Last night, as he stepped from the dais at the annual Seneca Club Dinner in Greenpoint, Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez leered at me, extended his club of a hand, and said, "So, you're the guy who hates the Kings County Democratic Party."
I must admit that I didn't retort with any pithy zinger, though a slew of them suddenly snapped into my mind. In part, it was because I was caught off-guard that Vito - with whom I had never before exchanged two words - knew who I was without my even introducing myself. Certainly, I was aware that quite a few people read the Brooklyn Optimist and that I have made no secret of my opposition to Mr. Lopez's iron-fisted rule of our borough, but I was surprised to discover that Vito is apparently one of my loyal readers.
What really made me hold my tongue, however, was that I realized in the course of my split-second reflection that Vito's accusation was misplaced. I don't hate the Kings County Democratic Party. In fact, I love it.
Why else would I have spent long hours over the last couple of years exposing in my blog our elected officials' confounding, and often corrupt, machinations? Why else would I have run successfully to represent my swath of Greenpoint as a County Committee Member in the Brooklyn Democratic Party? Why else would I have proudly joined Gerald Esposito in his City Council campaign to purge our party of do-nothing machine candidates like Diana Reyna and Maritza Davila and bring about real change in Brooklyn? Why else would I have spent priceless hours away from my lovely wife and baby to fight to reform Brooklyn politics?
It is because I hold the core belief that dissent in the face of injustice and inequity is the foundation of our democracy. Or as our great Senator Robert Kennedy put it, "The sharpest criticism often goes hand in hand with the deepest idealism and love of country."
From time to time, I get letters from readers questioning how I can call myself an optimist, while at the same time detailing so many causes for cynicism. Invariably, I respond that it is my unwavering conviction that no matter how bleak New York politics may be, that somehow, some way, together, we can fix it and restore integrity to City Hall and Albany that truly makes me an optimist.
It is a sad old game of party bosses to insist that blind fealty to their rule is the only way to pledge allegiance to one's party. But what Vito Lopez calls "hate", I call "hope". By casting light upon our party's darkness, I do not aim to destroy our party, but to demand that our party be better.
Contrary to popular belief, the Kings County Democratic Party doesn't belong to Vito Lopez. It belongs to you and me. It is not just our right to assert our leadership of our party, it is our duty.
Once again, I differ to the eloquence of Senator Robert Kennedy, "We know full well the faults of our democracy - the handicaps of freedom - the inconvenience of dissent. But I know of no American who would not rather be a servant in the imperfect house of Freedom, than be a master of all the empires of tyranny."
Well, perhaps that's not true about Mr. Lopez, but certainly it's true about me.