Gallatin sophomore Rebecca Karpen officially became a member of the Democratic County Committee Board on Monday. Though Karpen campaigned to represent Election District 51, she was offered a seat to represent Election District 64 — which covers part of the West Village, including the Stonewall Inn — after she lost Election District 51 by about 20 votes.
Members of the Democratic County Committee Board vote on the Democratic nominees for New York supreme and civil courts — and in the event of a special election, they would elect other local officials, like state senators and city councilmembers, according to Karpen. Members hold the position for two years.
Karpen, who grew up in New York City, said she only heard about the County Committee Board a few months ago, after a colleague at a political startup mentioned it to her. After learning about the position, she decided to run for District 51, since you are allowed to run for anything in your own assembly district.
“Election districts are considered the smallest representative landmass you can have,” Karpen said. “We pick the nominees — the city would vote [on them].”
Karpen said she ran into trouble when she was first running her campaign. She initially used the wrong forms and had her original petitions voided, and she accidentally went to the wrong building to turn them in.
“Essentially what I had to do was go all over my building and talk to people I’d never talked to before,” she said. “People in the city don’t talk to their neighbors — it’s not something we do.”
In order to run for office, Karpen needed 10 percent of Democrats in her district to sign her petition.
“It was very very anxiety-inducing, but it was rewarding too because I got to speak to people and I got to meet people,” Karpen said.
Karpen said she is very adamantly pro-choice, and she is a strong supporter of prison reform — she calls for either the reconstruction or closing of Rikers Island.
“We still use prison labor to bury bodies in a potter’s field, which strikes me as disturbing and archaic,” Karpen said. “I’m also for drug use offenders going to rehab centers instead of prisons.”
Karpen also said she supports a single payer healthcare bill and making the CUNY system free.
“Granted I have very little, if any, say in these issues given the small scale of my position, but they’re all very important to me,” Karpen said.
Karpen said that while she is excited to be able to represent District 64 in the County Committee Board, she was not happy with the campaign process. She said it was not transparent enough — she was not even aware she had competitors in her district, and she did not know some districts did not even have anyone campaigning for their County Committee Board seat.
“It shouldn’t be this hard to do something good,” Karpen said.
Karpen said in addition to voter suppression, candidate suppression exists, especially because running for office is extremely expensive. She also said the lack of knowledge about elected positions like hers leads to many older people who have longstanding relationships with Democratic clubs holding office.
“When we talk about voter suppression, we’re also talking about candidate suppression, where people who should be running — these visionaries [who] come from lower-income backgrounds who have things to add to the community — they don’t get to run because of largely economic and social inhibitions,” she said.
After being offered representation for District 64, Karpen said that though she represents a very low-profile district, she looks forward to the task.
“The fact that I’m doing this and am at all contributing to something — having my voice heard — is really important to me,” Karpen said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Karpen campaigned to represent District 66, when in fact she campaigned to represent District 51.
Email Natasha Roy at [email protected]