Nassau Democrats' nomination of County Legis. Ellen Birnbaum for re-election has sparked a backlash by some party elected officials who are refusing to endorse her candidacy because of comments she made that were viewed as derogatory toward African-Americans.
Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs said Birnbaum (D-Great Neck) had apologized for "insensitive" remarks she made last year about African-Americans living near the Yes We Can community center in New Cassel and deserves a second chance.
But some Democratic elected officials said Wednesday they weren't ready to back her.
"I question whether she is fit to serve," said Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury), whose district includes the community center. "I can't support her candidacy."
Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), who barred Birnbaum from the Democratic caucus, stripped her of five committee assignments and removed one of her staffers, said he was not ready to restore any of those privileges or to campaign for her re-election.
Abrahams said Birnbaum first must meet with minority civic leaders and clergy members and "have an open discussion about race relations."
"There is still a lot of work to be done," he said. "As a person, I forgive Ellen. But as an elected official, it would be inappropriate to do anything until I see this process through."
However, Legis. Carrie Solages (D-Elmont) said he forgives Birnbaum and supports her candidacy. "I've moved beyond what happened," he said.
In an interview before Tuesday's Democratic nominating convention, Birnbaum said she was eager to "move forward" and would meet with community and civic leaders.
"It's time," Birnbaum said. "I hope everyone is in agreement. I would like to work with everyone."
Last May, Birnbaum was overheard by a Bynoe aide calling the area around the community center a "bad neighborhood" and a "ghetto" that is "full of those black people." Legis. Robert Troiano (D-Westbury) said Birnbaum then whispered, "Come on, who from the rest of the town is going to go there? After all, mostly black people live there . . . All they want to do is play basketball."
Birnbaum said she was discussing the underutilization of the center but that her remarks were "insensitive and thoughtless." She has denied using the word "ghetto."
Jacobs said Birnbaum, who rejected calls for her resignation, "committed an error of the tongue, not the heart." He said Birnbaum "took responsibility for her actions and now it's time for the party to forgive."
After Birnbaum's remarks became public last year, about 100 elected leaders, county officials and North Hempstead Democratic leaders rallied in Mineola to call for Birnbaum to resign.North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth, who previously held Birnbaum's legislative seat, called for Birnbaum to step down.
Yesterday, Bosworth declined a request for an interview and issued a statement saying she supports "all the designated candidates of the Democratic party."
Annette Dennis, president of the Nassau County branch of the National Action Network, a nonprofit civil rights organization, was among those who called for Birnbaum to resign last year. Dennis said her opinion has not changed.
"Right now the Democratic Party is doing what's best for them," she said. "Thankfully Legislator Birnbaum doesn't represent Westbury/New Cassel."