Phil Ragusa, 74, of Beechhurst, who led the Queens Republican Party for seven years, many of them tumultuous, died Tuesday from leukemia at New York Presybterian Hospital.
Accolades from across the state and farther have poured in about the certified public accountant who took over the helm of the Queens party from former state Sen. Serphin Maltese, who stepped down in 2007.
“Chairman Ragusa had dedicated his life to serving his community, the Republican Party, and particularly his friends and family,” said Robert Hornak, executive director of the Queens Republicans, in a prepared statement. “Chairman Ragusa will be remembered for his integrity and commitment to the democratic process and was viewed by many as not just a friend but a mentor.”
State GOP Chairman Ed Cox called Ragusa “a good man, who was dedicated to Queens County and the Republican Party and was an indomitable county chair.”
Democratic Rep. Grace Meng of Flushing offered her view of Ragusa: “I’m saddened to learn about the passing of Chairman Ragusa. He was a decent and honorable man who for many years worked tirelessly to help improve his community and his party. My heart goes out to his family and friends, and I ask Queens residents to join me in sending them our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”
Former Republican Councilman Dan Halloran of Whitestone, who is facing federal corruption charges for a scheme in the 2013 mayoral primary, was candid on his Facebook page, believing his case played a part in Ragusa’s decline.
“The stress the government put on him in his last few days was unconscionable,” Halloran wrote. “I’m sorry that my circumstances contributed to that stress. Phil was always a gentleman with me and tried to be there for so many. He was a true patriot.”
Former Queens GOP executive vice chairman Vince Tabone was also indicted in the bribery scheme and awaits trial in January.
Although he locked horns with Ragusa and had tried to oust him since 2011, City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) issued the following statement on his death: ”Phil Ragusa was a stalwart Republican who dedicated many years of service to the Republican Party in Queens County. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this very difficult time.”
Herb Stupp of Bayside, former Department for the Aging commissioner under Mayor Giuliani, noted that his wife was a co-district leader with Ragusa for years.
“Phil Ragusa’s passing is a huge loss for the Republican Party, for Queens and for good government. Phil led Queens Republicans with honesty and fairness, never looking for private advantage for himself,” Stupp said. “He was an important leader in crafting the coalitions that kept electing Senate giants like Frank Padavan and Serf Maltese, as well as electing new City Council members. He also succeeded in attracting new leaders and volunteers from the spectrum of racial and ethnic groups that makes Queens so diverse.
“During some turbulent years in the city and in the Queens Republican Party, Phil Ragusa always offered stable, honest and ethical leadership,” Stupp added.
Kevin Ryan, president of the Northeast Queens Republican Club, believes that some good can come from Ragusa’s death: “ ... if there’s a bright side, we have an opportunity to rebuild the Queens GOP and move forward together, following the procedures and giving every committee member a voice. I hope we all work together in his memory. Politics is cyclical and I believe the GOP’s core values still appeal to voters in Queens.”
Ragusa was a lifelong resident of New York City. He was an Army veteran and had served as president of the Beechhurst Property Owners Association and treasurer of the Whitestone Village Revitalization.
He ran unsuccessfully against Tony Avella for the 19th District City Council seat in 2003.
In 2011 it was Ragusa who discovered a discrepancy in the financial records of Unisphere Inc., a nonprofit fundraising arm of Flushing Meadows Park. That eventually led to the arrest of Estelle Cooper, who headed Unisphere and was park administrator. She died in 2012 before going to trial.
Last year, Ragusa survived a failed takeover of the Queens GOP by capturing 52 percent of the vote against former Congressman Bob Turner.
Surviving are his wife, Nelly, and daughter, Stephanie.
Viewing hours at the Quinn-Fogarty Funeral Home at 162-14 Sanford Ave. in Flushing are scheduled for Thursday from 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. The funeral will be held on Friday at 9:45 a.m. at St. Mel’s Church, 26-15 154 St., in Flushing. Burial will be at Pinelawn Memorial Park in Farmingdale, LI.