By Joe Anuta
Republican leaders traded more barbs over the future of the Queens GOP Party this week in the wake of a wide-ranging bribery scandal.
Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) and Queens Republican Party Vice Chairman Vince Tabone were both charged with participating in a bribery scheme to get state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) on the GOP mayoral ballot earlier this month by federal prosecutors.
The Queens party has been in turmoil ever since, with an insurgent faction including Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) calling for the ouster of the current leader, Phil Ragusa.
In an unrelated incident, Ulrich also attracted attention within the party for allocating discretionary funds to a charity run by a GOP district leader.
GOP mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis, a grocery store magnate, came to the Ragusa’s defense in a note distributed last weekend, saying he and state Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox had agreed “management by revolution is not the way of the GOP.”
Catsimatidis, whose daughter is married to Cox’s son, singled out Ulrich in the missive.
“Councilman Ulrich’s activities, his name-calling and twisting of the truth, are disgraceful and are symptomatic of someone who lacks the maturity and experience to lead,” he said in a statement.
But the councilman fired back yet again Wednesday, telling TimesLedger Newspapers Catsimatidis was “a buffoon.”
“He has no shot at ever being elected mayor,” Ulrich said. “I don’t really take what comes out of his mouth seriously.”
The councilman also had strong words for former state Sens. Serph Maltese and Frank Padavan, whose signatures were included in a separate letter supporting Ragusa and alluding to Ulrich’s attacks.
“They are not relevant,” Ulrich said. “If they want to help the healing process, I’m all for that. If they are going to pen letters attacking me, maybe it’s best they are not in office.”
Ulrich also caused rumblings in the party after again funding a senior center run by a Republican district leader.
In 2011, Ulrich gave $5,000 to the Forest Park Senior Center run by Donna Caltabiano, a district leader in state Assemblyman Michael Miller’s (D-Woodhaven) district. But that number jumped to $55,000 in 2012 and 2013.
District leaders vote to endorse candidates and elect party leaders.
Ulrich insisted that the donation had nothing to do with politics, but rather the senior center does not get state or federal grants and instead relies on discretionary funding. State dollars had dried up in 2010 and the borough president cut her funding a year later, which is why he made up the difference, the councilman said.
“I had to keep it open. It came down to me and the borough president,” Ulrich said, pointing out that Caltabiano had never voted to elect anyone from Ulrich’s faction to party leadership positions as a district leader.
Council members get a set dollar amount to fund projects for the aging. In 2013, it was about $108,000. The senior center received the most cash out of those in Ulrich’s district, with most centers getting $5,000.
For Caltabiano, the money was a vital resource, since her center gets limited funding, and she defended Ulrich’s reputation as an upstanding councilman..
She said she had never voted for anyone from Ulrich’s faction but was not fond of the opposing side either.
“I’ve separated myself from all of them. I really believe there should be a change,” she said. “Phil is a nice guy, but I don’t think he was effective at all.”
Caltabiano’s comments echo the sentiments of numerous GOP party members fed up with infighting.
“We need to clean everybody out of there,” she said.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.