In the final weeks of the Republican primary for the 15th state Senate district, Forest Hills attorney Juan Reyes, backed by the Queens GOP leadership, whacked his opponent, Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), for being supported by the state Republicans, for often voting against the wishes of his party and even for being a devout Catholic with gay friends.
In the end, none of it appeared to have worked. If anything, it might have backfired.
When the results trickled in Thursday night, it was Ulrich who walked into his primary election night celebration at Roma View catering hall in Howard Beach to cheers, applause and flashbulbs.
According to unofficial results from the city Board of Elections, Ulrich defeated Reyes 70 percent to 30 percent — a margin of over 1,500 votes — to win the GOP nomination to take on two-term incumbent Democratic Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. in the newly reconfigured 15th state Senate District in November.
In the southern part of the district, which Ulrich represents in the City Council, the margins were even more astronomical for him.
Breezy Point, a GOP stronghold, gave Ulrich 97 percent of its vote. He won 96 percent in Broad Channel and 90 percent in his home neighborhood of Ozone Park. The district also includes much of Central Queens including Glendale, Middle Village, Maspeth and Forest Hills Gardens as well as Kew Gardens Hills and Far Rockaway, home to a large number of Orthodox Jewish voters. The new district leans more Republican than the old one, which Addabbo wrestled out of the hands of longtime GOP state Sen. Serphin Maltese in 2008 and was re-elected to in 2010.
Speaking to a crowd of staff, friends and supporters which included fellow councilman and congressional candidate Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), former Councilman Tom Ognibene and other borough GOP figures who gathered at Roma View, Ulrich said his primary victory will give his campaign against Addabbo momentum going into November.
“Joe is a good guy, but I can offer better representation,” he said.
Ulrich criticized Addabbo for being a reliable party-line vote in Albany and touted his own independence, noting his primary challenge is an example of how he does not often tow the party line.
“Joe is strictly a party -line guy. I have an independent record,” Ulrich said. “Look no further than the fact I had to face a primary.”
He also criticized Reyes’ campaign and the nasty tone the primary took in the final days.
“My opponent has run a campaign his children will not be proud of,” he said.
Mailers delivered to GOP voters in the district in the last week of the campaign included one in which Ulrich was dressed with Soviet-style medals aimed to liken the Senate GOP leadership’s support of Ulrich to Soviet-style government. Several Ulrich campaign operatives said the mailer backfired on Reyes among undecided GOP voters of Eastern European descent in Rego Park, Forest Hills and Kew Gardens Hills, areas Reyes had been courting. Other mailers criticized Ulrich for hiring gay staffers and having lunch with gay colleagues. A final mailer that went to voters just before the election featured a four-page allegedly handwritten note from Reyes’ wife Meaghan slamming Ulrich for his ties to John Haggerty, a GOP campaign operative convicted of stealing funds from Mayor Bloomberg’s 2009 campaign.
Ulrich’s victory is a blow to the Queens Republican leadership and Chairman Phil Ragusa, who has had a long, frosty relationship with Ulrich. Last fall, Ulrich supported Ognibene in his ill-fated attempt to dethrone Ragusa as head of the borough’s GOP. At Ulrich’s party Thursday night, numerous GOP officials loyal to Ognibene were present.
A number of Republican insiders believe Ulrich’s victory further weakens Ragusa’s hold on the party and if Ulrich does defeat Addabbo in November, it could propel him into a position to be able to help Ognibene win control. With the imminent retirement of Rep. Bob Turner (R-Middle Village), Ulrich will likely become the highest ranking GOP official in the borough if he defeats Addabbo.
Ulrich also faced a primary on the Independence Party line against Joseph Tiraco of Rego Park, a member of the Independence Party who also sought the party’s line in the 6th Congressional District in June. Only 98 voters cast ballots in that primary. Ulrich defeated Tiraco 82 votes to 16. He also has secured the Conservative Party line.
Addabbo has the Working Families Party line, which he did not have in 2010.
“In this type of political environment, my campaign was really thought out in February,” Addabbo said.
He responded to Ulrich’s attacks on his votes on raising taxes in the City Council and in Albany, noting that both situations occurred in extreme fiscal crises.
“My opponent never had to face the fiscal situation I did in the city [in 2002] and in the state [in 2009],” Addabbo said. “When you are faced with that big a budget deficit, your job is to save essential services.”
He also responded to charges that he flip-flopped on his vote for same-sex marriage, having voted against it in 2009 and then for in 2011. He said a majority of those who called his office in 2009 were opposed, but in 2011, the vast majority supported the bill, which is why he changed his vote.
“Listen first, then lead,” he said.
Addabbo also praised Resorts World Casino New York City, noting that if the casino had not come to the area, something worse — perhaps factories or other unwanted commercial development — would have been built without the community’s input, which they had with the casino project. He said as a member of Community Board 10 more than a decade ago, they tried to rezone the site of Aqueduct Racetrack for residential and small commercial development, but the city rejected the idea.