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 election night celebration at Roma View catering hall in Howard Beach to cheers, applause and flash bulbs.
According to results posted by the Associated Press, 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 their 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 Rockway, home to a large number of Orthodox Jewish voters. The new district leans more Republican that the old one, which Addabbo wrestled out of the hands of longtime GOP state Sen. Serphin Maltese in 2008 and was reelected to in 2010.
Speaking to a crowd of staff, friends and supporters that included fellow Councilman and Congressional candidate Dan Halloran, 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 independence, noting his primary challenge is an example of how he does not often toe 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 where 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 operative 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 defeats 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 does defeat 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 were cast ballots for that primary. Ulrich defeated Tiraco 82 votes to 16. He also has secured the Conservative Party line.