The Republican Party is tearing itself apart even before its City Council candidate in Park Slope can get his chance to be shredded at the polls in November.
Hours before petition signatures were due at the Board of Elections last Thursday night, GOP hopeful George Smith — running to succeed Councilman Bill DeBlasio to represent the Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Carroll Gardens district — unleashed a wild allegation that a bipartisan political consultant was “holding more than 200 of my signatures hostage.”
The largely unknown Smith accused old hand Gerry O’Brien of taking the petitions gathered by O’Brien’s wife and another GOP operative from a Republican clubhouse to prevent Smith from reaching the ballot.
Why would O’Brien, the man who ran John McCain’s 2000 presidential operation in New York, be such a bad sport in the democratic process?
Smith’s conspiracy theory is that O’Brien was actually playing for the Democrats, scheming to clear the path to the council for his client, Josh Skaller, one of five Democrats seeking that party’s nomination in the same district.
“This is a big political backroom deal!” Smith alleged last Friday. “I, George Smith, do not stand for backroom deals.”
Smith, who lives in Borough Park and says he’s “in the party rental business,” needed about 450 signatures from registered GOP voters to qualify for the election.
In the midst of the hullabaloo, O’Brien responded coolly to the scandalous charges.
“It’s not true,” O’Brien said. “I don’t wish the guy ill will. I believe in competitive elections.”
Frankly, no Republican — aside from maybe the reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln himself — could win in this district, in which Democrats hold an approximate 8 to 1 advantage in registered voters. There are even more independents in the district than registered Republicans.
But math means nothing to Smith. He’s extremely optimistic about his odds. In fact, he answered the telephone by saying, “This is the next City Councilman from the 39th district.”
His campaign, however, is about as organized as a Ringling Brothers cat-herding act. The morning after his petitions were due, Smith didn’t even know how many signatures had been collected or even if he had surpassed the minimum threshold.
“He’s destined to get about 15 percent of the vote,” said O’Brien, “but he’s got a bad case of candidate-itis. He thinks he’s going to win. He’s already picking out the carpets for his Council office.”
The bizarre and practically unverifiable charges had confounded the top levels of the local party hierarchy.
“I don’t know what’s true,” said Craig Eaton, chairman of the Kings County Republican organization.
By late Friday morning, the controversy was dying down, but by no means settled.
Marty Cunningham, a Republican district leader from the area, said on Friday that no petitions were missing and that O’Brien hadn’t taken them.
“At the end of the day, everything was submitted. It was just a misunderstanding,” he said.
Luckily for Smith, he apparently collected enough signatures to put his name on the ballot.
May the best man win — but, frankly, given Smith’s campaign so far, it looks like the best man is a Democrat.