Politics springing ahead

| vmimoni@queenscourier.com |

Recent raw temperatures are threatening to send March out like a polar bear rather than a lamb, but things are springing up all over the political landscape.

Another political neophyte has stepped up to challenge embattled State Senator Malcolm Smith for his 14th District seat, according to the Board of Elections (BOE).

Bernadette Semple, who according to news reports is a Navy veteran from Laurelton, has filed paperwork with the state BOE that allows her to conduct fundraising. So far she’s unreachable by phone, according to the media. My friends in the veterans community say they haven’t heard of her either.

The field already includes the still-popular (though not nearly as popular) Smith; Queens Village attorney Munir Avery, whose work for sitting Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz gives him some Albany cred; and Cambria Heights attorney Clyde Vanel, who made a decent second-place showing in a primary last year against Councilman Daneek Miller.

On top of that, the ever affable Deputy Borough President Leroy Comrie, long a good soldier in Queens politics—including three terms in the City Council and head of the Queens delegation—has also been mentioned as a possible seeker of the seat, but won’t fan rumors for or against.

Unless Ms. Semple raises her profile, the odds of her prevailing at the polls come September are long indeed. Then again, if enough men vie for votes, she just might slip in as a fresh female face. We’ll see how campaigns bloom this spring.

On the other side of the aisle, Woodside businessman and Community Board 7 member Kevin Shields, a Republican, has gone on the record as weighing a run against the ever-garrulous state Sen. Tony Avella.

Shields tells me that this is a trial balloon, admitting that “people have told me to run; [other people] have told me I’m crazy.” He said that given the job market and tenuous recovery, the Senate needs somebody who has real-world business experience. “How many jobs has Tony Avella created except his own?” asked Shields, sounding a lot like like a candidate.

Last I heard, he had yet to meet with Queens GOP Chair Phil Ragusa, who previously told me that “Tony Avella is still a Democrat,” and that the party would be ready to support a Republican who came forward.

Ragusa, who has been in less than the best of health recently, got a “get-well present” from State Supreme Court Justice Phyllis Orlikoff Flug at the beginning of the month, when she ruled against the latest challenges to his leadership by the South Queens faction of the Grand Old Party, which includes the only elected Republican in Queens (City Councilman Eric Ulrich) and perhaps the only GOP congressman from the borough since color TV became popular—Bob Turner.
The Turner faction claimed that Ragusa supporters engineered a narrow GOP reorganization win last Sept. 27 by suppressing the vote with short and confusing notice.

Flug, a Democrat with a decidedly mixed reputation among attorneys according to public judge-rating websites, tossed the suit and left Ragusa in charge of the fractured party. Queens GOP Executive Director Robert Hornak was buoyed by the court’s decision.

“We are very pleased that the court ruled in our favor and agreed the lawsuit challenging Chairman Ragusa was without merit,” he said, adding that the party was looking to mend “broken fences” and advance a Republican agenda – a tall order in the face of Turner’s claim that the election had been “stolen” by Ragusa and “his minions.”

Given their huge advantage in voter registration, funding, organizational support, height, weight and reach, I suspect that Queens Dems are less than concerned.

Former City Comptroller John Liu, with one of the busiest press operations in the city for a guy who has been out of office for nearly three months, is back in the news with his lawsuit against the city’s much-criticized Campaign Finance Board (CFB).

Dear John’s lawyers are pointing out how the appointed board dropped the hammer on his political aspirations by summarily cutting off his matching funds, although they seem to have been more charitable to pols past whose campaign financing shenanigans may have been more far-reaching and more direct than any misstep (OK, maybe felony is more fitting) by John’s underlings.

In a recent article in City & State, Nick Powell writes, “Numerous critics, both sympathetic and hostile to the agency, believe the CFB has become morally self-righteous in upholding the tenets of the city’s campaign finance system, while bogging down candidates with a burdensome auditing process and meting out punishments inconsistently. “

Whether this will help or hurt Governor Cuomo’s push to get public financing of state office campaigns remains to be seen, though I’m guessing the idea rates somewhere between funding for the DREAM Act and approving the millionaire tax up in Albany.

Speaking of which, insiders were not surprised that the DREAM Act went down to defeat in the State Senate recently. It seems that two doubtful upstate Dems had expended all their political capital on Cuomo’s sweeping gun legislation, and there was no way they were going to support public assistance for undocumented aliens to attend college, an idea about as popular as poison is some bucolic settings upstate.

According to a certain (southerly) Queens senator, his upstate colleagues were doing everything they could to conceal their support of the firearm legislation. This is what happens when pols know that more than a quarter of the electorate will show up in November. So we can expect the Big Apple Big Top to continue in all three rings for another couple of years, sideshows still command attention where the real power lies…in Albany.