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Queens Chronicle

Mixed results in GOP district leader races

Chairman Phil Ragusa holds on, but former BOE commissioner trails

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Posted: Thursday, September 12, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:19 am, Thu Sep 19, 2013.

For many Queens Republicans, there was hope that Tuesday’s primary election for state committee positions, also known as district leaders, would put an end to the ongoing civil war within the party.

But as results trickled in Wednesday, it appeared there wasn’t any decisive decision one way or another.

In probably the highest profile of the undercard races, Queens Republican Chairman Phil Ragusa beat back a challenge from Salvatore Bacarella. Unofficial results put Ragusa ahead of Bacarella 58 percent to 42 percent.

But Ragusa’s co-district leader in the Bayside-based 28th Assembly District, former Board of Elections Commissioner Judith Stupp, is trailing her primary opponent, Anne Marie Devlin by 148 votes.

Bacarella and Devlin made news in the final hours of the race when an endorsement from Rudy Giuliani appeared on their mailers and the former mayor conducted robocalls for the two candidates that went out to voters on Monday night. A Giuliani spokesperson wouldn’t confirm the endorsement, however and Stupp’s husband, Herb Stupp, Giuliani’s commissioner on aging, said that he knew personally that Giuliani was staying out of state committee primaries.

The rival GOP factions split the other three districts as well. In the Forest Hills-based 28th District, Bart Haggerty, brother of John Haggerty, who was convicted of laundering money from Mayor Bloomberg’s 2009 campaign, defeated Juan Reyes 54 percent to 46 percent. Reyes’ son, also named Juan, was Ragusa’s candidate for state Senate in 2012 against Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) and was ultimately defeated in the Republican primary by Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). Haggerty and Ulrich are both opponents of Ragusa’s leadership.

The elder Reyes’ wife Catherine — a Ragusa supporter — defeated Amanda Kohut, a former staffer for ex-Rep. Bob Turner, in the same district for the female state committee person 55 percent to 45 percent.

In the Maspeth-based 30th District, longtime district leader Anthony Nunziato, defeated his primary opponent Daniel Creighton, a Ragusa supporter, by nearly 30 points.

The race for the female position in that district is very close, according to unofficial results. Incumbent Rosemarie Iacovone, a supporter of Ragusa, is only seven votes ahead of challenger Margaret Ognibene, wife of former Councilman Tom Ognibene, who attempted to take control of the party from Ragusa in 2011.

The final battleground was in the 35th Assembly District in Corona and East Elmhurst. There, Ivy Mingott, an opponent of Ragusa, ousted incumbent Ruby Muhammad by 15 points, while Ragusa ally Melvin Morgan handily defeated Fernando Bernal.

“We want new leadership who will reach out to our community,” said Eric Mingott, Ivy’s son and a former Assembly candidate.

In one final race that didn’t have much impact on the borough party battle, Scherie Murray, the GOP candidate for the 31st Council District, is trailing her opponent for state committeewoman, Maureen Petitphare by 3 votes, according to unofficial results.

The state committee members hold sway over the future leadership of the party. Although the chairman is officially elected by county committee members, they often take their cues from district leaders. Devlin’s apparent victory in the 26th Assembly District would give the Ognibene wing of the party an important foothold in Ragusa’s home base of Northeast Queens.

Party sources seem divided on what the results could mean. One source said it puts Ragusa’s chairmanship in jeopardy, while another said he would likely hang on in another leadership vote.

In 2011, Ognibene held his own meeting and got himself elected chairman of the Queens GOP with committee members mainly from southern Queens, while northern Queens Republicans backed Ragusa. The state party only recognized Ragusa’s election.

The divide between the party factions erupted again last year during the Reyes-Ulrich state Senate primary and this year in the GOP mayoral primary when Ragusa backed John Catsimatidis, while the Ognibene wing backed Joe Lhota. Though Lhota has won the nomination, the results in Queens showed an extremely close race between the two.

Some GOP officials have been calling for a compromise candidate, such as former Rep. Bob Turner, to bring the factions together. Ulrich, who supported Ognibene’s move to take over the party in 2011, said now is the time for Turner to step in and heal the party divide.

“Now more than ever, Republicans should work together to unite our party so that we can focus on winning elections in November,” he said. “I strongly believe that former Congressman Bob Turner is the only person able to bring about fundamental change and heal the self-inflicted wounds that have caused so much turmoil over the past few years. I will be urging the newly elected district leaders to support me in this effort.”

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