GOP Chairman Eaton takes bite out of Young Republicans

GOP Chairman Eaton takes bite out of Young Republicans
Photo by Tom Callan

Talk about twisted trunks.

Brooklyn’s Republican Party establishment is suddenly waging an insurgent battle against the GOP’s own youth group.

Kings County GOP Chairman Craig Eaton announced last week that he had “relaunched” the borough’s Young Republicans Club to capitalize on the party’s supposed resurgence in the borough, but he made no mention of the elephant in the room: there already is a Young Republicans Club in Brooklyn.

That one is run by Eaton’s rivals, including club President Jonathan Judge, who denounced Eaton’s end run around his organization.

“It’s the latest attempt by the current anemic leadership of the Kings County Republican Party to distract Republicans from its persistent failures to earn a majority of support from voters [in Brooklyn],” Judge charged, referring to the recent GOP victories of Rep. Michael Grimm and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, who both lost the Brooklyn portions of their cross-Harbor districts.

The existing Young Republican club has been around since 1880, and Judge, a 24-year-old Kensington graduate student who has been the group’s president since 2008, contended that it is a thriving organization that in no ways needs to be relaunched, unless Eaton’s purpose is to fashion a club that he can control.

Tensions between Eaton and Judge have been palpable almost since Judge took on the leadership of the Young Republicans, sources say.

“There’s always been a friction there,” remarked one Republican insider who did not want to be identified.

Judge and his group made a practice of criticizing Eaton and the Kings County GOP, most recently over Eaton’s county organization’s support for Mayor Bloomberg’s re-election.

By replacing the existing club with a new club, led by Eaton backer Russell Gallo, Eaton gets rid of a voice of dissent on the county party’s executive board and solidifies his own position, Judge said.

But Eaton said he was only responding to the request of some of the party’s younger members.

“They said they were not happy with the existing club because of its failure to recruit new people and support the Brooklyn GOP,” Eaton said. “They wanted the county to sanction a club that worked with them.”

It was a matter of principle, said Gallo.

“A group of us approached Craig and asked him to start the club because the other group didn’t support Republicans,” he noted.

The club had not backed Peter Cipriano in his race against Assemblyman Peter Abbate (D–Bensonhurst) last year, Gallo said. And Judge backed a Democrat in the special election to fill a vacated Boro Park Council seat in 2010 after he himself was knocked off the ballot.

Then again, state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge) had endorsed a different Democrat in that race.

Eaton said that his new group would be sanctioned by the New York State Young Republicans as the official Brooklyn Young Republican organization, a status that the existing club now enjoys.

This requires a challenge at the state level, explained Brian Hayes, the president of the Nassau County Young Republicans, who said that the legitimacy of the new group would ultimately be decided by the state organization working with the Kings County chairman.

But if Eaton succeeds in replacing the existing Young Republicans Club with one of his own making, it is unlikely to bring harmony, as several Young Republican insurgents are already planning primaries against establishment Republican district leaders.

That’s nothing new in Brooklyn politics, of course. Last year, Democratic insurgents ran against entrenched party insiders for leadership posts and actually won some seats.

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