlier in the day did so as quickly as possible and then exited stage left.
The only people in the chorus who seemed to have missed the director's notes were Councilman Charles Barron, political blogger David Michaelson (a.k.a. mole333) and his wife Joy Romanski (corresponding secretary of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats), and the 50+ newly elected members of the County Committee from the New Kings Democrats political club.
Charles Barron, who incidentally is a far better actor than any of the extras sent by Central Casting to play Vito's goons, began his sparkling performance by challenging the largely ceremonial adoption of the Committee's rules on the grounds that he had not been given a chance to review them in advance. The fact that someone dared to disrupt the show early on palpably unnerved the crowd, which suddenly had to confront the possibility that the airy musical they had come to see had been surreptitiously replaced by the complete works of Ibsen.
Councilman Lewis Fidler, playing a toned-down version of Councilman Lewis Fidler, took it upon himself to calm the crowd, arguing that were the County Committee not to adopt the rules that the meeting would not be officially convened (bad), the Kings County Democratic Party would not be a legally sanctioned body and thus incapable of appointing judges (very bad), and that the globe would go flying off its axis and plunge into the sun (maybe not so bad if McCain gets elected).
A few eventful scenes later, Charles Barron again took the stage and delivered the evening's only noteworthy monologue. Unfortunately, I couldn't scribble it down fast enough in my program, but it began: "This is ridiculous! I've never been to a more scripted meeting in my whole life! This is insulting!" His eloquent soliloquy was saluted with scattered enthusiastic applause and then promptly dismissed as a rant.
The rest of the evening's sound and fury was left to the members of the New Kings Democrats, who tried their best in the role of "Reformers", but were overshadowed by Vito Lopez and the 670 Proxies. Every time the night's Chairman State Senator Marty Connor would call a vote on any proposal not in the script, if the yeas and the nays sounded even (NKD's members made up a vocal third of the audience), Connor would dispense with the pageantry and remind the crowd that there was a superstar with 670 votes to his name waiting in the wings ready to make a surprise cameo at any time. Since this one man was worth over three times the value of those in attendance (despite all the electeds there), Connor's forthright observation always settled the issue conclusively.
Speaking of Connor, this reviewer would be remiss in not acknowledging that he was genuinely moved by the veteran's performance as "Broken Man in Twilight". Now I can't claim to have seen Connor in his heyday, but as last night's Richard III, he brought an unexpected candor to the proceedings. He appeared not as a grand Senator, but as a mere man in need of a horse, beset with the anguish that comes when the realization that he will never again be king.
As for the rest of the ensemble, Vito Lopez was captivating, but unbelievable, in the role of "The Gentle Giant" (seriously, that guy is towering).
Assemblywoman Annette Robinson and District Leader Olanike Alabi were disappointing as "The Early Adjourners". For those critics who will allege that the New Kings Democrats didn't accomplish anything last night, I would point to the bit parts read by this duo as the reason NKD didn't get more of a chance to shine. By ushering the show to a close before any new business could be proposed, Robinson and Alabi cheated a good portion of the audience out of the cost of admission. I was particularly dispirited by Alabi's role. Usually, one of the only truly progressive District Leaders, she could have made something of her part, but instead preferred to mail it in. I know she could have done better.
Equally disappointing were "The Electeds". And I mean all of them, except for Charles Barron. Not a single one of them in attendance last night (District Leaders included!), has any chance of being cast in 2009's much-anticipated blockbuster release "Brooklyn's Real Reformers". Of course, their agents and acting coaches will try to convince you otherwise next September, but don't believe the hype.
Last, but not least, The Optimist found himself unexpectedly the central figure in one of the night's only moments of true levity. I attended the meeting not yet knowing of the outcome of the primary race I ran last week to represent my tiny swath of Greenpoint as its Democratic County Committee Member. The good people at NKD took it upon themselves to nominate me for appointment to the committee on their slate of candidates for the 50th Assembly District. When Chairman Connor read the competing slate of candidates, it turned out that in the 93rd Election District Morgan Pehme's opponent on the competing slate was none other than "Morgan Pehme".
I stood up in the meeting, announced that I happened to be "Morgan Pehme", and said that the reason NKD had nominated me was because I did not yet know the outcome of the primary. Chairman Connor smiled and said, "Apparently, you won. Congratulations. Everyone seems to like you." My victory was greeted with perhaps the warmest and only non-controversial round of applause of the night.
I wonder if I'm still going to be as universally well-liked after you read my review of last night's show?
As always, I will remain optimistic.