Tag Archives: Phil Ragusa

Turner, Ragusa both claim victory to lead Queens GOP


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photos

The Queens Republican Party civil war is not over, and Phil Ragusa did not reclaim his throne yet, his opponents say.

Both Ragusa and former Congressmember Bob Turner have declared themselves winners in the election to head the Queens GOP after a six hour contentious meeting on September 27.

According to Party officials, Ragusa won re-election as chair by 52 percent of votes cast by district leaders and state committee members. His challenger, Turner, garnered about 48 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results.

But Councilmember Eric Ulrich, an outspoken critic of Ragusa, said Turner in fact had higher tallies than reported and had the support of “a clear majority” of voters.

There was no independent monitor in the room to count the votes, he said, and the Party’s leadership had thrown out valid proxies.

“The county’s members are using fuzzy math,” Ulrich said. “Their attempts to disqualify the proxy votes of duly elected county committee members are shameful. When every single vote is counted, it is clear that Bob Turner is the chairman.”

Both Turner and Ragusa have submitted certificates of election with the state and city Board of Elections.
Ragusa released a statement, saying he had been declared the “clear winner.”

“I am honored and humbled by the show of support given to me by Queens County Committee and State Committee members,” he said. “I will continue to lead the party honorably and faithfully and will work to unify the party so that the

Queens GOP continues to grow and become even stronger in the future.”

Turner said he was confident court litigations over the next few weeks would find him victorious.

“We know we won,” Turner said. “This is going to have to be solved at a different level.”

A similar internal battle occurred in 2011, when both Ragusa and former Councilmember Tom Ognibene claimed victory, though Ognibene was later defeated.

Ulrich, an insurgent of the Queens GOP, has long called for Turner to take over Party leadership, especially after a bombshell corruption scandal emerged this April.

Queens GOP Vice Chair Vince Tabone and Republican Councilmember Dan Halloran were among a handful of officials indicted in a bribery scheme to get Democratic State Senator Malcolm Smith on the GOP mayoral primary ticket.

Shortly after Tabone resigned from his post, more than a dozen Republican State Committee members wrote Ragusa a letter, asking him to step down, too, and allow Turner to take over.

The county boss, who was not accused of any wrongdoing, stayed on and won re-election earlier this month to his district leader post, beating back challenger and Ulrich ally Sal Bacarella.

Others elected to the Queens GOP include Robert Beltrani as executive vice chair and James McClelland as first vice chair. McClelland served as chief of staff to Councilmember Peter Koo and recently left to work for State Senator Simcha Felder.

 

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Republican Arcabascio to run for Borough President


| tcullen@queenscourier.com


An Astoria technology professional is eyeing a Borough Hall run as a Republican, making the race for borough president a little tighter.

Aurelio “Tony” Arcabascio confirmed his candidacy and expects to receive county endorsement soon.

Arcabascio, who ran his own technology company for 13 years, made his debut in the political world last year when he ran an unsuccessful race against State Senator Michael Gianaris for District 12.

Now, looking to represent the whole borough, Arcabascio said he wants to bring his experience as the only non-elected official to the table.

“I haven’t been caught up in politics for my whole career,” he esaid.

A product of Jackson Heights, Arcabascio, 52, will face one of six Democrats vying for the spot: Councilmembers Leroy Comrie and Peter Vallone Jr., State Senators Jose Peralta and Tony Avella, former Councilmember and former Assemblymember Melinda Katz and former Deputy Borough President Barry Grodenchik.

The Dems will face off in a September 10 primary.

Arcabascio, who nabbed the GOP endorsement for Senate last year, expects to pick it back up for borough president. Queens Republican chair Phil Ragusa said the candidate is going through the screening process for the endorsement, and a formal announcement should come soon.

With his background in technology, Arcabascio said he is open to bringing more of the industry’s jobs to the borough, especially in western areas such as Long Island City and Maspeth.

“We have a lot of empty factories in Queens,” he said. “One of the things I believe would be my responsibility as the number one cheerleader for Queens is to get businesses here.”

 

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Ex-councilmember Anthony Como replaces indicted Queens GOP vice chair Vince Tabone


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

File photo

Former Councilmember Anthony Como will become the new executive vice chair of the Queens GOP, replacing indicted attorney Vince Tabone.

GOP chair Phil Ragusa confirmed Como would be taking over, saying the former city legislator would be a good fit.

“I know Anthony for a long time,” Ragusa said. “He was our City Council candidate we ran against Liz Crowley. I had extensive conversations with him.”

Ragusa said the agreement to install Como was mutual. His experience as an elected official would make him a good fit for the party, he said.

“I think he’s going to do a fine job,” Ragusa said. “He knows the political process like I know the political process.”

Tabone was arrested on April 2 in connection with charges that he took bribe money to help get State Senator Malcolm Smith, a Democrat, on the mayoral ticket as a Republican.

GOP Councilmember Dan Halloran is also accused of accepting $20,000 in bribes to sway party chairs to sign off on Smith’s Republican run.

Como served in the City Council for about six months, replacing disgraced Councilmember Dennis Gallagher in June 2008. He lost the general election to now-Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley for District 30 in December of that year.

He previously served as commissioner of the Queens Board of Elections, and then president of the New York City Board of Elections. He also worked as an assistant district attorney and was chief counsel to former State Senator Serphin Maltese.

In 2010, he made an unsuccessful bid at unseating incumbent State Senator Joseph Addaboo in District 15.

“I look forward to working with Chairman Ragusa to strengthen the organization to ensure that NYC has representation on both sides of the aisle,” Como said in a statement. “I will be contacting our district leaders, party members, and loyal Republicans to let them know that we are energized, motivated and moving in a direction in which we can all be proud.”

When asked if Ragusa believes Como and his years of government experience would breathe new life into the party, the chair said the GOP was still strong and functioning.

“We’re all here,” Ragusa said. “We’re working hard. Queens County is going to survive.”

Ragusa said he has not spoken to Tabone, who was arraigned in federal court yesterday.

The Queens GOP also appointed: Robert Beltrani, first vice chair; Anthony Carollo, vice chair; Deborah Heinichen, vice chair;  Samiha Makawi, recording secretary;  James McClelland and Pierre Alcantara, members at large

Leaders call for changing of the guard in Queens GOP


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

File photos

Former Republican Councilmember Thomas Ognibene says there needs to be a change-up in the Queens GOP after years of infighting and what he called a negative influence by former vice chair Vince Tabone.

“I’ve believed for the last three to four years that it [leadership] had to be changed,” said Ognibene, who served in the Council from 1991 to 2001 and was the minority leader.

Tabone is charged with accepting $40,000 in bribe money to sign the Wilson Pakula certificate, to greenlight State Senator Malcolm Smith as a Republican for mayor. He resigned as vice chair on Wednesday, April 3, a day after his arrest.

Phil Ragusa currently chairs the Queens GOP.

The ideal person to replace Ragusa if he were to step down, Ognibene and others have said, would be former Congressmember Bob Turner, who lost a Republican U.S. Senate primary last summer and whose congressional district was cut up thanks to redistricting.

On calls to step down, Ragusa said he does not plan on giving up his position, as he’s not linked to the charges.

“We’re just moving ahead,” he said. “One person should not be able to affect the whole Queens GOP.”

Ognibene, now practicing law on Long Island, said the allegation that Tabone frisked a cooperating witness for a microphone was proof he was up to no good.

“That’s evidence of a guilty conscious,” Ognibene said.

Ragusa and Ognibene came into a leadership battle two years ago when a sect of the party voted to elect the latter as the GOP chair. A separate pact voted for Ragusa at the same time, with a judge finally ruling that Ragusa was rightful leader of the party.

While he was saddened by the allegations against Councilmember Dan Halloran, Ognibene said the alleged actions of some shouldn’t reflect on the GOP as a whole and “the Party will go on.”

A replacement for Tabone has not yet been named, Ragusa said.

“We’re going through our process and we haven’t named anybody right now,” he said.

 

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EXCLUSIVE: FBI questioned Queens pols last year over GOP probe


| mchan@queenscourier.com

File photos

Councilmember Eric Ulrich and ex-Congressmember Bob Turner were two of many Queens leaders questioned in the FBI’s probe into the county’s GOP last year, The Courier has learned.

“At some point during this investigation, I was questioned by the FBI, as were many other people,” said Ulrich, 28. “I told them what I knew on firsthand knowledge. I also told them what I thought was hearsay.”

Many in the southern Queens district, including former district leaders and candidates, were questioned in person by FBI agents last year into dealings with the party, Ulrich said.

“It’s a federal crime to lie to an FBI agent. I told them the truth or what I knew to be true. What I didn’t know at the time was that there already was an investigation into the Queens County Republican Party,” he said.

The agency launched its investigation into the party last May amid allegations Board of Elections employees may have used their positions to further their careers as political consultants, the New York Post reported.

State Senator Malcolm Smith, Councilmember Dan Halloran, Queens County GOP vice chair Vincent Tabone and Bronx County GOP chair Joseph Savino were part of a group of six officials arrested by the FBI yesterday for conspiring to rig the mayoral election, authorities said.

Smith, a registered Democrat, needed consent from three of the city’s five GOP county chairmen to appear on the Republican ballot for city’s 2013 mayoral election.

He allegedly bribed Tabone and Savino with $40,000 in cash payouts for their support, according to the Southern District U.S. Attorney and FBI.

Halloran is accused of setting up meetings between Smith and county leaders and negotiating the bribes. He allegedly pocketed nearly $21,000 in cash in exchange for his help, officials said.

“I had known for a long time that Vince Tabone was a corrupt person and that he was involved in illegal activity,” Ulrich said. “But I never thought in a million years I would wake up one morning and read about Dan Halloran being implicated in a crime like this. The Dan Halloran that I knew has been a very honest person that works very hard.”

The lawmaker, who did not disclose further details of the investigation, claims Tabone solicited money in the past in exchange for county support.

Ulrich said he cautioned Halloran — his only other Queens GOP colleague in the Council — to stay away from county leaders.

“I had warned Dan a million times. I said these are bad people, and he agreed with me. That’s why I’m so shocked,” Ulrich said. “Dan knew these people were unscrupulous, notorious bad apples.”

Party chair Phil Ragusa called on Tabone to resign, pending the outcome of legal proceedings, according to a statement released by the Queens GOP.

But Ulrich said the “compromised county” needs Ragusa to step down as well and elect Turner as their new leader.

Ragusa has not been accused of any wrongdoing, but Ulrich said that could easily change during the course of the probe.

“Who’s to say what Vince Tabone and others might tell the FBI now that they’ve been arrested,” Ulrich said. “I think they’ll tell everything they know to save their own skin.”

Queens GOP head drops lawsuit against new Republican election commissioner


| ctumola@queenscourier.com


Queens County GOP Chairman Phil Ragusa has dropped his lawsuit claiming that the new Queens County Republican Commissioner for the Board of Elections was wrongly appointed, according to a document obtained by the New York Daily News.

Ragusa and ousted commissioner Judith Stupp were alleging that Councilman Eric Ulrich and two other members of the Republican cacus had no right to vote for the new commissioner Michael Michel because Stupp had already been selected to serve another term.

Even though Ragusa said he signed the required Certificate of Recommendation and sent it by mail in time, the caucus claimed that the reappointed wasn’t filed correctly.

 

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Queens GOP lawsuit claims election commissioner wrongly ousted


| ctumola@queenscourier.com


A recent lawsuit filed by the head of the Queens County GOP, Phil Ragusa, and reportedly funded by Republican mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis, alleges that the Board of Elections Queens County Republican Commissioner was wrongly ousted from the position.

According to court records, Ragusa, as well as the ousted commissioner, Judith Stupp, are claiming that three members of the New York City Council’s Republican caucus, including Councilmember Erich Ulrich, appointed Michael Michel as the new Republican Commissioner, even though Stupp had already been appointed to another term.

Following procedure, Ragusa said that he signed a Certificate of Recommendation and, according to when he filed it by mail, presumed that it was received by the Office of the Clerk of the Council by November 24 at the latest, and within the time allowed to make the reappointment legitimate.

But the caucus, claiming that it wasn’t filed correctly, appointed a new Republican Commissioner, Michel, on January 25.

Councilmember Ulrich was the only party reached as of press time and declined to comment.

 

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$100G missing from Unisphere Inc.


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

The Unisphere was lit-up red for American Heart Month

After doing the taxes for Unisphere Inc. — a non-profit conservancy group — since its inception in 2003, accountant Phil Ragusa noticed things were not lining up for 2010.

Ragusa said he noticed something was not right in the group’s 2010 taxes when he got them right before Unisphere’s November 2011 filing deadline. He and a board member then requested the 2011 books from Flushing Meadows-Corona Park administrator Estelle Cooper to check for discrepancies, he said. The 501(c)(3) organization’s bank finally gave Ragusa the books, he said, after he was not able to attain them from Cooper.

“I called Estelle, she didn’t give it to me,” he said. “Eventually, we went right to the bank and got it.”

The differential was mainly through ATM withdrawals that came close to $100,000, he said.

“As far as I know, there were unauthorized withdrawals from the ATM,” Ragusa said.

Ragusa said he brought the information to Unisphere Chair Bruce Bendell. After that, he said, Bendell brought the findings to the Board of Directors, who hired a lawyer and turned the case over to the district attorney.

“As soon as we became aware of it, we did the proper thing,” he said.

Last week, the New York Post reported that Cooper had been misspending funds from the group, and investigators are looking into her activities. Cooper spent nearly 18 years running the park, before resigning in January to begin her own political consulting firm.

Calls to board members were not answered at deadline, and a number for Cooper had been disconnected.

The DA’s office could neither confirm nor deny any investigation into Cooper, as per policy. The New York City Department of Investigation declined to comment on the matter.

GOP pick backs out of race against Assemblymember Ed Braunstein


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Ralph Cefalo

A former GOP hopeful declined to make a run against current Assemblymember Ed Braunstein, despite being backed by the Queens County Republican Party.

Malba resident Ralph Cefalo was endorsed by the County to seek election in the 26th Assembly District, but the civic leader ultimately chose not to enter the race after citing personal matters, according to Phil Ragusa, chair of the Queens County Republican Party.

“We approached him and he seemed like he wanted to do it, but he spoke with his family and he just wasn’t ready to do it,” Ragusa said.

The GOP pushed to pit Cefalo against Braunstein, saying his 35-year record of community service — including a long tenure leading the Whitestone Volunteer Ambulance and volunteering with the Order of the Sons of Italy — would make him a good challenger.

According to reports, Cefalo turned down the run because recently-redrawn district lines would push him out of the district come next January. He also said the assembly seat is not one he initially sought to run for and felt it was too late to begin campaigning, reports said.

Attempts to reach Cefalo went unreturned as of press time.

No other candidates have announced their intent to run against Braunstein. However, republican Tim Furey is reportedly eyeing the seat.

Gianaris to face GOP newcomer


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Queens GOP has turned to an independent in hopes of unseating Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) Chair Michael Gianaris in the 12th District.

The borough’s Republican Party announced its unanimous endorsement of Aurelio Antonio “Tony” Arcabascio for State Senate on May 5. Arcabascio, a senior level technology professional for 25 years, is also seeking the support of the Conservative Party.

“Tony has the independence and commitment to represent this northwestern Queens district with integrity and intelligence,” said GOP Chair Phil Ragusa. “Tony as a business executive and technology professional is a ‘can do’ problem solver who can help tackle the problems our community and state are facing.”

Ragusa said Arcabascio will aim to create jobs and lower the tax burden on middle class families, seniors and small business owners. The GOP chair also accused Gianaris of focusing on raising funds for himself and the DSCC rather than constituent services and improving the economy.

“As an independent I am really honored that the Republican Party will support me for State Senate and agrees with my focus on jumpstarting the economy, creating jobs, improving schools and healthcare and reforming government to make it more transparent and accountable,” said Arcabascio, who was raised in Astoria and Jackson Heights. “I agree with Chair Ragusa that Queens residents are tired of the relentless partisanship of my opponent and will be looking for practical solutions to the challenges we face.”

Gianaris responded to the accusations by defending his efforts to improve the 12th District since being elected to the State Senate in 2010.

“I am incredibly proud of the work I have done representing western Queens in the state legislature,” Gianaris said. “From shutting down the state’s biggest polluters to supporting our local schools to promoting local businesses that create much needed jobs, together we have made a big difference improving people’s lives. I look forward to once again putting my record before the voters this November and continuing to serve my neighborhood for another term.”

Queens GOP big wig involved in ‘shakedown’


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com


A Board of Elections (BOE) employee trying to make a quick buck has instead found himself in hot water.

The BOE has suspended Stephen Graves – who is also a top official in the Queens Republican Party – after he was allegedly caught on tape soliciting a $25,000 “finder’s fee” from a company competing for a multi-million dollar contract in 2009.

According to published reports, Graves, who is the first vice chairman of the Queens GOP, requested money from Dominion Voting Systems – a Denver-based company – while it was contending against Nebraska’s Elections Systems & Software (ES&S) for a $65 million contract to sell the city its first electronic voting machines. The Department of Investigation (DOI) reportedly provided information to the BOE regarding Graves’ actions.

Both the BOE and DOI declined to comment, as the investigation is ongoing.

Graves allegedly wanted the fee in return for recommending a particular lobbyist to Dominion.

Dominion denied Graves’ request, however, and the contract went to ES&S.

Attempts to reach Graves were unsuccessful, but reports claimed he invoked his Fifth Amendment rights while being questioned by DOI.

Dominion officials reportedly filed a complaint with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and submitted their recorded conversations with Graves. The matter has now been brought to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, according to the accounts.

Attempts to reach Dominion went unreturned as of press time.

Graves, who also was the GOP candidate for Congress against Gary Ackerman in 2004, has reportedly been a systems analyst at the BOE since 2007.

Phil Ragusa, chair of the Queens Republican GOP, would not comment on the charges, but called Graves “absolutely honest” in his work.

“His work was always exemplary for the Queens County Republican Party,” Ragusa said.

Republican Councilmember Eric Ulrich admitted he was not surprised by the news, and expressed disapproval of both Graves’ actions and Ragusa’s stance.

“I was appalled, but not shocked, by the revelations about Queens GOP Vice-Chair Stephen Graves and his shameful attempt to ‘shakedown’ a vendor trying to sell the city new voting machines,” Ulrich said. “For Phil Ragusa, as head of the county organization, to defend Graves as ‘honest’ even after Graves refused to cooperate fully with the DOI is a slap in the face to the rank and file members of the Republican Party.”

Queens GOP leadership in question


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com


With the Queens political world already rattled, a storm has begun brewing on the horizon of the borough’s Republican Party.

Two organizational meetings were held on September 28, during which two different men claim to have been elected Queens County Republican GOP leader.

According to Robert Hornak, spokesperson for the Queens Republican Party, current chair Phil Ragusa was re-elected, receiving the support of every voter who attended his meeting – amounting to 62 percent of the total voting strength.
Former Councilmember Thomas Ognibene also claims he was elected at a meeting called by Bart Haggerty, who works for Councilmember Eric Ulrich, which was held on the same date and time as Ragusa’s gathering.

Hornak says that GOP Chair Ed Cox called to congratulate Ragusa on September 29, although Ognibene claims he received a similar phone call from Cox.

“Obviously this is an internal political dispute,” said Ognibene. “I believe I am the one that has been elected, and we submitted our certification of the election to the Board of Elections.”

The GOP leader is chosen by county committee members – elected officials in local parties – who frequently have state committee members hold proxy votes for them. In the September 13 Primary, the two party factions battled for a number of state committee member positions.

There were recent published reports that Ognibene would oppose Ragusa for GOP leader, although Hornak does not believe the challenge to be a legitimate one.

“We knew we were going to win, so they held another meeting to pretend they wouldn’t lose,” said Hornak. “They held a competing meeting without authorization. Bart Haggerty sent out a fraudulent notice saying he was the chair and called a meeting. Only the official chairman can call a meeting. This is all just nonsense to confuse people because they have lost.”

Ragusa’s campaign filed a restraining order that demanded the cancellation of the opposing meeting – a demand Haggerty and Ognibene ignored.

“They tried to take us to court today and tried to stop our meeting last night and couldn’t,” Ognibene said. “I guess we will just have to proceed and I’m sure there may be legal challenges. We were in court on September 29 and we will have to go to court on October 4.”

Ognibene says he is proceeding as if he was elected and will perform all the requirements of the GOP leader until a resolution is reached. He believes that Ragusa has been ineffective and has not done enough to advance the success of the borough’s Republican Party.

“Dealing with Mr. Ragusa is impossible,” said Ognibene. “They haven’t done anything and they haven’t supported any candidates. They are into self-aggrandizement instead of helping the Republican Party. He has done nothing to move the Republican Party forward. We have done it ourselves in southwest Queens.”

Ragusa says his opponent’s accusations are unjustified and unsupported, and that Ognibene’s interest in the position is for his own personal gain.

“We’ve run Bob Turner, Jane Deacy and even Ognibene himself,” said Ragusa. “Everyone that ran with the Republican designation ran because of us. In my four-and-a-half years we’ve run more candidates than they did in the last 10 years. We have done everything a party is supposed to do. I think these are blind accusations. I haven’t seen Mr. Ognibene at a county event since I’ve been chairman. He doesn’t do anything to support the county. I think he spends most of his time on a golf course.”

If the current hearing does not settle the dispute between the party’s two factions, Ragusa says his campaign will file a separate action to invalidate Ognebene’s filing with the Board of Elections.