Petition challenges highlight upcoming primary elections

By William Lewis

When we look at the petition challenges and primaries last year and this year in Queens, it would seem intense political confrontations are increasing, especially in the Republican Party.

Next year promises to extend these confrontations to the Queens Democratic Party, when term limits force a vast turnover in elected officials. At that time, it is expected there will be numerous primaries and petition challenges for open seats for mayor, city comptroller, public advocate, borough president and the City Council.

Since the early 1990s until recently, there has been relative peace within the major Queens political parties. The exception occurred when state Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale) and his allies took control of the Queens Republican Party in 1995 and two years later, Maltese became county chairman, a position he would hold for the next 10 years.

In the early 1980s, he ran against the late Thomas Manton for Congress. It was not a negative campaign, as both candidates at the time expressed their viewpoints without personal attacks. Manton won, but Maltese would be elected to the state Senate several years later. They would both become county chairman of their respective political parties and developed a good working relationship.

During most of his office tenure, Maltese ran without any major opponents. During the 1990s and early 2000s, there were few primaries and petition challenges. With new changes in county leadership, however, internal conflicts broke out last year in the Queens Republican Party when insurgents led by the Haggerty brothers challenged Phil Ragusa, who had replaced Maltese as county leader.

Last year saw a large number of primaries and petition challenges in most of the Queens Republican Party. The incumbent county leadership prevailed in this struggle. Next year we may see a continuation of that struggle when the county leadership is up for re-election.

During the last several weeks in the Fifth Congressional District in northeast Queens, the official Republican candidate, Elizabeth Berney, has successfully removed insurgent Gonzalo “Jun” Policarpio from the Republican ballot through petition challenges.

She also tried to take away the Independence Party designation from her opponent, U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), through petition challenges. She came close. Ackerman managed to hold on to the Independence line by a few signatures. Policarpio presently still has the Conservative Party designation for that seat.

In the 11th State Senate District, state Sen. Frank Padavan's (R-Bellerose) Independence Party petitions were challenged by Peter Boudouvas, a former Padavan staff member.

In the 30th City Council District, in a special election that took place several weeks ago, there were petition challenges and two anonymous letters were sent out to registered district voters personally attacking two of the candidates, including Tom Ognibene and Charles Ober, although Anthony Como won that race by a narrow margin.

There is a Democratic primary in the 15th State Senate District between City Councilman Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) and Albert Baldeo The winner will face Maltese in the fall election.

In the 16th State Senate District, state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) is facing a Democratic primary from insurgent Robert Schwartz. Although Stavisky tried to remove Schwartz from the ballot through petition challenges, he survived.

A Stavisky spokesman, Joe Ruebens, said, “We expect Sen. Stavisky, with her sterling record of accomplishments, to win overwhelmingly in September.”

In addition, Stavisky has challenged the petitions of her Republican opponent, Peter Koo, who also has Conservative and Independence party support. Koo's residency is being questioned in Stavisky's petition challenge. She indicated that Koo really lives in Port Washington, L.I., while Koo states that he lives in Flushing.

A candidate has to live in the district for which he is running. This case went to court, with the state Supreme Court agreeing with Stavisky and removing Koo from the ballot. However, the state Court of Appeals reinstated his candidacy last week in a 5-0 decision.

What is happening this year with primaries and petition challenges may set a precedent for the immediate future.

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