Every Republican was seeing red at the Brooklyn GOP convention on Sept. 30, as a faction led by state Sen. Marty Golden tried — and failed — to boot party chairman Craig Eaton.
The power struggle began with arcane parliamentary maneuvering, but ended with a raucous exchange of epithets and accusations of mob rule and brainwashing.
“It’s a lynch mob here!” Eaton yelled over the noise of audience members chanting “Sham!” after his allies tossed out nearly three hundred votes against the six-and-a-half-year incumbent.
Golden (R–Bay Ridge) and his supporters wanted to replace Eaton with Timothy Cochrane — a former Conservative Party congressional candidate for Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst and Staten Island — claiming that Eaton had failed to enlarge the Republican base or challenge long-sitting Democratic electeds.
To unseat Eaton, Golden brought 565 “proxies” — signed affidavits from executive committee members not present at the convention allowing him to vote in their stead. But the party’s credentials committee — a four-person body appointed by Eaton to decide the legitimacy of proxies — threw out 295 of the affidavits before they could be counted, arguing that they were invalid because Golden had collected them before the convention was officially called on Sept. 24.
Things got nasty when Golden stood up to protest the maneuver.
“You’re not in charge here!” said credentials committee head Gene Berardelli. “Stop acting like you’re in charge and be seated!”
But Golden, Cochrane, and their backers continued to shout motions for all the proxies to be counted — motions dismissed by GOP strategist Gerry O’Brien, who acted as temporary chairman during the convention. Chants of “sham!” broke out in the audience several more times, and one Cochrane supporter was ejected from the room.
All this happened before Eaton made his pitch for re-election, arguing the he deserved another two-year term for making inroads into deep-blue Brooklyn, with the election of Bob Turner to Congress and David Storobin to state Senate, in special referendums in 2011 and 2012, respectively. But the heckling continued unabated.
“You are a nasty son of a bitch!” shouted Glenn Nocera at the incumbent. Eaton severed the Kings County Republican Party’s 131-year-old relationship with Nocera’s group, the Brooklyn Young Republican club, in 2011 and formed the rival Brooklyn Young Republicans Club.
Eaton fired back by calling the crowd a group of thugs trying to enforce Golden’s will on the party.
“I’m not going to take direction from a state Senator about how I run the party,” said Eaton. “I’m not going to take direction from a state Senator about what candidates I’m going to run.”
Cochrane made his own speech, vowing greater outreach to Brooklyn’s growing Chinese, Caribbean, and Hasidic communities. The aspiring Republican boss said the party would die out without registering new members.
“We need to increase the Republican rolls, or we’re doomed,” said Cochrane.
Voters in the room backed Cochrane over Eaton 66–20. But Eaton had 420 proxy votes with him — which trumped the 270 Golden was left with after the credentials committee’s decision, for a final tally of 440 votes for Eaton against 336 for Cochrane.
Cochrane and his supporters vowed a lawsuit against the party to force it to count the tossed-out votes, arguing that there is no rule against gathering proxies before the declaration of a convention. Cochrane blasted the discarding of Golden’s proxies as a naked attempt by Eaton to cling to power.
“I’m disgusted with the process,” said Cochrane. “There’s no respect for the system.”
The convention battle followed a weeks-long mailing campaign from Eaton and his supporters. Letters sent to Republicans claimed that non-Republican members of Golden’s staff had “brainwashed” him into opposing the sitting chairman — who had been a longtime ally to the senator. A party leader said on the condition of anonymity that the main “brainwasher” is Golden’s chief-of-staff Jerry Kassar, who is chairman of the Brooklyn Conservative Party.
Kassar — who, as a non-Republican, did not attend the convention — dismissed the accusation.
“Simply not true. Anyone who knows Senator Golden knows he is his own man,” Kassar said.
Republicans on Golden’s staff also denied the claim, and argued that challenging Eaton did not harm the party.
“I don’t think running an alternative candidate for chairman is divisive. That’s why we have conventions,” said Golden aide Ray Riley. “We would have walked out of here united, if the election was not stolen.”
But some felt that the chairmanship battle was a self-inflicted wound to the relatively small Brooklyn GOP — and that the party of Lincoln cannot stand with its house divided against itself.
“The party faces enough challenges at this point, and this could have been settled other ways,” said one member, who asked not to be named.
Golden and Eaton have feuded several times in recent months. In April, Golden called for the resignation of the unnamed “County Chairman #1” mentioned in the federal indictment of state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D–Queens) and Councilman Dan Halloran (R–Queens) — who stand accused of attempting to bribe GOP borough leaders into letting Smith run for mayor as a Republican. Golden’s statement was widely viewed as an attack and accusation against Eaton. The two also endorsed rival mayoral candidates, with Golden backing former Metropolitan Transportation Authority head Joe Lhota, and Eaton supporting supermarket mogul John Catsimatidis. Lhota ultimately triumphed, and became the Republican nominee.