The Republican primary for the state Senate in the newly redrawn 15th District got nasty in its final days.
The campaign of Forest Hills lawyer Juan Reyes, who is backed by the Queens GOP leadership, sent out a number of mailers in the last week accusing his opponent, Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) of being a flip-flopper with ties to liberal politicians and the LGBT community and also blasting his support from the state Senate GOP.
One mailer bemoans Ulrich having voted 95 percent of the time with Democratic Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) — even stating his voting record is more aligned with Quinn than Democrat Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn), who is a known political nemesis of the speaker.
In one instance, Ulrich, who was endorsed in the primary race by the Queens Chronicle, is accused of voting in favor of same-sex marriage, stemming from a 2010 bill that passed by the City Council that required the City Clerk’s Office to present information regarding the rights same-sex couples have in New York. The law passed after former Gov. David Paterson issued an executive order allowing New York to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
The mailer also accuses Ulrich of providing $18 million in taxpayer funding to liberal groups, money that was approved by the full council. The mailer also criticizes Ulrich’s ties to John Haggerty, a Republican campaign operative who was convicted of stealing money from Mayor Bloomberg’s 2009 campaign.Haggerty’s brother, Bart, was Ulrich’s chief of staff. A mailer accusing Ulrich of “going both ways” due to his perceived support of LGBT issues attacks him for hiring a gay chief of staff and an another openly gay staffer, but does not identify the staffers by name.
The mailer also attacks Ulrich and his wife for having dinner with “a gay Councilman and his husband,” alluding to Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and his spouse, Dan Hendrick.
Responding to the mailers, Van Bramer said he was “shocked, outraged and saddened that anybody would say that in 2012 in New York City having dinner with a gay person would be a disqualification for someone to be in elected office.
“It reminds you of another time, another place and another era,” he said. “It says to me I guess that Mr. Reyes doesn’t have any gay friends, gay family members, and his family refuses to eat dinner with gay people. I wonder if he’s ridden the subway because if he had, he’s probably sat next to gay people.”
Van Bramer added that the mailer went beyond just attacking a bipartisan relationship.
“He’s not attacking Eric and me for working together on legislation, he’s attacking us for talking to each other,” he said.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Reed Smith, the law firm where Reyes is a partner, said it does not discriminate against LGBT employees.
“Reed Smith is an international law firm, with nearly 1,700 lawyers that embraces diversity as a core part of its culture,” the statement read. “The firm is a recognized leader in the area of diversity and human rights, including the rights of LGBT individuals. Reed Smith was among the first firms in the nation to provide full spousal benefits to the partners of its LGBT lawyers and staff and we are justifiably proud of a record of support for individuals of both genders, all races and ethnicities, and every sexual orientation.”
Gerry O’Brien, spokesman for the Juan Reyes campaign, said the mailers were not meant to imply disapproval with hiring LGBT staff or befriending gays and lesbians, but rather to highlight Ulrich’s “hypocrisy.”
“The point of that is to show the transformation of Eric Ulrich in the past three years from a guy who put the Pope in campaign mailings to becoming a typical New York City liberal,” he said. “Nobody cares who he has dinner with, that’s not what the issue is.”
O’Brien added that the mailer was aimed at older Catholic voters who would see a candidate who ran as a devout Catholic conservative, as he said Ulrich did in his initial run for the council, socializing with LGBT people as a “betrayal.”
“As soon as he was elected, he began cultivating his persona as a more urbane cosmopolitan Republican,” he said.
Another mailer features a photo showing Ulrich in a suit that is decorated with Soviet-style medals. O’Brien defended the “Comrade” mailer, comparing the way Senate Republicans lobbied Ulrich to get into the race to politics in the former Soviet Union. State Senate Republicans gave the Ulrich campaign $250,000.
“I’ve never heard of a local Republican candidate getting a check that size by [state Republicans],” he said. “It was never intended to be a Republican slush fund for state Republicans to pick their own candidates. It just rubs a lot of the people the wrong way. It reminds people of the top-down form of government the Soviet Union had.”
All the mailers were sent out by Friends of Juan Reyes.
“This type of hateful and malicious mail has no place in a political campaign,” Ulrich responded. “Juan Reyes is spreading lies about my record because he is desperate. He is running a campaign that his children won’t be proud of.”
Ulrich explained that many of the funds listed on the mailer were not his, but were part of a budget he and most of his colleagues voted for. Ulrich further criticized Reyes’ campaign for being made up of “the lowest of the low.”
The Reyes campaign is also slamming Ulrich for his re-tweeting of a line in this newspaper’s primary endorsement of him that noted former U.S. Senator and 1996 GOP Presidential nominee Bob Dole’s “last known endorsement was for Viagra.” Dole has endorsed Reyes. “Eric Ulrich’s rude and mocking comments about Sen. Bob Dole prove that 27-year-old Ulrich is unfit for public office,” Reyes said.”This sleazy and sarcastic comment about one of America’s greatest heroes is beyond contempt.”
O’Brien echoed that statement, saying the Tweet shows Ulrich’s inexperience.
“There’s going to be a lot of people out there who will say ‘He’s just not ready,’” he said. The Democrats are going to have a field day with Ulrich.”
O’Brien said he expects people to be surprised by the results of the election. Ulrich said he believes the mailer controversy will help him.
“This is helping my campaign,” he said. “My base is fired up.”