Aspiring Politicos Vie for County Seats

Natasha DillonMeghan Keneally. Natasha Dillon.

It hasn’t exactly been a banner year for New York politicians: the names Weiner and Kruger have recently been added to the list of elected officials who are associated with scandal.

But the roster of players on the state’s political scene is constantly replenishing, and this summer, a handful of aspiring East Village pols are among 90 Manhattanites running for positions at one of the lowest levels of the state’s political hierarchy, the New York County Democratic Committee.

You could be forgiven if you hadn’t heard of the county committee before — its workings are one of the more arcane aspects of state politics. County committees meet roughly once a year and one of their most significant roles is to step in during times of unexpected transition to choose nominees for special elections, such as the Sept. 13 contest to fill Mr. Weiner’s seat.

Natasha Dillon, 26, is one of local candidates running for a seat on the committee. Ms. Dillon has a growing familiarity with the city’s political scene — she recently became a member of Community Board 3 and has long been an activist in the gay and lesbian community — but she wasn’t completely aware of the role of the county committee.

“I know they have some sort of say in nominations of Democratic candidates of special elections, like the Queens County Committee is meeting about Weiner,” she said one recent afternoon before she headed out to petition for the required signatures in order to get her name on the ballot. “It’s a very small commitment.”

Ms. Dillon and her friend Sergio Llanos, 22, spent five hours walking around her district collecting signatures on a recent Saturday and Ms. Dillon headed out again three days later to finish up. It wasn’t that she had very far to go: her district, like many county committee districts in the city, comprises one city block — the south side of 14th Street and the north side of 13th Street between Avenues A and B. Armed with lists of registered Democrats in the area, they brought their ever-present clipboards and made the rounds.

County CommissionMeghan Keneally. Ms. Dillon and Sergio Llanos.

The push to get county committee seats filled started with the Manhattan Young Democrats, a volunteer group with about 230 members, who thought that the county committee would be a good way to get people involved during the “off” years of national politics.

“It’s that much harder to convince people to get involved because in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 9 to 1, you can become complacent very easily,” said Ahmed Tigani, the vice president of Manhattan Young Democrats. “It helps us keep our edge, it’s a combination of new voices and new people. This is a way for those new voices to come and start working with the Democratic clubs in a structured way.”

There were 900 open county committee seats when the Manhattan Young Democrats looked into the issue several months ago. While they have been recruiting friends and colleagues to run, they have tried to keep the publicity to a minimum in hopes of allowing their members to run unopposed.

“The party hasn’t done a very good job at publicizing what it is doing because it is in some people’s best interest to get keep it off the radar,” said Emmy Suzuki Harris, the group’s president.

Essentially, with the relatively small time commitment, the minimal number — 30 — of signatures required for a spot on the ballot, party leaders hope that participants approach the project with a civic-minded attitude and will step up to the plate.

“It seemed like an easy way to get a feel for what it’s like to do a campaign and to go through the process of petitioning,” said Prince Agarwal, 31, who ran for the city block that includes 10th and 11th Streets between Avenues B and C. “If there was another Democrat running, I don’t know if I would because it’s such a minor position.”