Queens GOP squabbling will harm party long term

William Lewis’ Aug.4-10 column “Ognibene poses threat to Queens GOP seat held by Ragusa” reminds me of two hyenas fighting over the carcass of a dead animal — in this case, remnants of the once-relevant Queens Republican Party. This is the latest chapter of a periodic civil war, the origins of which can be traced back to the 1980s.

Take a trip down memory lane to understand why today’s descendants of the once-vital Queens Republican organization spend more time fighting each other rather than offering Democrats any serious competition on the city, state or federal levels.

After the 1982 reapportionment, Democrats eliminated the districts of Queens GOP state Assembly members Rosemary Gunning, John LoPresto, John Flack, Al DelliBovi and John Esposito.

Doug Prescott briefly held a seat in Bayside in the 1990s, but eventually lost, leaving the city with two Republicans out of 61 Assembly members — both elected from Staten Island.

Despite overwhelming Democratic Party enrollment in Queens, creative gerrymandering by the GOP-controlled state Senate in 2002 continued to preserve the seats of both Republican Sens. Serphin Maltese and Frank Padavan. Eventually, Democrats beat Maltese in 2008 with City Councilman Joseph Addabbo and Padavan in 2010 with Councilman Tony Avella.

The last Republican U.S. representative from Queens was Seymour Halperin, who after the 1972 reapportionment declined to run against Democrat Lester Wolff of Great Neck, L.I., when both were merged into one Queens/Nassau County district. In 1982, GOP Rep. John LeBoutellier briefly recaptured this seat for one term.

You would have to go back to the 1950s or earlier to find the last GOP Queens borough president. Nat Hentel was the last GOP district attorney, in 1970.

Crossover Democrats, who voted for former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in the 1980s, George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the 1990s along with Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2001, 2005 and 2009 continue to move out of town, retire out of state or succumb to old age. There has been no successful GOP outreach to new Caribbean, Hispanic, Asian and other immigrant groups. Attempts to reach middle-class, African-American homeowners in former GOP neighborhoods has failed.

For decades, once the GOP loses any incumbent Council, Assembly, state senator or congressional representative, they are seldom ever able to reclaim the district.

The Council Districting Commission will draw new Council district boundaries based upon the 2010 census. Its action could determine future political survival for the last-remaining Queens Republican elected officials: Councilmen Dan Halloran of Whitestone, Eric Ulrich of Ozone Park and Peter Koo of Flushing. Democratic Council Speaker Christine Quinn of Manhattan, using gerrymandering, could make it impossible for any of them to win another term.

If Quinn fails, you can be sure borough party boss Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) will target all three for defeat. He wants all three votes in his pocket to assist him in delivering the office of Council speaker to Queens in 2014.

Both Queens GOP factions should be thinking about the future instead of their own respective egos. Otherwise, they will continue down the path to political extinction. How disappointing that voters will have to look elsewhere for alternatives to the Queens Democratic Party machine monopoly.

Larry Penner

Great Neck, L.I.