For all of their perceived power in city politics, the Queens County organizations for both major political parties were not on the winning side of their respective mayoral primary races this year. Queens Democrats chose City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) as their choice for mayor, while the Queens Republican leadership choose supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis as their standard-bearer.
Both lost, and now with six weeks to go until the city selects its new mayor, the county parties are seeking to unify behind the primary winners, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and former MTA chief Joe Lhota.
Unification appears to be far easier, however, for the Democrats than the long-warring Republicans.
County Democrats, led by Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Bronx, Queens), held one of their signature election-time unity rallies on the steps of Borough Hall on Monday afternoon, officially backing de Blasio.
“I’m so proud to stand with all of Queens County today and stand with Bill and say to Bill ‘We look forward to the day that you’re mayor of New York City,’” Crowley said to applause. “We’ll have a friend in City Hall.”
Nearly every elected Democrat in the borough was there, except for a handful, such as Council members Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who Rep. Crowley said are backing de Blasio but were tied up at other events, and Assemblyman Mike Simanowitz (D-Kew Gardens Hills), who said last week he was not endorsing the Democratic nominee.
A unified Democratic party is helpful, though not necessarily essential, for a de Blasio victory. In a city that’s 6 to 1 Democratic, the party’s candidate can afford to bleed some of his or her own party, but too many Democratic defections could throw the election to the Republican, as occurred in the past five mayoral elections, all won by the GOP nominee.
The Republicans, meanwhile, are dealing with an intraparty feud that goes back more than half a decade. The battle for control of the party between Chairman Phil Ragusa and a breakaway sect lead by former Councilman Tom Ognibene and current Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) manifested itself in the mayoral primary, when the Ognibene-Ulrich faction endorsed Lhota, who won the borough in the Sept. 10 primary, and the county organization backed Catsimatidis.
Robert Hornak, the executive secretary of the Queens Republican Party, would not speak on the record about whether or not the borough’s party organization has endorsed and plans on supporting Lhota, but multiple sources have confirmed that there has been little to no communication between the Lhota campaign and the Queens GOP leadership.
“Who’s not returning calls, I can’t say,” one source was quoted as saying, “but they’re not talking to each other.”
Another source, a top GOP operative, said Ragusa is supporting Lhota’s candidacy.
“Well, I can tell you Ragusa isn’t supporting de Blasio,” the operative said. “He’s a Republican so it goes without saying he supports the Republican.”
But how much help the Queens GOP organization is giving, or is wanted by Lhota’s people at all remains unclear.
“Why would Lhota want [Ragusa’s] help?” one source asked. “His people attacked Lhota during the primary and they lost.”
Yet some Ragusa foes say the party is unifying, just not under his leadership.
Kevin Ryan, communications director for the Northeast Queens Republican Club, said his group, which is not tied to Ragusa, held a meeting last week in which several Ragusa-backed candidates spoke.
“A lot of people who have never been to the club before were there,” Ryan said. “We’re doing all we can to unite the party.”
Back on the Democratic side, de Blasio won the support of national Democratic figures including Bill and Hillary Clinton and President Obama.
Three recent polls show de Blasio ahead of Lhota by more than 40 points. The most recent poll, conducted by Penn, Schoen and Berland, showed him leading 60 percent to 19 percent. The poll broke down that support by primary vote; a quarter of Quinn’s voters are supporting Lhota, while the GOP nominee gets 17 percent of those who voted for the second-place finisher, former city Comptroller Bill Thompson. Earlier polls by Marist and Quinnipiac also showed the Democratic nominee with a lead of more than 40 points. In the latter poll, de Blasio was getting more GOP support than Lhota was from Democrats.