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Queens Chronicle

Fracture in Queens GOP leadership

Success of party coup viewed as unlikely by those now in power

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Posted: Thursday, September 29, 2011 12:00 pm | Updated: 1:30 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

With Democrats greatly outnumbering Republicans in Queens, the one thing the GOP leadership doesn’t need is disunity. But that’s just what’s happening as one dissatisfied faction continues its attempt to take over the leadership.

Those supporting GOP Chairman Phil Ragusa say the attempt is illegal and will not be successful. They also point to an article in capitalnewyork.com about the possibility of Republican Councilman Peter Koo of Flushing defecting, saying it is not true and was another attempt to split the county party.

The story appeared Monday about Koo, who endorsed Democratic Assemblyman David Weprin in the recent 9th Congressional race against the winner, Bob Turner. The article said that Koo had met privately with Democratic leaders in Queens to discuss switching parties.

It went on to say that Koo was “dissatisfied and marginalized” by the GOP leadership and had received little support from them.

Koo’s spokesman, James McClelland, denied the assertion of the councilman considering switching parties. “He emphatically is not leaving the party,” McClelland said. “He did talk to the Democrats when he endorsed Weprin, but nothing was said about switching parties.”

The Queens Republicans were to have met Wednesday night at the Reception House in Flushing to pick their leaders. But the mavericks set up a meeting of their own at the same time at Villa Russo in Richmond Hill. Their choice was former councilman and failed mayoral candidate Tom Ognibene, who could not be reached for comment.

Councilman Dan Halloran of Whitestone, one of five Republicans in the council, pulled no punches in discussing the rift. “That article was done to disrupt,” Halloran said. “It was done as a distraction. We need to work together and we are not getting things done because we are spending so much time fighting.”

But Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) is in the Ognibene camp and said Monday the Queens party has not supported him. He blames the leadership. “We have serious problems,” Ulrich said. “I’m pushing for change.”

He added that “Ragusa is not effective” and “it’s time for the leadership to go.”

The splinter meeting was organized by Bart Haggerty, who also is Ulrich’s chief of staff. And it was Haggerty who challenged Ragusa in the 2009 party election and lost. Haggerty claimed the voting system used was improper, but a later court ruling sided with Ragusa, who got almost 62 percent of the vote.

Haggerty’s brother, John, a political consultant, is on trial this week for allegedly stealing more than $1 million from Mayor Bloomberg during his campaign. He allegedly promised to use the money for ballot security and pocketed it instead. He faces grand larceny and other charges.

Ragusa has served as Queens chairman since 2007, after former state Sen. Serphin Maltese stepped down.

Vince Tabone, executive vice chairman of the Queens Republican Party, called Bart Haggerty “a fraudster” for organizing a bogus meeting. “They will lose by 75 to 25 or at best 65 to 35. As such, they are playing games again. Bart has no right to call a competing meeting,” Tabone said.

Pointing to the Haggerty brothers’ past actions, Tabone said: “This persistent and unproductive behavior in earlier years might be looked at as the quaint meanderings of gadflies. It is now sinister and criminal and unforgivable.”

Bart Haggerty did not respond to calls made to his office.

Halloran, who says he “like[s] both sides,” also believes the Haggerty group “has no chance to win.” He and other GOP leaders are united in thinking that whatever happens, it will be challenged in court again.

“We should be looking at long-term decisions and everyone needs a say,” Halloran said. “We should be looking at races where we can win. Turner did it. I did it. We have to stand together.”

Welcome to the discussion.