Republicans say Trump can win New York. A GOP civil war in Brooklyn won't help.
In Cleveland, even as the New York State Republican Party was basking in the national media spotlight that came with the nomination of Donald Trump, their favorite son, a bitter battle simmered below the surface between competing factions of the Kings County GOP organization.
At stake is the leadership mantle for the party’s county organization in Brooklyn, the city’s most populous borough. And while registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 9 to 1 there, Trump partisans want a unified county organization so they can pull out what they figure are tens of thousands of so-called Reagan Democrats who are open to their candidate’s anti-free trade and pro law and order message.
And for party regulars, looking past 2016 there’s a real concern that the prolonged leadership fight could have an impact on the New York City mayor’s race in 2017. For now, sorting out the nasty mess is in the job of state Supreme Court Justice Edgar Walker.
On one side of the Brooklyn brawl is the faction aligned with state Sen. Marty Golden that has coalesced behind lawyer Ted Ghorra. On the other side is former Assemblyman Arnaldo Ferraro’s faction, backed by former Kings County Chairman Craig Eaton.
A similar dust-up between the factions flared in 2013 over the Kings County chairmanship and went to to the courts but the case was knocked out on technicalities, leaving Eaton in control.
The genesis of the latest split goes back to the county party’s convention held at Brooklyn’s Remsen Hall in September 2015. Ghorra’s forces had pulled together 438 proxies of county committee members eligible to weigh in on the election of the party’s leadership. But the credentials committee, controlled by Eaton, tossed out all but 17 of the pro-Ghorra proxies.
After the credential committee’s purge of 95 percent of Ghorra’s votes, Eaton and his base threw their support and proxies behind Ferraro.
“All of a sudden, Craig Eaton come out and announced he was giving me his proxies as chair of the Kings County Republicans,” Ferraro told the Brooklyn Reporter at the time. “It was a big surprise. Nobody expected it.”
The Golden forces quickly opted to hold their own impromptu party confab outside Remsen Hall. Once they determined there was a sufficient quorum, they elected Ghorra. Both factions filed competiting paperwork with the Board of Elections, which left it to the courts to sort out.
Several of the combatants in the Kings County divide accuse the other side of election fraud, or worse.
The Eaton-Ferraro forces say that the process went off the rails when, just before the September 2015 party convention, robo calls went out from the Golden-Ghorra forces to county committee members telling them to ignore the proxy card mailed to them and, instead, to wait to be personally contacted by their district leader or their representative so they could sign an “official proxy.”
“There’s no such thing as an official proxy. It was all a total fraud,” said one Eaton -Ferraro partisan, who did not want to go on the record because the case is still pending in the courts. “They got those proxies under false pretenses. They had to be thrown out.”
For Glenn Nocera, a Republican district leader and Golden-Ghorra partisan, the purging of all of the proxies for his side was like “a third world dictatorship election.” “The credentials committee goes behind closed doors and makes their decision behind closed doors with no transparency at all,” Nocera told City & State.
“The reality is we already are so outnumbered here in Brooklyn as fellow Republicans, it’s self-defeating for us to be trying to knock each other off,” said Nocera, who estimates that a unified county organization could easily add 30,000 votes to the 116,000 that the Romney-Ryan ticket got in 2012.
So far the Golden-Ghorra side appears to be prevailing in the courts. In March, Walker ruled that the credentials committee aligned with Eaton had acted improperly “with their determination that because they (the proxies) were generated by a fraudulent robo call they could throw them out.”
Walker ruled that the credential committee’s vetting of proxies had to be limited to solely determining if the person exercising it was eligible to vote in the election. “There is nothing in the party rules which gives it the authority to summarily invalidate the proxies votes of duly constituted members of the county committee,” Walker wrote
As a consequence of that ruling, the Golden-Ghorra side picked up another 179 votes but remained 100 votes shy of claiming victory. While both sides are awaiting additional guidance from the court, the Eaton-Ferraro side has filed an appeal.
“After this decision they were on life support and I am pulling the plug,” said John Ciampoli, the lawyer for the Golden-Ghorra faction.
It has been a tough couple of years for New York City’s local county Republican organizations with the criminal convictions of Vincent Tabone, the Queens vice chairman, and Bronx Republican Chairman Joseph Savino in a bribery case involving a bid by former state Sen. Malcolm Smith’s to secure the Republican nomination for mayor.
And the standoff continues as a number of New York Republicans gathered in Cleveland for the Republican National Convention this week have insisted that Trump has a chance to win the state, despite its reliably blue track record and polling showing Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, with a comfortable lead.
“When it comes to this kind of local politics self-interests dominate,” said Doug Muzzio, a political scientist professor at Baruch College. “This isn’t great for the national party but on the ground for the local actors its big stakes.”