Queens Republicans have a new chairman.
After the death of Phil Ragusa last month, the county party’s executive vice chairman, Robert Beltrani of Jackson Heights, was automatically elevated to chairman.
Beltrani, a judge with the New York State Division of Parole, will serve as chairman for the remainder of Ragusa’s term, which will expire in September 2015. Ragusa was re-elected chairman last September, according to Queens GOP spokesman Robert Hornak.
A loyalist of the late chairman, Beltrani ran for state Senate in the special election to replace Hiram Monserrate after the senator was expelled from the Legislature following his conviction for assaulting his former girlfriend. Beltrani entered the race after an unsuccessful attempt by Queens Republicans to lure former Democratic Councilwoman Helen Sears, who had just been ousted a few months earlier, onto their ballot line. Beltrani lost the race to then-Assemblyman Jose Peralta. He has also ran several times for state Supreme Court, most recently in 2012.
Despite winning two Council seats in 2009 and a congressional special election in 2011, the county GOP has been in a state of civil war for nearly half a decade.
Ragusa’s chairmanship has been marred by ongoing strife between his wing of the party and a rebel faction led by former Councilman Tom Ognibene and more recently by Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), the only elected Republican in the borough.
The split came to a head in 2011, when Ragusa was re-elected chairman. Ognibene held his own meeting on the same night where he got himself elected chairman with the support of Ulrich and several Republicans from Central and Southern Queens. But the state GOP rejected Ognibene’s election.
Ragusa’s re-election in 2013 over former Rep. Bob Turner, who was backed by Ulrich, after Ragusa’s faction lost two district leader races, was petitioned in court after questions were asked about the way the vote was handled. A move to overturn the vote failed.
A source aligned with the rebel faction questioned whether Beltrani, who is also a district leader, could be a chairman at all due to his position as a judge. Hornak did not respond to requests for comment on those allegations before press time.
A state GOP spokesman would not comment on Beltrani, but said the chairmanship selection is up to borough Republicans.
Not offering any comments on Beltrani, Ulrich said only that he is “focused on carrying out my duties as councilman.”