For Republicans in New York City (and most of the northeast) lately, good nights have been few and far between. Last Tuesday [Election Day, November 3] was one of them. Moreover, on a good night for Republicans in many places, from Virginia to New Jersey to Westchester, Queens Republicans may have had the best night of all.
The GOP now holds three Queens City Council seats for the first time since 2001, wresting two seats from Democratic control.
The sole Republican incumbent, Councilmember Eric Ulrich (R-Howard Beach), handily defeated Frank Gulluscio, Senator Joseph Addabbo’s former chief of staff, 59 to 41 percent.
Auburndale attorney and former prosecutor Dan Halloran beat Kevin Kim, an aide to Congressmember Gary Ackerman who took a leave of absence to run, by over 1,000 votes, 53 to 47 percent, retaking the northeast Queens seat previously held by Republican Mike Abel from 1991-2001 and being vacated by Tony Avella.
And in an historic victory, Flushing will be represented for the first time ever by a Republican, Starside Pharmacies CEO Peter Koo, who defeated Democrat Yen Chou, who had been an aide to Councilmember David Weprin, 50 to 45 percent. The seat’s current occupant, John Liu, was elected Comptroller.
What a difference a year makes. On Election Day 2008, Queens Democrats appeared to have the GOP in its death throes, having toppled two incumbents, Senator Serf Maltese and Councilmember Anthony Como, while sending Senator Frank Padavan’s re-election bid through a three-month recount drama. The Queens Republican delegation was down to one, Padavan, without a single City Council member.
One year later, the delegation has quadrupled to four. Though four elected Republicans may not seem like a lot, keep in mind that Democrats outnumber Republicans 5-1 in Queens. Democrats are the overwhelming majority even in the seats Republicans won on Tuesday. Republicans are outnumbered 3-1 in Ulrich’s seat, more than 2-1 in Halloran’s district, and 4-1 in Koo’s seat. In fact, Republicans are only 14 percent of the registered voters in Koo’s Flushing-based district.
These Republican gains in Queens are not a rebuke of President Obama. Unlike across the river on the Jersey side, Obama did not personally stump for any of the defeated Queens Democrats. Rather, voters are just dissatisfied in general. The unemployment rate is at its highest in a generation. When things do not seem to be working, people tend to consider alternatives.
Ulrich, Halloran and Koo did not win because they were Republicans or in spite of their party affiliation. They ran effective campaigns based on their records in their communities. Most voters one year ago, after eight years of Bush-Cheney and in the midst of Obama’s inspiring campaign, would not have even considered pulling the Republican lever. In 2009, the Queens electorate was open to an alternative.
American government is based on checks and balances. A two-party system is good for democracy and a more accountable and responsible government. One-party rule, by either party, is undemocratic and a recipe for entrenchment, extremist overreaching and bad policy-making.
While November 3, 2009 was a good night for Queens Republicans, let us hope the real winners are all who support good government, in our city and beyond.
Daniel Egers is Executive Director of the Queens County Republican Party, a Trustee of the Bayside Historical Society and President of the Friends of Oakland Lake, among other affiliations. The views expressed in this column are his own.