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Queens Chronicle

Queens Republicans feud over Board of Elections appointment, John Catsimatidis endorsement

Queens GOP election commissioner snafu reflects long intraparty feud

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Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:48 am, Thu Feb 21, 2013.

The ongoing civil war between two factions of the Queens Republican Party is flaring up again — just in time for the 2013 city elections.

It all began when Queens Republican leaders failed to appropriately renominate Judith Stupp as the borough’s GOP commissioner on the Board of Elections by the Jan. 31 deadline. Stupp, a district leader from Bayside, is a key ally of Queens GOP Chairman Phil Ragusa.

Republican officials did not file the appropriate paperwork to have Stupp renominated to the BOE. That left the job of appointing the borough’s Republican commissioner to the party’s caucus on the New York City Council. The BOE has 10 commissioners, one per party from each borough.

The four-member GOP Council caucus is led by Councilman Jimmy Oddo (R-Staten Island) and includes another Staten Islander, Vincent Ignizio, and Queens members Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone).

The caucus voted 3-1 to appoint Ulrich’s choice, Michael Michel, a former aide to ex-Councilman Tom Ognibene, who has been trying for years to wrestle control of the county party from Ragusa, even going so far as to hold his own meeting in 2011. That lead both Ragusa and Ognibene filing paperwork with the state BOE declaring themselves leader of the Queens GOP.

The only dissenting vote on Michel’s nomination came from Halloran, whose district includes the base of Ragusa’s support — the county’s GOP headquarters is located in Whitestone — and is considered one of the more vulnerable council members in this year’s elections.

Though the battle over control for the borough GOP cooled after the state Board of Elections certified Ragusa as party leader in 2011 and disregarded Ognibene’s separate leadership meeting. The division remained, however, coming to a head in last year’s 15th District state Senate election.

Redistricting made the district, which is represented by Democratic Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), more Republican, adding in GOP strongholds in the Rockaways and Kew Gardens Hills. Ulrich ran for the seat with the full backing of the state GOP, and was seen as a likely candidate to defeat Addabbo, but the Ragusa wing of the party supported a primary opponent — Forest Hills attorney Juan Reyes. The primary was nasty, with the Reyes campaign criticizing Ulrich for being too friendly with the LGBT community and releasing a mailing featuring Ulrich dressed in Soviet garb. Ulrich mailers accused Reyes of being a puppet of Ragusa’s. Ulrich ultimately won the primary by a large margin, but lost the general election to Addabbo.

Now the intraparty war could seep into the 2013 citywide elections, in which Queens plays an important role for the Republicans, who have been all but shut out of power in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Ognibene, or someone close to him, is expected to make a play for the leadership and face off against Ragusa again. Whether Ragusa holds on to his position will be decided in the September primary elections for district leaders in the new State Assembly districts. Each district elects two leaders — one female and one male — from each party to serve on the party’s county committee. In order for Ragusa to hold power, his loyalists would need to hold district leader positions, and some races may be decided by only a few votes, especially in districts where there are few registered Republicans.

In 2011, the party was divided by geography, with most of the southern half of the borough backing Ognibene and Republicans from the northern district leaders behind Ragusa. One GOP operative described the Long Island Expressway as the dividing line between the two factions. Several districts in southeast Queens had no Republican district leaders because candidates were unable to gather enough signatures to get on the ballot there.

The leadership fight might also affect the party’s choice for a mayoral standard-bearer in the fall. Currently, the GOP candidates are former MTA chief Joe Lhota, supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis, publisher Tom Allon and George McDonald, founder of The Doe Fund. Queens has the largest bloc of Republican voters in the city and the borough has voted for the GOP candidate for mayor in the last six elections, playing a key role in the 1993 race in which Giuliani defeated Democratic incumbent David Dinkins In that race, Giuliani beat Dinkins in Queens by a margin of over 100,000 votes.

“If you’re a Republican running for mayor in New York City, your best bets are Queens and Staten Island,” Kevin Ryan, an aide to Halloran, said. “Rudy Giuliani once said if it weren’t for Queens, he would never have been mayor.”

The county GOP has already thrown its support behind Catsimatidis, but that endorsement did not come without controversy.

At a Queens County GOP Executive Board Meeting, Halloran, the last elected Republican in Queens loyal to Ragusa, called for a chance for all mayoral candidates to be heard by the committee before an endorsement was made.

A motion was put forth to endorse Catsimatidis at the start of the meeting. When at least one committee member voiced an objection, Halloran agreed that each candidate — including Catsimatidis — should have a chance to speak with the board and be fairly vetted before an endorsement is put to a vote. He moved for a discussion. The leadership refused to allow any discussion. Halloran walked out of the meeting.

“Now, you’ve lost the other elected official in Queens,” Halloran said as he left.

Ragusa’s deputy, Vince Tabone, is legal counsel for Catsimatidis’ company, Red Apple Group, a fact that was brought up in 2009 when Catsimatidis was eyeing a mayoral run before term limit extensions allowed Bloomberg to seek a third term. Several Queens Republicans suggested the connection between Tabone and Red Apple Group is behind the leadership’s quick endorsement of Catsimatidis, an assertion GOP spokesman Robert Hornak flatly denied.

“That is an idiotic assertion to make, that completely discountsthe fact that most members of our committee believe that not only is John our best candidate, but the only one who can win in November,” he said.“It also arrogantly ignores the relationship John has built over the years with many members of the committee and the support he has given to both the committee and the Chairman. John has earned our support and we are happy to give it to him and look forward to seeing him bring real common sense Republican governance to City Hall."

Catsimatidis is also footing the bill for a lawsuit brought by Ragusa and Queens GOP leadership against Ulrich and the two Staten Island Republicans over the appointment of Michel to the BOE.

Whatever the reason, the endorsement did not sit well with Halloran.

“Every candidate, including John Catsimatidis, should get a fair hearing, and every district leader has a right to speak prior to the county’s endorsement of any candidate for the most important office in the City of New York,” he added, according to Ryan. “The county party has to listen to its members, not stifle debate.”

 

State court upholds Haggerty conviction

Former GOP operative will serve time

A state appellate court has unanimously upheld former Queens GOP operative John Haggerty’s conviction on a pair of charges connected to a scheme in which he laundered money from Mayor Bloomberg’s 2009 campaign for mayor.

The panel of judges issued its ruling on Feb. 7.

Haggerty, once a bigwig in Queens Republican politics, was convicted in 2011 of stealing $750,000 from Bloomberg’s campaign, money that came from a $1.1 million Election Day poll-watching operations fund for the Independence Party, which gave Bloomberg its ballot line in 2009.

But the funds never went to it. Haggerty instead used the money to purchase his childhood home in Forest Hills.

Haggerty’s trial featured testimony from Bloomberg in which he said he had not had any conversations with Haggerty about the money.

Haggerty’s defense lawyers tried to argue that Bloomberg had lied under oath.

But in their decision, the judges said Bloomberg was the victim of the crime and upheld that Haggerty was guilty of deceiving him.

“Although the mayor could not have controlled how the Independence Party used that money, the theft was committed when Haggerty used false representations to cause the mayor to transfer the money to the Party,” they wrote. “While Haggerty also deceived the Independence Party into believing that it was paying a vendor for ballot security services when it transferred the money to Haggerty’s shell corporation, the mayor remained the true victim of Haggerty’s deception.”

Haggerty had faced as many as 12 years in prison, but was sentenced to 15 months to 4 years in December 2011. He was also ordered to pay back the money by selling the home, which he still has not done.

The ruling last week means Haggerty will head to prison, though no date has been set for his surrender.

 

— Domenick Rafter

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