A New Era for Downtown Political Club

Last month we noted the election of Jeanne Wilcke as the new president of the Downtown Independent Democrats (DID), one of Lower Manhattan’s most influential political clubs. Recently I stopped by her NOHO loft to discuss what’s ahead in downtown politics and what she’s hoping to accomplish as the organization’s new leader.

A longtime neighborhood activist, Wilcke has served on Community Board 2, led the Friends of NOHO and was campaign manager for Pete Gleason, a candidate in last year’s first district City Council race.  She is well acquainted with the boom and bust cycles that have defined and transformed New York City. After leaving a career on Wall Street, she co-founded a real estate firm that bought up dozens of buildings in Manhattan and ran them as rental properties, before wisely downsizing the business in 2003. These days, Wilcke is playing an increasingly active role as a political and community organizer.

New York’s political clubs may not wield the influence they once did, but they’re still important players in city state and federal elections.  Their endorsements and organizing muscle can make a difference in close races. Last year, a civil war broke in inside DID after members voted to endorse Gleason instead of incumbent City Councilmember Alan Gerson (another candidate, Margaret Chin, won). In the aftermath of the acrimonious campaign, a group of Gerson supporters broke away and created a new club, Lower Manhattan Democrats.

Months later, all parties seem to have moved on. Wilcke emphasized the need to find common ground. As people in Lower Manhattan continue to suffer economic hardship, she said, it’s clear to everyone there’s no room for petty politics. Her top priority during the next several months will be recruitment. The club’s new secretary, Alex Li, is a student at NYU. Wilcke said she’ll be working hard to attract more young members, who have a desire to become politically active.

Wilcke believes clubs play a valuable role in the political process. For one thing, she said, club sponsored forums give voters a chance to observe the candidates up close and to question them about key issues. But even more crucial, she suggested, they hold elected officials accountable to the people.

On the day we spoke, Wilcke had just finished arranging many of the details for an upcoming judicial candidates forum, to be held May 27th (630pm/Independence Plaza Community Room). The club is sponsoring the event along with Village Reform Democrats, the Stonewall Democratic Club and the Village Independent Democrats.

But before that, DID is holding its annual fundraiser Sunday afternoon, at the home of former DID President (and current treasurer) Sean Sweeney. To find out more about that, or about becoming a member, check out the organization’s Facebook Page and/or web site.