The Queens Republican Party re-elected Chairman Phil Ragusa to another term leading the borough’s warring party at a meeting Friday that Ragusa’s opponents called a sham and appeared to only exacerbate the years-long divide in the party.
Queens Republicans, battered after years of infighting, held the reorganization meeting at 12:30 p.m. on Friday at the Reception House on Northern Boulevard in Flushing. At the meeting, Ragusa was re-elected chairman of the party by a resounding margin over former Rep. Bob Turner, who stood as the choice of the anti-Ragusa faction that has been led by Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and former Councilman Tom Ognibene, who attempted to wrestle control of the county organization out of Ragusa’s hands in 2011.
But opponents of Ragusa said the meeting was a sham, called during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot and scheduled for a time when many district leaders were working and would not be able to attend.
One of those people was newly elected District Leader Ivy Mingott, who defeated Ruby Muhammad, a Ragusa-backed incumbent in the 35th Assembly District in Corona.
Mingott had to work Friday, according to her son Eric Mingott, a former candidate for state Assembly, and was unable to make the meeting
“It’s dirty,” Mingott said last Thursday. “I guess this is how they win elections.”
In the end, Ragusa kept his position over Turner by a vote of 417-174.
That’s despite three Ragusa-backed incumbent district leaders losing their seats in last month’s primary election: Muhammad, former Board of Elections Commissioner Judith Stupp and Rosemarie Iacovone, who lost to Margaret Ognibene, wife of Tom Ognibene, by a single vote in the Maspeth-based 30th Assembly District.
The reason, according to one source who was at the meeting and backed Turner, was that hundreds of proxy ballots — the forms by which committee people can vote for the leadership in place of district leaders who couldn’t make the meeting — were disqualified without explanation.
Robert Hornak, a spokesman for the Queens Republican Party, said the proxies were disqualified for legitimate reasons.
“A large number of proxies were disqualified because they were late. They were submitted after the 7 p.m. Thursday deadline,” he said. “And the Credentials Committee disqualified others.”
He said the committee, which has the authority under the rules to disqualify proxy forms, found evidence that some may have been forgeries or were wrongly filled out.
“It was pretty clear that Ragusa was the victor at the meeting,” Hornak said.
Eric Mingott said last Thursday that he and his mother only found out about the meeting two hours before the proxy forms were due.
Two of the new district leaders, Ognibene and Anne Marie Devlin, who defeated Stupp and is Ragusa’s co-district leader in the 26th Assembly District in Northeast Queens, attended the meeting. Hornak said Ognibene was allowed to cast her vote even though the BOE had not yet certified her one-vote victory.
A Republican operative who backed Turner slammed the Ragusa wing of the party immediately after the meeting.
“At the moment, Ragusa and his cronies are falsely claiming victory after an absurd, shameful excuse for a reorganizational meeting. The disenfranchisement of many duly elected committee members and massive illegal disqualifications of proxies at the ‘Ragusa Racket Club’s circus’ this Friday only punctuate the end of an era of incompetence and shame,” the operative said.
Ulrich, who is one of Turner’s strongest supporters, said the Ragusa wing of the party used “fuzzy math” to win the election, adding that the number of Turner supporters confirmed the leadership battle would be headed to a courtroom.
“Anyone who was at that meeting knows there was overwhelming support for Turner and [he was] the clear choice of the district leaders and county committee persons at the meeting,” he said.
Ulrich, a district leader himself, added that the state Republicans sent an observer, former upstate Rep. John Sweeney, to observe the meeting and he took “pages and pages of notes,” and said he believed Turner will ultimately win in court.
“This is not 2011,” he declared, referring to the last battle for the party in which Ognibene’s claim to the leadership was overruled by a court.
In that year, Ognibene supporters held their own meeting in Richmond Hill that elected him chair of the party, but the state Board of Elections refused to accept his election and Ragusa held on to the chairmanship.
This year, the two wings of the party supported different mayoral candidates. Ragusa backed businessman John Catsimatidis while Ulrich and Turner backed eventual GOP nominee Joe Lhota.