It has now been over a year since district leaders for the 81st Assembly district Ramdat Singh and Abigail Martin formed the Unity Democratic Club in an effort to bring new energy and leadership to the party in the northwest Bronx.
That anniversary was celebrated by club members at the Rambling House on Oct. 26.
“It feels good,” Singh said to The Riverdale Press of the club’s one-year anniversary. “When Abigail and I ran for district leaders this was something the community wanted. To have something last for over a year that the community wanted feels like a huge accomplishment.”
The creation of the club was a reaction to those who told the district leaders they felt unwelcome at the Ben Franklin Reform Democratic Club, the Press previously reported. The leader’s goal with the club was to create a place where everybody felt welcome.
One of those first in line to become a member was state Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who alongside state Sen. Robert Jackson congratulated the club on their anniversary.
“I was delighted to celebrate the first anniversary of the Unity Democratic Club with fellow members,” Rivera said. “I had the opportunity to congratulate the club for reaching this milestone and for creating a space for civically engaged neighbors in the northwest Bronx to build community power in our borough and across New York. “
Since the club’s birth they’ve held meetings in several neighborhoods in the northwest Bronx, elected an executive committee, hosted electeds, activists and advocates for Fair Taxation and Parole Justice and canvassed for candidates in the Bronx and beyond.
“To look back at the last year and see how we went from a group of people who wanted to serve their community (is great),” said the club’s vice president Danielle Guggenheim. “I am really passionate about us bringing our talents to the community… with the mission to elect Democrats throughout the borough.”
One of the great accomplishments for the club was fall of 2022 when they ventured up to Council District 19, which is a very traditional purple district, Singh explained. In collaboration with another organization they helped deliver a win for Pat Ryan.
Speaking of the growing membership of the club, Singh said, “We’ve seen the diversity in our membership from age to different types of backgrounds. One of our accomplishments was creating a diverse membership.”
Guggenheim, a long-time Bronx resident from Norwood, said the diverse membership of not just people from Riverdale is important in having different perspectives and experiences during meetings. She said sometimes their passion causes them to bump heads on certain things but they always keep their eyes on the prize.
“Democrats come from a wide range of spectrum and there are different types of democrats, not all are the same,” Singh said when asked what the club had learned in their first year.” “(We learned) how to find common ground to help elect democrats, not only in our borough but around New York as well and finding that common ground of what makes us a Democrat.”
During the meeting, club members also got down to business. They approved bylaw changes that reduced the term of office for officers from two years to one, with a limit of four consecutive terms. An officer who has served four consecutive terms must wait two years before being able to run for a position again, the bylaw now reads.
One concern brought up at the meeting was that there would be a loss of continuity of skills and practice by replacing the executive committee every year. As a result, the club approved a motion to introduce a lag of two months between the election and taking office. Elections will be held in December during the annual election meeting.
They also voted to approve a new candidate endorsement process, which includes a transparent process for vetting and endorsing club candidates for public office and Democratic Party positions, a way for members to give feedback about candidates and a process for members to get involved and be encouraged to run for internal party positions like County Committee and judicial delegates.
Earlier this year the club experienced a major pitfall when their Democratic Judicial Convention slate put up by Singh and Martin was taken off the ballot following the use of white-out on petitions that were apparently already circulated. The reason for that white-out was to fix a typo of one candidate’s address, but the alteration caused the city Board of Elections to void all of the candidates, leaving the Ben Franklin Club with all the delegate seats in the 81st Assembly District at the judicial nominating convention.
In a statement to The Press, Martin said one of the challenges since the club’s conception was growing their expertise in the nuts and bolts of winning elections.
“Going into 2024, we’re more confident than ever that we’re going to support a slate of candidates who can win and bring true representation to our community,” Martin said. “Now more than ever, this community needs bridge builders. Democrats cannot afford to alienate others within our party. We need to be unified.”
One thing that disappointed many in the community was the low turnout of voters in the June primary. Increasing voter turnout was one of the reasons for the club’s inception, and that goal is still present.
“It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight, I can’t snap my fingers and increase voter turnout,” Singh said. “Something we want to work on is to have a chat with Democrats across the district, hear the concerns they’re making and encouraging them to vote in every election that comes up, the primary, the general.”
Despite low voter turnouts in the past Guggenheim sees a bright future for the club.
“We’re just getting started and I mean that, we’re just getting started,” Guggenheim said. “I meet future friends, I don’t meet strangers anymore.”