By Joe Anuta
A group of Republican City Council members found a loophole last month to appoint a new Queens commissioner to the city Board of Elections, which could cause a major shift in power inside the Queens GOP organization.
Councilmen Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), James Oddo (R-Staten Island) and Vincent Ignizio (R-Staten Island), three out of the five sitting GOP Council members, voted to place Michael Michel as the Queens commissioner on the board against the wishes of the Queens County Republican Party.
Ulrich has long been at odds with the Queens party and has been at the forefront of an insurgent movement. The party even mounted a primary challenge against Ulrich’s unsuccessful run for the state Senate late last year.
This latest move took the entire borough by surprise and could prove to be a major blow to the county organization should the power play by Ulrich, Oddo and Ignizio withstand a legal test. Both sides have teams arguing their respective cases in court.
Queens and Staten Island are the only boroughs with two Republicans in the City Council, which is overwhelmingly governed by members of the Democratic Party.
The Board of Elections is made up of 10 commissioners, five Democrats and five Republicans. According to multiple sources in GOP political circles, the commissioners have clout because they not only decide how the board is going to run and how to conduct elections in the five boroughs, but they also dole out election jobs both temporary and long-term. It is one of the last remaining vestiges of political patronage in New York City, and thus a source of power for whoever is in the seat, according to sources.
That power is usually in the hands of each borough’s political party.
The GOP Party’s rules state that each time a commissioner’s four-year term is up, the party is supposed to send a letter of recommendation to the Council 30 days before the end of that term stating their choice for the position and the Council is expected to make the appointment.
But the three councilmen claim that the party did not send its appointment, which opened the door for them to make a recommendation of their own. And their pick could effectively control the flow of patronage jobs.
The Queens party, headed by Phil Ragusa, has taken the matter to court using the legal team of Republican mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis. Ragusa is asking a Manhattan Supreme Court judge to stop Michel from making any decisions on the board, remove him from office and instead install the party’s pick, Judith Stupp.
The legal briefs contend that the Queens GOP did indeed make its appointment before time ran out, but it was enclosed in a pre-paid envelope and sent through first-class mail.
Sources with knowledge of the case said the appointment never reached the Council nor Oddo, the Council’s minority leader, which then cleared the way for the three members to make the replacement.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.