October, 2019—With the untimely passing of Dr. Tom Stevens, and the completion of 25 years of activism by the Queens Libertarians (or the original LPQC), it is appropriate, as it moves into its next period of existence, for QL to provide this background summary of the past controversy imposed upon the chapter, and several of its members. QL has often reprised what happened, in order to prevent the state party from repeating the errors that caused the maldevelopment of the party in Queens, and more broadly in New York over much of the past decade. The below discussion (excerpted from a blog post by QL acting head John Clifton) explains this peculiar history:
The 90s-2006 Era
Many activists in the Libertarian Party of New York (LPNY) who extend back to the 1990s in their involvement with the party have been comfortable with the original ‘hub’ form of organizing. The party centered its activity around the meetings held in Manhattan (under a combined 5 borough NYC Libertarian chapter), Long island, and Capitol District regions, with limited stable party presence anywhere else. After the NYC Chapter disbanded over severe divisions about endorsing Howard Stern for Governor in 1994, individual boroughs in NYC were encouraged to organize as local LP chapters under LPNY. The LP of Queens County, founded by Queens real estate broker John Procida in late 1994, was the first county level chapter to do so in NYC, and was its most successful local chapter through the mid 2000s. Even after local affiliates were established for other boroughs, LPQC maintained parity status with Manhattan LP as the most active chapters in the city for the next ten years, at times having the most members, and running more candidates for office during this period than Brooklyn and Staten Island combined.
As the party considered different means of evolving to grow the Libertarian movement in NY during that time, vigorous debate emerged over scaling up the party’s operations and organizing practices. Among the most vocal about proceeding in that direction were LPQC members Dr. Tom Stevens, who suggested increased professionalism and more alliances with liberty-friendly persons in and out of the LP, and Sam Sloan, who preferred litigation as a means for addressing wrongs. It was suggested that the state party should expand its operations beyond organizing a convention and a petition drive each campaign year, and perhaps pursue forming more ‘hubs’ for activity than the Manhattan, LI and Albany centric approach, where the local population could support it.
LPQC was the primary group advocating for more expansion, and for supporting the autonomy of local chapters to develop or try out effective methods to achieve the same. Old line members (who wanted the more tightly controlled ‘hub’ layout to continue) were resistant to this, and to the approach or “look” of activists like Stevens or Sloan, who were seen at times as too combative. Following Stevens becoming a more dominant figure circa 2005, and with dissatisfaction with the early turnout for a LPQC convention in early 2006, certain state members led the creation of a block vote of the state committee to neutralize Queens and Stevens by de-chartering the chapter in November 2006.
Queens hotly objected to the action, quickly reorganized a new LPQC chapter as per the bylaws in January 2007, and brought their case (led by chapter founder Procida) to the 2007 state convention. The convention body present overwhelmingly voted to reinstate LPQC to resolve the issue, but “the faction” would go on to persist in bad mouthing or trying to isolate the Queens chapter for years, while continuing to plot to neutralize or remove Stevens and Sloan. Their most frequent routine was to 1) repeat fact-free accusations and past smears about Stevens (including one charge that went to trial, that he was acquitted of) issued by a previous organization that wanted to marginalize him, rather than expand or grow. 2) Then upon smearing without proving it, proceed immediately to a punitive action (suspension, de-chartering, etc). Sentence first, verdict afterwards, or never.
The 2010 Suspensions
Several persons running for the LP nomination for statewide positions in 2010 (Sam Sloan, Kristin Davis) and other observers of the 2010 state convention (Tom Stevens) expressed there was undue favoritism (among convention organizers) supporting one candidate for Governor, that came at the expense of other candidates. Stevens posted arguments about this on LPNY discussion boards and in his blog, while Sloan litigated about it as an injured party. LPQC supported Sloan’s right to attempt to get his day in court to seek remedy over the matter, but did not endorse his other actions (such as attempting to get the LPNY line via a separate independent petition process, or suing some specific committee members). Davis elected to run for Governor on another created Libertarian line, which she succeeded in petitioning for. It has been suggested that had Davis not perceived favoritism practiced against her at the 2010 convention, she would not have run on a separate libertarian line. Thus many of her 23,000 votes would have gone to the LPNY candidate, and LPNY would have gained permanent ballot status as of that year.
In response to Sloan’s suit, certain members of the state committee chose to assert that they were the victimized party, accused Sloan of practicing aggression, and cast both Sloan and Stevens as performing “disruption” against the state party. During the summer of 2010 in the middle of a LP campaign season, these members (through behind the scenes mobilizing of a block vote, without prior open debate) put forward surprise motions to suspend the LPNY memberships of Stevens and Sloan under the Bylaws.
The method used gamed the existing procedures—suspensions were designed for dealing with a pattern of disruption, not a single alleged episode or mere disagreement, and were supposed to be considered only after a prior review of a written case made for the severe action, etc. Instead, the written case prepared and presented against Stevens was supplied during the meeting when the motion was proposed, allowing zero time for review, or with insufficient review time in the case of Sloan. The “written case,” upon examination afterward, consisted merely of postings of discussion threads where some members hotly disagreed with the views, tone or approach of Stevens or Sloan. Some members later expressed if they had had the time to review the written case before the original vote, they would not have voted to suspend. Stevens’ lifetime LPNY membership was also revoked without even a partial reimbursement of his dues, a violation of his membership contract.
The rampant bias behind the action was noted by statements from neutral third party LPNY members, who commented on it at the time. Attempts to table the motions due to these objections were disregarded, as was the matter of the conflict of interest involved by certain members involved in litigation with Sloan voting on his suspension. The fact that the court had dismissed Sloan’s case about favoritism on procedural grounds (the initial judge, and appeals courts, ruled he had filed after the deadline for litigating the matter) was spun as “Sloan’s suits had been thrown out” based on the substance, the latter of which never got to be litigated. Sloan has also pointed out that in one of the suits against another committee member that WAS litigated on the substance, the judge ruled in his favor. This and other mitigating context appeared to have no impact on the faction set against LPQC, and the two wrongfully suspended members. The bias was compounded by the rulings over the dispute by the parliamentarian, who was on record from before 2010 as against the Queens chapter, and whose rulings, then and in following years, were consistently prejudicial against Stevens, Sloan and LPQC.
While the bylaws stated the suspended members could motion to seek final appeal of the vote by the next state convention, it was widely understood the instigators of the cynically composed suspensions, who controlled the convention business meeting, would (in likewise cynical fashion) simply table the motion to “run out the clock” thereby completing the expulsion of the two members. To head off this outcome, LPQC unanimously voted at their county convention of 2011 to issue a formal complaint statement to the LPNY state committee, advocating they vacate the invalidly performed suspensions. LPQC advised the membership status of Stevens and Sloan was unresolved until the issue was addressed, and that LPNY should at least modify the bylaws to clarify members expulsed at the state level could serve as officers at the local level, especially if they were members of good standing at the national level or other states. The basic answer of the state committee, to both the complaint and the bylaws change, was to ignore both issues for years.
The 2016 Issues
While many supported this faction-led committee stance out of opposition to some of Sloan’s litigation activity, which was thought to be potentially hurtful to encouraging people to join the party, its actual effect was to actually destabilize involvement of long-standing members with the party, which discouraged many Libertarians in Queens from continuing to be active with LPNY. LPQC continued to point out that its complaint to the LPNY state committee over the blatantly suspect expulsions had never been properly resolved, and its members therefore continued to elect Stevens and/or Sloan to local officer positions. It also noted that the fact that both members continued to be active LP members nationally or in other LP chartered organizations around the country (Stevens was PA state chair in 2012, and Sloan has served as an officer in the San Francisco LP for several years). Over the course of this period, at least four state Chairs who served multi-year terms sided with LPQC, along with a few national officers (such as Larry Sharpe), a sign that a constructive resolution to the issue was nearing. In 2015, a state committee vote to effectively reinstate Stevens failed due to a tie vote, an outcome further indicating the unreasonable faction was losing its influence.
But when LPQC again announced it would propose the motion once more in 2016, the same faction who engineered the disputed actions of 2010 mobilized, outside of proper open debate at a state committee meeting, to generate a block vote to remove the charter of LPQC, over “violating the bylaws” (by not removing the LPQC officer status of Stevens). LPQC disputed the charge, pointing out the unresolved complaint about the suspension votes, the unreimbursed dues to Stevens, and that he and Sloan were properly elected local chapter officers under the bylaws. Even though LPQC stated the motion to de-charter was out of order, to which the Chair agreed, the block vote assembled overruled him, and the committee voted to remove LPQC’s charter. The intent was to remove LPQC so it would no longer have the standing to reprise the complaint against the suspensions going forward.
Immediately after the vote, lo and behold, the leaders of the removal of the chapters introduced a Queens Republican to the meeting, who had already agreed to serve as a TCC (Temporary County Chair) for forming a new Queens chapter. Neither info on this individual, or the group of members he formed the new chapter with, had ever been provided to LPQC in the months beforehand. This represented a certain “flexibility” and selective attention to the rules the faction had not allowed for, or afforded to LPQC. The new TCC held a founding meeting months later without all members of LPNY in Queens (in particular, the members of the de-chartered chapter) being notified, a violation of the bylaws designed to prevent the disenfranchised Queens members from being represented in the new chapter. In promoting the LP citywide nominating convention in 2017, former LPQC persons who were LPNY members were again not notified, also in violation of the bylaws.
These actions were disingenuous, outrageous and discpicable when they happened, and remain so today. As a result this top-down, divisive approach to chapter building, the new, replacement or “Astroturf” Queens chapter had three years of struggle gaining any traction in the borough. Only with the success of Larry Sharpe in 2018 did a group emerge, under Queens Chair Michael Arcati, that was stable enough to perform the transition into a more viable, now “permanent ballot status” LP chapter under NY Election law. The original LPQC re-formed as the Queens Libertarians by January 2017, and has continued its schedule of “second Saturday of the month” meetings (from 1994 to present), refusing to be defined by the attacks on its reputation and defamation of its long term members. QL is currently transitioning into functioning as a PAC, while retaining its speaker program and monthly discussion based meetings. QL regrets that the new Queens LP had to suffer from being mostly kept in the dark about how the previous group was bullied out of its charter.
Both QL and the new LP of Queens have reached out to each other by the end of 2018, and approved a solidarity motion for the two groups by summer 2019. The joint statement affims essentially that QL recognizes the Queens LP as the “real LP chapter” and recommends its members join it, while LP Queens recognizes the circumstances concerning the treatment of LPQC in the 2010s was never properly resolved by the old LPNY state committee, and has not been helpful to party development in Queens. Sam Sloan was recently elected as Treasurer of the Bronx LP chapter, meaning under the new circumstances following 2018, wrongfully or supposedly “expulsed” LPNY members can and should be able to serve as officers at the local LP level, just as LPQC has steadfastly maintained.
The improvement of the party’s growth and professionalism in New York eventually finally occurred due to the emerging influence of LP leaders from the Western side of the state since 2014, and Queens business consultant Larry Sharpe’s success in obtaining permanent ballot status for LPNY through his 2018 Gubernatorial campaign. These leaders have largely replaced the remnants of the old state committee, who had been so intent on what they called their “good works” of demeaning, excluding or isolating all figures and chapters who differed from them (as with their disenfranchisement of “the Procida group” or LPQC). This remnant still wants to exercise these toxic veto powers, however, and recently complained that the old LPNY organization’s rules (under the old bylaws) should still govern the new LPNY structure that is officially recognized as a party under the state’s election laws. Sam Sloan has named names in calling out the remnants who campaign for permanent “hub” control of LPNY and micro-management of the local chapters:
“…The Blay Tarnoff Group was noted for internal disputes and the efforts of Blay Tarnoff and Gary Donoyan to expel the John Procida Group led by Tom Stevens from the Libertarian Party.
The John Procida Group [LPQC] is by far the longest standing and most continuously active Libertarian group in New York State.
Blay Tarnoff wants to keep out of the Libertarian Party Tom Stevens who he expelled and all the other people he expelled from the party.
In other words, the “good works” he refers to were actually bad things Tarnoff did and that was the reason the party never got more than 50,000 votes until now.
In 2010 the Libertarian Party candidate got 48,359 votes. We easily would have gotten more than 50,000 votes had the absentee ballots been counted.
The reason the absentee ballots were not counted was Blay Tarnoff went on an orgy of expelling people he did not like, especially Tom Stevens. Instead of building up the party he was intent on tearing it down.”
And that, friends of liberty, is the more complete context, or the rest of the story. Peace and Freedom, in the 2020s and beyond!
Epilogue: Following the release of this blog posting, in November 2019, the LPNY State Committee voted to dissolve the non-profit membership corporation that was the nominating body for LPNY before it became a recognized party by New York State Board of Elections. The dissolution process completed by January 2020, meaning the bylaws structure and other rulings of that organization are now null and void. We truly are now in a new era, free of the bylaws manipulation, used for factional bullying of local LP groups as recounted in the above article.
This posting will be updated as time allows further completion of or correction to the record regarding the first LPQC’s history.