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The Fusion Delusion

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Anthony Como, once part of the discredited old guard that ruled the Queens GOP for years under the late State Senator Serphin Maltese, is quoted in this week’s Queens Chronicle attacking the decision of the Queens County GOP to endorse a Democrat for the 30th Councilmanic District seat in Queens.

The Maltese faction, of which Como was once a prominent part, gave way to the Ragusa group, formed around the person of Queens Republican activist Phil Ragusa when Maltese stepped down in the wake of dissension over his holding both elective State office and the County Chairmanship which many felt posed a conflict of interest since it put his electoral interests at odds with Queens Republican party building. In the wake of the ascension to the vacated chairmanship by Ragusa, and his subsequent untimely death, a general grassroots rebellion and political reform movement to fix the ailing Queens GOP arose.

In the resultant three way tug of war which pitted Ragusa stalwarts against long time insurgents, John and Bart Haggerty of central Queens who were eventually joined by the remnants of the Maltese machine,  and a third reformist group seeking to orchestrate a peaceful revival of the Queens GOP, State GOP chairman Ed Cox, out of Albany, stepped in to orchestrate a fusion solution which brought the two main feuding factions, the Haggerty group, aligned at that point with former Maltese ally Tom Ognibene (since deceased) and Ognibene’s acolyte City Councilman Eric Ulrich with the remnants of the old Ragusa team.

In light of the promised fusion solution, the reformist movement faded, in anticipation that the compromise that would unite both warring factions in a shared County Committee executive board. Cox arranged this in conference with the two factions at a closed door meeting. The deal placed former Republican Congressman Bob Turner​, who had aligned himself with the old Maltese faction, at the head of the table with the understanding that he would reach out to, and staff his new team with, Ragusa as well as Haggerty partisans.

Turner didn’t actually do that though, instead allowing himself to be manipulated by Ulrich and the Haggertys into freezing the other “team” out, adding further fuel to the smoldering fire of recriminations, hurt feelings and the hope for change.

Last month, in a surprise maneuver, the “Ulrich-Haggerty faction,” shocked Turner, too, by unceremoniously dumping him as chair without any advance warning that this was in the works and installed Ulrich loyalist (and one time foe) Joanne Ariola. Turner was caught off guard, having apparently failed to anticipate that his allies would secretly turn on him and toss him out. In the aftermath, the new Queens GOP County leadership (led by its new chair, Ariola) has endorsed a Democrat instead of fielding a Republican to run for a council seat in what has, historically, been a solidly Republican district (though it recently lost that cachet when Como, himself, was defeated there by a Democrat).

The new-old leadership of the Queens County GOP apparently means to “revive” Queens GOP principles by doing what Serf Maltese was famous for doing during his years in power in Queens: playing footsie with local politicians of the opposing party to preserve his position as paramount Republican in the borough of Queens. (Maltese famously suppressed Republican activity in the borough in a tacit deal to avoid serious Democratic challenges to his own seat in the State Senate.)

Anthony Como, whatever his past affiliations and role in the Queens County Republican organization, isn’t wrong in questioning what’s going on in the Queens Republican Party, a political organization that has been electorally moribund for years and has long failed to inspire Queens Republicans . . . or to fight for elective office in its own backyard.

Holding one City Council position, as Eric Ulrich now does, is hardly a prescription for growing the party, but maybe Eric isn’t really interested in that?

About Stuart W. Mirsky

Stuart W. Mirsky, a former New York City official who last served as Assistant Commissioner for Operations in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene before retiring in 2002, wrote a column, "The Rockaway Irregular," for The Wave, a south Queens based weekly, for more than a decade (until Hurricane Sandy changed the equation). He is an original founder of the Rockaway Republicans, one of the most active Republican groups in southern Queens, and author of a number of books, including The King of Vinland's Saga, an historical novel of the Norse in 11th century North America, A Raft on the River, a memoir of Holocaust survival, and Choice and Action, a work of contemporary philosophy addressing the implications of relativism and nihilism for our moral beliefs.

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