It’s been three and a half years since Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) won a special election to replace Joe Addabbo Jr. after the latter’s ascension to the state Senate. Now, the 27-year-old Ozone Park native is running against his predecessor for the seat in Albany.
The district — which includes Glendale, Howard Beach, Maspeth, Middle Village and Ozone Park — was in Republican hands for decades before Addabbo won it in 2008. It was redrawn to include conservative-leaning neighborhoods like Kew Gardens Hills, home to a large bloc of Orthodox Jews, and Breezy Point. The new lines make the district more competitive, and that attracted Ulrich, who had been lobbied to run for the seat in 2010 and also for the seat vacated by former Rep. Anthony Weiner in 2011, which was won by Rep. Bob Turner (R-Middle Village).
“This is a very competitive district; there’s a chance for me to serve in the majority conference in the State Senate,” Ulrich said during an interview at the Queens Chronicle office last week. “I think I can make a difference.”
But county Republicans have not made the path clear for Ulrich. The Queens GOP establishment, led by Phil Ragusa, has been at odds with Ulrich, who supported former Councilman Tom Ognibene’s attempt to wrestle control of the party from Ragusa last year. Ragusa has thrown his support behind Forest Hills attorney Juan Reyes in the GOP primary on Sept. 13. The primary challenge is one hurdle Ulrich has to clear before he can take on Addabbo in September.
Ulrich warned Republicans would be throwing the seat if they nominated Reyes, since Ulrich already has the ballot lines of the Conservative and Independence parties and could only vacate the lines if he was nominated for a judgeship, which is impossible since he has no legal background. That would lead to Reyes and Ulrich splitting the GOP vote.
Reyes has accused Ulrich of not being conservative enough and backing some issues Democrats support including raising the state’s minimum wage.
Reyes opposes raising the minimum wage and said it would cost the state jobs, an argument Ulrich rejects.
“Regionally speaking, the minimum wage is higher in several states adjacent to New York,” he said. “To say a husband and wife can pay rent or a mortgage, can send their children to school, can afford the gas, tolls, taxes, fees, bills, on $7.25 an hour, that’s ridiculous, there’s no way.”
Ulrich said he wants to run a campaign specifically on issues and outlined his positions on a number of them.
On gun control, Ulrich said the problem is not with New York’s gun laws, which he said are among the strictest in the country, but rather the laws in other states, especially in the South. He said many illegal guns found in the city come from out of state, where they are bought at gun shows.
Ulrich also supports hydrofracking, providing scientific evidence shows it does not do harm and there is oversight from the Environmental Protection Agency. He said fracking has the potential of being a job creator upstate, which would boost revenue to state coffers. He praised Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s careful consideration of fracking.
“I think he’s doing what he does best, sitting back, listening to both sides,” he said.
Ulrich criticized Addabbo’s vote for the MTA payroll tax in 2009 and said he was a party-line voter in the Senate, while he would not be and would stand up to GOP leader Dean Skelos if he disagreed with his party.
“I have made it known to [Skelos] and to anyone else who wants to know that my first and foremost obligation is to my constituents,” he said. “I’m happy to be a party guy on the issues I agree with them on. I’m not afraid to stand up to them when I disagree with him.”
He noted that he is not in the county party’s leadership’s good graces.
“This is the treatment that you get and I wear that with a badge of honor. It only strengthens my independence,” he said.
Ulrich said he supports tax credits for parents who send their children to private schools and wants to find a steady revenue stream for education money that would be lost by the credit, saying that would be the first bill he proposes as a state senator. The 15th Senate District includes a large population of Orthodox Jewish and Catholic families who send their children to private schools.
He said he supported Gov. Cuomo’s creation of a new pension system, Tier VI, and said the state can save money by rolling all public employees into the state pension system. Many are not a part of it because they are in patronage positions, he said.
Both Reyes and the campaign arm for the Senate Democrats have criticized Ulrich for his association with John Haggerty, who was convicted in 2010 of laundering money from Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s re-election campaign. Ulrich did not deny he has a friendship with Haggerty, whose brother Bart worked in Ulrich’s office for a time, but said Haggerty has no paid job with Ulrich’s Senate campaign.
“I don’t throw my friends under the bus,” he said.