STATEN ISLAND -- Staten Island Democrats elected Assemblyman Michael Cusick to lead the party as its new chairman, ending John Gulino’s 12-year tenure.
Speaking to nearly 400 party members and guests in the Crystal Room, South Beach, Cusick vowed that under his leadership, “every duly elected member of this county committee will be heard, I promise you." He also said that the party would be more transparent under his watch.
Cusick said the party would look to institute a number of reforms in the coming weeks, including a limit of three, two-year terms for county leaders.
Other reforms would ensure that party members receive more prompt notice to attend county committee meetings, and would mandate that committee members are contacted when decisions are made by the party’s executive committee.
“I think we heard from rank-and-file members over the years that they wanted these reforms, they wanted more transparency, they wanted to be more engaged,” Cusick said. "And that was always the point of us doing this.”
Cusick said he planned to appoint longtime Island attorney Laura LoBianco Sword and Stephanie Shavuo, an aide to City Councilwoman Debi Rose (D-North Shore), as party vice chairs.
“There were concerns about who would be leader," Cusick said, "and that was just typical of negotiating and getting things out. I think everybody just got together, everybody was on the same page about the reforms … and there will be more reforms coming.”
In the end, just eight committee members voted against Cusick’s election. There was also one abstention.
The head of Staten Island Women Who March, Nicole Negron, who was vehemently opposed to an elected official leading the party, said she decided to vote for Cusick because it was the most “practical” decision.
“It came down to making a practical decision about how best to make the party more transparent, accountable, accessible, more representative of our communities -- these were the reasons we joined county committee, and we believe that we can accomplish more by working with party leaders than by shouting in from outside,” Negron said.
Democrats had long expressed frustration with Gulino’s leadership. The former chairman took heat when the party organization failed to back longtime Assemblyman Matthew Titone in last year’s race for Surrogate. Titone won a party primary and the general election.
Gulino also took fire when the party failed to qualify two Democratic state Supreme Court candidates for the ballot last year, in effect handing two coveted court seats to the Republicans.
Gulino did not attend Tuesday’s convention, but in prepared remarks that were read out loud from the podium pointed to recent party wins in races for Congress and district attorney. He also noted that Democrats had elected the first black official in borough history, Rose, and the first openly gay lawmaker in Island annals, Titone.
“We didn’t always agree,” Gulino wrote, “but we had the same goal: to elect Democrats.”