By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle

BENSONHURST — The race for a district leadership post in the Republican Party in Democratic-dominated Brooklyn is usually a sleepy affair drawing scant attention. But not in Bensonhurst!

A race for the obscure political party post is putting a spotlight on sharp divisions within the Brooklyn Republican Party with an up-and-coming candidate taking on the party’s big boss.

Peter Cipriano, a-21-year-old college student from Bensonhurst, is seeking to get his name on the ballot to run for Republican Party district leader in the 49th Assembly District, but Craig Eaton, chairman of the Brooklyn Republican Party, is trying to keep him off the ballot.

Eaton said he would go to court to challenge the legitimacy of the signatures on Cipriano’s nominating petitions in an effort to prevent him from getting on the ballot for the Sept. 13 G.O.P. primary.

A candidate for district leader is required to file nominating petitions containing the signatures of at least 450 registered voters who live in the district and who are members of that party in order to gain a spot on the ballot for the party’s primary.

Not to be outdone, Cipriano announced that he had filed papers in New York State Supreme Court on July 29 seeking to keep Eaton’s hand-picked candidate, Matthew Graves, off the ballot.

“I feel confident that I will win this suit,” said Cipriano, a student at the College of Staten Island. Cipriano, who originally planned to represent himself, changed his mind and has hired lawyer Marion Conde da Silveria, an expert in election law, to represent him in court.

Cipriano also charged that Eaton abused his position as party chairman to manipulate the petitioning process to get his candidate on the ballot. “I’m challenging the idea that party bosses have that they can control the outcome of elections,” he said.

Eaton vehemently denied Cipriano’s charges. “His suit has no merit. I expect that it’ll be thrown out of court,” Eaton said.

The two parties went to court Monday. The judge did not make a ruling on the case but ordered both sides to return to court Tuesday.

The judge is expected to render a ruling on whether Cipriano’s petition signatures are valid today. Cipriano filed 520 signatures, according to sources. But Eaton contended that many of the signatures were invalid because the voters had previously signed the petitions of other candidates for district leader. In cases where there are duplicate signatures, the first petition signed by the voter is the one that counts.

District leaders, officially known as state committeemen and state committeewomen, are the workhorses of the political party system. They are members of a party’s state committee and work at a grassroots level to help select candidates for public office, supervise volunteers in the collection of petition signatures, and to help get voters to the polls on Election Day.

There is a male and female district leader for every political party in every assembly district in New York. In addition to Cipriano, there are other hopefuls seeking to run for district leader in the 49th Assembly District, including John Bennett and Steve Maresca. Marc D’Ottavio, who had been supported by Eaton, declined to accept Eaton’s offer to run for the post. After D’Ottavio decided not to run, Eaton threw his support behind Graves, a Bensonhurst resident who works for the New York City Board of Elections.

The bad blood between Eaton and Cipriano comes as a surprise to political observers who pointed out that the party chairman has supported Cipriano in the past.

In 2010, Cipriano ran, with Eaton’s support, in the G.O.P. primary against Lucretia Regina-Potter for the party’s nomination to run for the assembly seat in the 49th A.D. Cipriano defeated Regina-Potter in the primary and went on to run against incumbent Democrat Peter Abbate in the general election. Abbate won that race.

“Craig really took Peter under his wing and helped him run,” said one party official.