GOP coup ends with successful rebel power play

TimesLedger File Photos
By Joe Anuta

The leaders of the Queens Republican Party dropped their legal bid to oust the borough’s GOP Board of Elections Commissioner Michael Michel, who was installed in a political coup earlier this year.

Michel is one of 10 commissioners on the board, made up of five Republicans and five Democrats. Democratic and Republican party organizations from each borough typically get to pick one commissioner each.

But the installation of Michel against the wishes of the Queens GOP could cripple the power of the party, according to multiple sources, since he as a commissioner is responsible for patronage jobs at the board.

Michel was appointed by City Councilmen Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), James Oddo (R-Staten Island) and Vincent Ignizio (R-Staten Island) under the noses of party officials.

City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) did not vote to oust the commissioner in Queens.

The power play began when the Queens GOP failed to reappoint Judith Stupp, a party loyalist, to the commissioner position at the end of 2012. According to election law, members of the minority caucus in the Council were eventually free to install their replacement, which they quietly did.

A court battle ensued, with Tom Ognibene — a fellow GOP insurgent who tried to claim the chairmanship in 2011 but lost a court case — representing the insurgents. The party, headed by Chairman Phil Ragusa, was represented by the same law firm that serves as legal counsel to John Catsimatidis, the mayoral candidate backed by Ragusa, Vincent Tabone and the Queens GOP.

Ragusa and his camp claimed their appointment was sent to the Board of Elections in the mail, but since they could not prove it arrived to meet the deadline, they decided to drop the case. Lawyers for Ragusa filed what is known as a notice of discontinuance in Manhattan Supreme Court Feb. 21.

“The Queens County GOP has had more than its fair share of legal disputes. In fact, more than one judge has admonished our detractors for their deceptive tactics, but a long, drawn-out legal struggle would only distract from the need to field a strong viable Republican slate for 2013,” Ragusa said in a statement. “The caucus’ actions weren’t productive in our view, but we have other fish to fry and there are higher principles at stake and more important objectives.”

Those political insiders said the ouster of the Queens GOP pick could have broad consequences.

Positions in political parties, either Democrat or Republican, trickle down from the bosses to the elected positions — like representatives in the U.S. Congress, state Assembly, state Senate and Council — but it certainly does not stop there.

District leaders are also elected and are responsible for voting on important matters, like who to endorse in an election, in each borough. They also select loyal party followers from the various Republican and Democrat clubs that dot Queens neighborhoods to become employees at the board, according to political insiders.

Without the promise of at least some money and jobs to offer in exchange for volunteering time and loyalty, the borough party may start to seem less relevant, although in the GOP’s case it is still recognized by the state Republican Party.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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