The most recent fight for control of the Queens County Republican organization between factions led by current county chairman Phil Ragusa and challenger former Congressmember Bob Turner supported by NYC Councilmember Eric Ulrich and his insurgents reminds me of two hyenas fighting over the carcass of a dead animal, in this case remnants of the once-relevant Queens Republican Party.
This is the latest chapter of a periodic civil war whose origins can be traced to the 1980s among the remaining handful of GOP party activists. A trip down memory lane will help explain why today’s descendants of the organization spend more time fighting each other rather than offering Democrats any serious competition.
After the 1982 reapportionment, Democrats eliminated the districts of Queens GOP assemblymembers Rosemary Gunning, John LoPresto, John Flack, Al DelliBovi and John Esposito. Doug Prescott briefly held a seat in Bayside in the 1990s, but eventually lost, leaving the GOP with two out of 61 assemblymembers, both from Staten Island.
Despite overwhelming Democratic Party enrollment in Queens County, creative gerrymandering by the GOP-controlled State Senate in 2002 continued to preserve the seats of both Republican state senators Serphin Maltese and Frank Padavan. Eventually Democrats beat Maltese in 2008 and Padavan in 2010.
Before the surprise election of Bob Turner in 2011, the last Republican congressmember from Queens was Seymour Halperin, who, after the 1972 reapportionment, declined to run against Democrat Lester Wolff of Great Neck when both were merged into one Queens/Nassau district. In 1982, Republican John LeBoutellier briefly recaptured this seat for one term.
You would have to go back to the 1950s or earlier to find the last GOP Queens borough president. Nat Hentel was the last GOP district attorney in 1970.
Crossover Democrats who would vote Republican continue to move out of the borough or succumb to old age. There has been no successful GOP outreach to new Caribbean, Hispanic, Asian and other immigrant groups. Attempts to reach middle class African American homeowners in former GOP neighborhoods has also failed.
For decades, once the GOP loses any incumbent City Council, Assembly, State Senate or Congressional representative, they are seldom ever able to reclaim the district.
The last two remaining NYC council districts represented by Republicans, including Dan Halloran and Eric Ulrich, were targeted by Queens Democrats for defeat. The open seat of Halloran was clearly easier to win by Democrat-elect Peter Vallone than Rockaway Democratic Party district leader Lou Simon who lost to incumbent Eric Ulrich. Queens Democratic leader Congressmember Joseph Crowley now has one of their two votes along with the rest of the Queens Council elect delegation in his pocket to deliver the position of NYC Council speaker to Queens in 2014.
Both Queens GOP factions should have been thinking about the future instead of their own respective egos. Working together under one umbrella, they could have provided real assistance to Dennis Saffran running in the 19th Council District along with Eric Ulrich in the 32nd District. The 19th Council District was previously represented by former GOP Councilmember Mike Abbel. The 32nd Council District was previously represented by former GOP Councilmember Anthony Stabile. They could also have aided the candidacy of Craig Caruana running in the 30th District against Democrat Elizabeth Crowley. This district should have been competitive for the GOP as it was previously represented by Republican Councilmembers Tom Olgibene, Dennis Gallagher and Anthony Cuomo. In addition, many neighborhoods represented by former Republican State Senators the late Marty Knorr and Serf Maltese overlap with the 30th Council District.
Joseph Concannon in 2012 ran an under funded but spirited campaign against Democratic State Senator Tony Avella. Concannon was attempting to win back this seat formerly represented by Republican State Senator Frank Padavan. Remember the old saying, if you don’t succeed, try again. Perhaps on the second or third attempt you might end up winning. Concannon might have been motivated to seek both the Republican and Conservative Party lines to run against 23rd District Democrat Councilmember Mark Weprin.
The Weprin family name has been tarnished over the years. Many could see through the smoke and mirrors when the brothers David and Mark swapped seats back in 2009 and 2010. Many still remember the scandal surrounding the inclusion of the swastika on a campaign mailing David Weprin sent to thousands of residents during the February 2010 Special Election to fill the vacated seat of former State Assemblymember Mark Weprin. He had no public regrets about this mailing, which was an attempt to smear his Republican opponent, Glen Oaks Co-Op Association President Bob Friedrich as not being tough enough on hate crimes.
Most recently, Councilmember Mark Weprin has voted against the stop-and-frisk policy of the New York City Police Department. It has been documented that this policy has contributed to significant reductions in crime and taken unlicensed guns off the streets out of potential criminal hands. Rather than just entering the race at the 11th hour, Concannon could have also run with Republican and Conservative Party endorsements. Many voters within the 23rd Council District support the policy of stop-and-frisk and don’t agree with Councilmember Mark Weprin’s opposition. Some question whether Mark Weprin’s opposition to stop-and-frisk is really an attempt to obtain future support from many African American, Hispanic, Asian and other ethnic minority councilmembers in his race to become the next NYC council speaker succeeding Christine Quinn. With proper financial support combined with running on the Republican/Conservative Party lines, police union and Mayor Bloomberg’s assistance, Concannon could have made it a real contest against Mark Weprin.
If the Queens Republicans could have offered financial support in other races, perhaps they could have fielded candidates against Democratic NYC Councilmembers Peter Koo (20th), Julissa Ferreras (21st), Daniel Dromm (25th), Jimmy Van Bramer (26th), Daneek Miller (27th), Ruben Willis (28th), Karen Koslowitz (29th), Donovan Richards (31st) and 34th Council Districts. In all of these races, the Democrats had a free pass. No GOP opponent even qualified for ballot status! Queens borough president candidate Tony Arcabascio could have run a stronger campaign against Democratic clubhouse candidate former Councilmember Melinda Katz.
A real united Queens County Republican party might have motivated former Governor Pataki, former Mayor Giuliani, former GOP NYC Councilmembers Mike Abel, Anthony Stabile, Tom Olgibene, Anthony Cuomo or Dennis Gallagher, State Assemblymember Doug Prescott, State Senators Frank Padavan and Serf Maltese or Congressmember Bob Turner, along with Queens GOP Chairperson Phil Ragusa to assist in raising several hundred thousand dollars or more. On the national level, potential Republican presidential along with out of state governor and United States Senate candidates collectively raise millions of dollars every year from Manhattan and Wall Street contributors. Should they desire, both Pataki and Giuliani have the ability to try and tap into these resources on behalf of the Queens GOP and its local candidates. All of the above could have made the difference for the campaigns of NYC Council candidates Eric Ulrich, Dennis Shaffran, Craig Caruana, and Joseph Concannon along with Queens Borough President Tony Arcabascio. It might have made all their respective contests against Democrats more competitive as opposed to serving as sacrificial lambs going to the political slaughter in November. Only incumbent NYC GOP Council member Eric Ulrich survived in his contest against Rockaway Democratic Party District Leader Lew Simon.
Building upon their respective experiences and whatever name recognition was developed, Arcabascio, Shaffran, Caruana and Concannon could evolve into viable candidates for either State Senate or State Assembly in 2014. They would have to be convinced that the Queens GOP with the assistance of both the Republican State Senate or State Assembly campaign committees could provide the necessary financial assistance to run competitive campaigns against entrenched Democratic Party incumbents.
Without a united political organization and the ability to raise real dollars, the ever-dwindling number of Queens Republicans will continue on the path to political extinction. In turn, this will impact the ability of any Republican to successfully run for and win city or statewide office. Any victorious city or statewide Republican candidate must come out of Queens with a decent showing to offset overwhelming Democratic votes from the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan.