The following is a Press Release from Peter Cipriano, a member of the Kings County Republican Committee and candidate for State Committeeman:
July 29, 2011 – (Bath Beach, Brooklyn) – Papers were filed yesterday with the Kings County Supreme Court accusing Kings County Republican Chairman Craig A. Eaton of conspiring to influence an election through a “Pay to Play” scheme, abusing his position and political power by trading jobs and possibly even money for political favors.
The charges were filed by Peter E. Cipriano, 21-year-old Bath Beach resident and College of Staten Island student, who last year won the Republican Primary for State Assembly in the 49th Assembly District which covers parts of the Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach, and Boro Park neighborhoods of southwest Brooklyn. Cipriano then went on to surprise most local pundits by achieving the highest percentage against incumbent Assemblyman Peter Abbate since 1988.
Cipriano, a member of the Republican County Committee, who has been involved in local Republican politics for the last 6 years and is currently running for State Committeeman, has described in his petition to the court how Eaton orchestrated an illegal pay to play scheme in an effort to control and manipulate the elected party officials in the 49th Assembly District. First, Eaton organized a targeted mailing to the voters of the district, sending all Republicans a postcard asking vaguely if they want to make $600. The postcard included instructions to attend an information session at Brooklyn Republican Party Headquarters on 17th Avenue to learn how to become an Election Day poll worker. Then, those who attended and expressed interest in working at poll sites were pressured to pledge support for the Chairman’s candidate for State Committeeman, Marc D’Ottavio, by signing D’Ottavio’s petition to appear on the ballot and by collecting more signatures.
It is also unclear whether Eaton paid others to collect signatures in order to qualify his candidate, which is also illegal in New York State. Notably, there is at least one indisputable signature forgery, where the signature collector forged a voter’s signature after it was made clear that the voter would not sign the petition.
In talking about the situation, Cipriano calls D’Ottavio’s candidacy into question, describing D’Ottavio as a puppet candidate for Eaton in his quest to control the election outcome. Notably, D’Ottavio did not collect a single signature for his petition, but a small group of Eaton loyalists who are Brooklyn Republican Party officials and who live outside of the district did collect signatures for Eaton’s candidate, including Chairman Eaton himself. Then in a bizarre twist, after having filed a sufficient number of signatures to qualify for the ballot, D’Ottavio declined the candidacy leaving a vacancy on the petition, which could only be filled by the appointment of a new candidate selected by a committee appointed and lead by Craig Eaton. Subsequently, Eaton personally interviewed potential candidates to coronate with the signatures. Ultimately, Matthew J. Graves, a long time Board of Elections employee, who also collected signatures for the fraudulent petition was selected by Eaton to be the new candidate.
Eaton’s involvement and obsession with the 49th Assembly District began at the end of 2009, when current State Committeewoman, Lucretia Regina-Potter opposed Eaton’s re-election as County Chairman. Last year, Eaton, who at the time was fixated on eliminating Regina-Potter for her betrayal, supported then first time candidate Peter Cipriano over Regina-Potter to be the Republican Party nominee for State Assembly and run against long-time Democratic incumbent Peter Abbate. At this time, Eaton also made an unprecedented move for the Brooklyn GOP County organization by opening a new GOP County Headquarters four blocks from Regina-Potter’s campaign headquarters in the middle of the 49th Assembly District.
Going a step further, in an effort to neuter Regina-Potter’s campaign organization, Eaton also used his authority as Chairman to strip from Regina-Potter her ability as a state committee person to place Election Day poll workers at poll sites throughout the district. Similar to Eaton’s current situation, Regina-Potter at the time also ran her own pay to play scam. Regina Potter’s scheme however was veiled by her club, the Fiorello LaGuardia Republican club, which made it difficult to explicitly prove the quid pro quo arrangement the club operated by. However it was widely known implicitly by locals that to be a poll worker, a Republican voter must join her club, pay club dues, buy tickets to club fundraisers, and provide political support and other political favors to Regina-Potter.
“When Chairman Eaton stopped Lucretia Regina-Potter’s scam and her ability to abuse and extort people – many of whom are seniors on fixed incomes – I thought he was focused on setting the system right. I thought he supported my candidacy last year because we had a common desire to do right by the voters and have a candidate who would work hard to unseat the Democratic Assemblyman,” Cipriano said. “In hindsight, I see he is more concerned with building his own power and fighting fellow Republicans, than promoting the principles of the Republican Party and defeating Democrats. It is clear now he simply wanted the power for himself. And this year he has shown just what he’s willing to do to get it.”
According to sources close to Cipriano, the truth of Eaton’s real motivation began to reveal itself at a meeting between the two men this year in mid-May where Cipriano sought Eaton’s support for his candidacy for State Committeeman. Reportedly, Eaton’s overarching demand of Cipriano in exchange for his support was full “control” over Cipriano’s candidacy and role as District Leader.
Respectfully, Cipriano pledged to support the Chairman in all of his party initiatives and in his re-election, which will be held in October this year at a Republican County Convention, but declined to grant full “control” and authority over himself and his role representing the Republicans of the 49th Assembly District. Dissatisfied, Eaton threatened Cipriano saying that as County Chairman he needed leaders in the 49th Assembly District that he could fully “control” and he would run his own candidate against Cipriano utilizing all of the resources and authority at his disposal. Cipriano assumed the Chairman meant all lawful means at his disposal, but it is now clear says Cipriano, that the Chairman did not have that as a concern as he broke multiple election laws in his effort to qualify his own candidate by resorting to the same underhanded tactics of his rival, Lucretia Regina-Potter.
Cipriano’s case against Eaton is scheduled to begin August 1, 2011. Cipriano says he will be representing himself in the proceeding, noting that his organization is a genuine grassroots organization and not flush with money. Chairman Eaton has all of the resources of the Republican County organization at his disposal including the county’s election lawyer as well as the county party’s coffers, which hold about $46,000.
“I may be representing myself before the judge on Monday, but more than anything, I am representing the voters in my district,” Cipriano stated. “The hardworking people of my community – not to mention the people of my own party – do not deserve to be extorted and abused by those who claim to be local leaders. We live in difficult times, and saying to someone you can have a job that pays $600 for two long days of work only if you do political favors and vote the way I tell you, is just wrong.”
Cipriano went on to observe, “I’m one of the youngest people actively involved in the district’s Republican Party and I can see this is wrong. I can’t sit by and watch my neighbors be exploited by self-interested politicians who are fixated by power, wealth, and control. This has been going on long enough, and I hope to put an end to it, once and for all.”