By William Lewis
This year in Queens, there are few races for public office other than county district attorney and a few judgeships.
In the Queens Republican Party, however, it is the year for the selection of party leadership positions, including county committee, district leader and county officers. In the Queens Democratic and Conservative parties, leadership selection is conducted in even years, so the main focus in Queens this year is the Republican Party primary elections leading up to the county party convention in late September or early October.
The elected position of district leader is especially important in the Queens GOP because, unlike other borough political parties, the position of district leader and member of the state committee are combined into one office or party position. Therefore, Queens Republican district leaders are also elected delegates to the GOP state committee meetings and party state conventions, which select statewide candidates for public office.
The state Assembly districts set the pattern for establishing the county leadership. There are 18 Assembly districts in Queens. Within the Republican Party, there is both a male and female district leader with a total of 36 Republican district leaders that comprise the party county executive committee in addition to the county officers and at-large members. It is this executive committee that endorses candidates for public office, although district leaders nominate candidates.
The term “district leader” was first used back in the 1870s in the Democratic Party. It has been used ever since within the two major political parties and most third parties as well within the New York City urban area. The city Independence Party is the one major exception because it has a different organization structure without district leaders.
This year, the GOP district leaders will be circulating petitions and generally directing the petition drive to get people on the county committee through the electoral process. They also assist candidates for public office in organizing their campaigns. The party political clubs work closely with district leaders in all aspects of political campaigns.
By present-day standards, the district leaders have considerable duties and responsibilities. If we look back at the role of district leaders in the Democratic Party during the latter part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century, however, these positions at times took up a huge amount of time and effort in New York City, since those district leaders would assist newly arrived immigrants find employment and living accommodations.
This was in addition to helping them with obtaining U.S. citizenship and other legal matters. New immigrants, when they became citizens, were expected to support organization candidates for public office. Indeed, it could be said that the city Democratic Party organization at the time, which was referred to as Tammany Hall, acted as a government within a government, since they provided services for the people at a time when such entitlements as Social Security, worker’s compensation and unemployment insurance did not exist to the extent that they do today.
Among the most important duties of the district leaders are getting potential candidates for public office and making sure the party candidates get enough petition signatures to qualify for ballot position.
This year within the Queens Republican Party, there is hope the organization can unify and work together in preparation for next year’s elections, which will include two primary elections in February and September as well as a whole slate of candidates for state and federal offices, including the U.S. presidential campaign of 2012, which many people consider will be the most important presidential campaign in the history of the United States.
Within the Queens GOP, there are some signs of possible district leadership primaries in several Assembly districts, in which case the registered Republicans of those districts will vote in a primary election for district leader in September or October this year.