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The Brooklyn Democrats threw open the back room doors last Thursday to publicly pick a successor for Assemblywoman Eileen Dugan, a legislative leader on women’s issues who died last month. Party leaders ended up also picking a nasty public fight among themselves.

Joan Millman, a Brooklyn Heights district leader with close ties to State Senate Minority Leader Martin Connor, won the election among members of the county Democratic committee–but not without the requisite Kings County theatrics.

Ralph Perfetto, another district leader and former Dugan aide, quit the race suddenly during his nomination speech at the Third Avenue YWCA Thursday evening, and charged that Councilman Stephen DiBrienza had strong-armed committee members on behalf of a third candidate. “It has been shameful,” Perfetto said. “Selflessly…as a candidate I withdraw. My heart is in the coffin.”

Perfetto, a former official with the state cemeteries bureau, never named the councilman in his charges. But Perfetto supporters said DiBrienza had been too aggressive in backing the candidacy of Annette Scala, who works in his Carroll Gardens district office. “Arms were twisted. People’s livelihoods were threatened. Political operatives set neighbor against neighbor,” Perfetto told City Limits.

DiBrienza dismissed the arm-twisting allegations as “pure fantasy” and charged that Perfetto cut a deal with Millman, Connor and “the Brooklyn Machine.” “We ran an independent campaign and the machine steamrolled us,” DiBrienza said. “It was a deal, the deal unfolded in front of everyone’s eyes. These are absurd charges by a pathetic Ralph Perfetto, lashing out to cover up his own deal-making with the machine.”

Millman is a virtual shoo-in to win the mid-February special election in the overwhelmingly Democratic district.

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