What Were They Thinking – Part II: “Operation Regime Change”
It was the cause célèbre of the summer and stunned the entire party–reformer and status quoer alike.
The 49th Assembly District debacle was one of the most talked about issues in the year 2010 in local GOP politics. Including a battle between two old foes, GOP Chairman ________ “The Duke of Bay Ridge” ________ (I do not refer to the Brooklyn GOP Chairman by name) and former Assemblyman Arnaldo Ferraro, the race centered on two GOP candidates, District Leader Lucretia Regina-Potter and unknown Peter Cipriano.
In the end, both Ferraro and The Duke came out of the race wounded, and today, the district can expect another two years of Democratic representation in Albany. The results left many scratching their heads, but one question about all characters involved stands above the rest: just what were they all thinking?
Now, with some post-election perspective, we can explore that question.
Let’s recap the background on the 49th/establishment clash.
Just over a year ago, 49th AD figure Arnaldo Ferraro was considered the best non-establishment GOP figure to topple the current Chairman. But his last-minute effort to provide Republicans with another choice in the election for Chairman was ultimately unsuccessful. However, The Duke, his ego bruised from his weakened position after his re-election, sought to enact his revenge against the 49th AD leadership.
The Chairman started luring 49th AD poll workers away from their loyal support of Ferraro and his Fiorello LaGuardia Club, which is the backbone of the 49th AD’s organization. The Chairman even went so far as to post an ad on craigslist asking people to sign up to be poll workers. Traditionally, poll worker jobs are assigned by the respective district leaders of the Assembly districts. He also asked Fiorello LaGuardia Republicans to leave their club behind and stand with him.
By these brazen acts, it sent a clear message that even more shenanigans were on the way.
And they were.
By June, signatures were being collected for the 49th AD race to unseat old-timer Peter Abbate, and both Lucretia Regina-Potter and Cirpiano were in the running after a brief court stint. Cipriano was a 49th AD Benedict Arnold, it was said, because he turned on his political mentor, Regina-Potter, to attack her and her ally Ferraro with county support.
By then, according to all accounts, the Chairman was even more “obsessed” with the 49th, even going so far as to place the GOP’s “Victory Center” (a misnomer, I assure you) within blocks of Lucretia Regina-Potter’s campaign office, which she shared with the Grimm campaign.
“It was intentional,” said one source. “Everyone said that was the worst place to put an office. No foot traffic goes over there. It was clear they did it just to mess with Lucretia. They wanted a presence in the 49th. And they did it at Michael Allegretti’s expense in the 13th Congressional District.”
(For more on how the party failed Michael Allegretti, see the previous piece in this series: The Allegretti Question)
Also, Marty Golden minion Jerry Kassar did his part, throwing the Conservative Party line to a juvenile candidate able to legally drink Kool-Aid–but not alcohol.
One person noted that Regina-Potter received a tremendous deal of Conservative voter support in the past, which Mr. Kassar must have ignored…
Meanwhile, GOP newbie Cipriano had initialized his campaign, one that would be filled with, as one emailer told us, “reckless fiscal management” and “drunk sailor spending.” At the end of the day, Cipriano would spend thousands upon thousands of dollars to face fellow Republican Regina-Potter and squandered it all in the race for the primary.
Questions mounted toward the end of August about Ferraro and whether he had effectively planned for the kind of assaults The Duke and his minions were unleashing on the 49th.
The fact is conceded even by some 49th AD supporters that Ferraro “dropped the ball” in the race, appeared to be largely absent, and, of course, ultimately witnessed his candidate be defeated.
The question is why?
The answer from a plurality of insiders was pretty unanimous. “Everyone thought Lucretia was going to win,” said one. “Cipriano was not known, and most active Republicans had voted for Regina-Potter in the past against Abbate, so it was assumed by many that she would wipe the floor with the boy.”
Others have speculated that the Michael Grimm campaign pulled a fast one on the 49th AD leadership, pledging their support of Regina-Potter while actively working for the green Cipriani behind Regina-Potter’s back.
“People were very suspicious about how Joe Kovac (Michael Grimm’s Brooklyn campaign manager) had managed to score a win for Grimm in Brooklyn but Grimm’s endorser Lucretia Regina-Potter was left in the lurch,” one person told us. “Something didn’t smell right there.”
That is an interesting point…
But, at the end of the day, it’s not hard to understand why people would be unfazed by Cipriano. A teenager barely out of high school, the would-be Assemblyman has a very nasal voice and a demeanor reminiscent of Steve Urkel. He was (and apparently remains) a nobody, commenting occasionally on the GOP’s irrelevant talk show that bores their four or so listeners into weekly comas.
“The perception amongst many, even in the Brooklyn GOP leadership, is that he’s a snobbish know-it-all. He’s not the most attractive looking guy (like Grimm or Allegretti, who have looks), and he’s never held a ‘real job,’ with the exception of working for Mayor Bloomberg, which is a turn off to a lot of Republicans.”
And he was going up against a GOP regular, a businesswoman and a mother, who certainly seemed like the sure bet to win.
So why did Regina-Potter lose?
To those we spoke with, low turnout and ineffective strategies on the part of the 49th leaders combined with the GOP establishment’s lure of patronage jobs to those who betrayed the Fiorello LaGuardia Club led to the unfortunate loss for Mrs. Regina-Potter.
But whether the 49th AD support behind Regina-Potter underestimated Cipriano or not, the numbers at the end of the day provided for clear percentage victory for the pro-establishment newcomer.
“It was a loss without a doubt,” one GOP figure said. “But, at the very least, you can say they’ve learned their lesson in the 49th.”
We certainly hope so. We are in the process of reaching out to the 49th AD leadership as we speak, but by one account, changes are already visible.
“She’s changed,” says one friend of Mrs. Regina-Potter. “She understands the reasons why what happened happened, and they are taking steps to assure the GOP establishment never gets a tactical advantage in their district again. Eaton awoke a sleeping giant, and people are very upset with the way he handled this.”
That much is certain.
People are upset with The Duke and his failures this year, which included Mr. Cipriano.
Indeed, it was old hand Arnaldo Ferraro who took Eaton to task in an exclusive printed in The Daily Eagle. Here’s an excerpt:
“There’s no excuse for winning or losing. But there are reasons for losing,” Ferraro said. Looking at elections results then and now, he said, “It’s a simple matter of mathematics, which tells us a lot.”
“Look, this year Abbate won with 7,416 votes and Cipriano lost with 4,659. But in 2008, though Regina-Potter lost to Abbate, she got 5,487 votes. Think about those results with over 800 more than Cipriano,” he said. “Regina-Potter did not have full party support, except here with us, while Cipriano had full party support and had a greater loss.”
Even though Grimm and Malliotakis won, Ferraro noted that Democratic incumbents Congressman Michael McMahon and Assemblywoman Janele Hyer-Spencer topped Republicans in Brooklyn.
That much is correct. After all, The Duke won nothing in Brooklyn. And wounding Regina-Potter merely perpetuated the perception that The Duke is politically bloodthirsty and willing to sacrifice winnable candidates for personal vendettas. In other words, he does not have the voters’ best interests at heart.
In that regard, the 49th AD debacle has probably taught us the most valuable lesson we can learn about the Brooklyn GOP “leadership.”
Even when they win, they lose.