After Mending Fences, Young Dems Revitalize

After a year long hiatus, a new wave of members has been busy trying to rebuild the Queens County Young Democrats into a group working to champion the party’s candidates and ideals in the borough and beyond.

“We’re back and better than ever,” said acting President Matthew Silverstein, 23, of Bayside.

Meeting in bars and cafes throughout Queens, the club’s energetic, 50 person core of students and young professionals strives to “remind young Democrats and young people in this borough that their voices still matter,” Silverstein said.

While his group of Queens residents between the ages of 18 and 36 work to breathe new life into the local campaigns, Silverstein’s biggest project has been to mend the organization’s historically strained relationship with the Queens County Democratic Organization.

In March 2005, Evan Lederman, then president of the New York State Young Democrats, approached Silverstein about assuming the reins of the Queens group after meeting at a youth summit. A year earlier, after watching the club not apply for charter renewal with the New York State Young Democrats, Lederman made the Queens County Young Democrats’ revival a goal of his administration.

The club had not applied for charter renewal after the Queens County Democratic Organization, chaired by Thomas Manton, blocked the application’s approval by pulling back its support. The move essentially rendered the group defunct after years of watching many members use it as a career stepping stone—challenging candidates put forth by the Democratic establishment.

“People were citing their leadership positions with the young Dems when running for City Council seats and the old guard, which just assumed those seats were theirs, didn’t appreciate it,” said one Young Democrats member.

Many close to the revitalized club attribute Silverstein’s success to his ability to balance the energy of young activists—none of whom were with the group when it lost the support of the county Democrats—with respect for the Queens Democratic establishment.

“I see the QCYD as an ally of the county,” said Silverstein, who is a Hunter College graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in urban affairs. “There’s a growing epidemic, a growing apathy among young people in this country. Young people are less likely to get involved … and it’s something we can work together to address.”

The club is largely composed of students from area schools including St. John’s University, LaGuardia Community College, York College and the John Jay School of Criminal Justice. Many other members work with law firms, elected officials and nonprofit organizations.

Longtime Woodside resident and club Executive Secretary David Rosasco was drawn to the Young Democrats by Silverstein’s vision. Rosasco, one of the group’s older members at 33, said “Matt (Silverstein) has done a great job setting an agenda for us and having the drive to see it acted upon. He’s empowering people here because he’s convincing them that they can effect change by working within the system.”

This work within the system has included meeting with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign manager to discuss petitioning strategies and other ways that the club can aid her 2006 re election effort. Clinton invited Silverstein and the Queens County Young Democrats to walk with her up Fifth Avenue in Manhattan’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

“I’m very impressed with what they’re doing. The structure they’ve set up allows for very healthy dialogue,” said Councilman Joe Addabbo Jr., of Howard Beach. Addabbo spoke to 35 members at last month’s club meeting at LIC Bar in Long Island City, and was a member himself.

While Democrats Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo have emerged as front runners in their respective races for governor and attorney general, the club doesn’t endorse Democrats challenging other Democrats. However, the members say they eagerly await the emergence of viable candidates looking to unseat Republican Sens. Frank Padavan and Serphin Maltese, saying they would help challengers by canvassing neighborhoods and campaigning online.

Looking to build relationships in the community, the club’s executive board recently attended the Queens County Democratic Party’s Women’s Luncheon. On Oct. 26 the group, along with Council Member John Liu, held a fundraiser in Forest Hills to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Still drafting its platform, the Queens County Young Democrats don’t yet weigh in, as a body, on issues of national debate, such as the Iraq war and immigration. “We’re just trying to get our house in order now,” Silverstein said. “We have to have our house in Queens in order before we can move on to bigger things.”

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