Democrat Robert Zimmerman.

Democrat Robert Zimmerman. Credit: James Escher

Daily Point

Lone critic complains losing to Santos disqualifies longtime DNC member from another term

An Albany meeting of the state Democratic Party took a strange turn Wednesday, as the party faithful prepared to vote on a slate of candidates to serve as New York’s representatives on the Democratic National Committee.

Ben Yee, a former candidate for New York City public advocate, stood up and offered a motion to separate committeeman Robert Zimmerman from the rest of the slate and nominate someone else instead.

Yee had first voiced his concern on social media Wednesday morning.

“Robert Zimmerman, the guy who lost to George Santos, is running for reelection to the DNC at today’s @nydems meeting,” Yee wrote on X. “I like him personally, but is that really the right choice for one of NY’s 13 delegates to run the National Party?”

In response to Yee’s motion, state Democratic Party chair Jay Jacobs, who was running the meeting, spoke up. On Thursday, Jacobs recalled for The Point what he said:

“I’m going to take issue with that motion, Ben,” Jacobs said from the podium in front of the room. “I know Robert Zimmerman. Robert Zimmerman is a friend of mine. And I have to tell you something. I’ve sat with Robert Zimmerman at many DNC meetings. No one stands up for Democratic principles and values better and more often than Robert Zimmerman.”

And, Jacobs added, it was “outrageous and unfair” to use Zimmerman’s loss to Santos against him.

Christine Quinn, the party’s executive committee chair, followed up, with an additional defense of Zimmerman.

Yee pushed back again, saying he thought it’d be better if those up for reelection to the committee would be present at the party meeting, implying that Zimmerman wasn’t there.

That’s when Zimmerman, sitting about six rows behind Yee, stood up.

“I’m right here,” Zimmerman said.

The crowd of about 300 stood and applauded.

Attorney Thomas Garry then stood up and, according to one person present at the meeting “read Ben Yee the riot act,” criticizing Yee’s decision to go after Zimmerman.

Finally, Jacobs returned to business, noting that there was a motion on the floor — and it needed a second.

No one seconded Yee’s motion. Jacobs moved on — and ultimately, the full slate of candidates for the DNC’s New York contingent was approved. The state has 13 committee members, including Jacobs and Quinn. Zimmerman has served as a committee member for 24 years.

“It lacked common civility and decency,” Jacobs said of Yee’s move. “It was to me so unnecessary a public attack on someone who didn’t deserve it, solely for the purpose of self-promotion. We can all have our different views on policy and the rest, but when we resort to personal attacks and cheap ones at that, then I think that is below the dignity of our body. It shouldn’t be acceptable and yesterday, it wasn’t.”

The rest of the two-hour meeting proceeded smoothly, with no further controversy.

Yee ran for public advocate in New York City in 2019, and ended up with 2.5% of the vote. Several sources told The Point this isn’t the first time that Yee has tried to do something like this. One party member called him a “seeker of controversy.” In 2019, Yee led a failed effort at a Manhattan Democratic county committee meeting to oust New York County party leader Keith Wright.

Zimmerman said he saw Yee’s actions as “typical,” but was surprised by the response that followed.

“They didn’t have to go the extra mile but they stepped up and I felt so moved and grateful for what they said,” Zimmerman said of Jacobs, Quinn and Garry. “They didn’t have to do that, but I was so honored by it and the response from the room just shocked me.”

Afterward, Zimmerman was surrounded by party representatives from all over the state, some of whom, multiple sources said, offered their help if he ever chose to run again. But then Zimmerman ran into Yee.

“I gave him my card and I said, 'Ben, give me a call. It would be helpful if next time, before you form an opinion, to get your facts first,' ” Zimmerman recalled.

— Randi F. Marshall randi.marshall@newsday.com

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