By Rich Bockmann
City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) has again set his sights on the city Board of Elections — a recent battleground in his ongoing fight with the Queens Republican Party — with a bill that would prohibit BOE employees from being paid to work on local political campaigns.
Ulrich introduced a bill in the Council last week that would amend the City Charter to bar BOE employees from receiving compensation for work done on behalf of candidates or campaigns for city office.
The councilman did not respond to a request for comment, but the move would reform the board he helped to shape — at least for the next three years — in January.
Earlier this year Ulrich, along with fellow Councilmen James Oddo (R-Staten Island) and Vincent Ignizio (R-Staten Island), exploited a loophole allowing them to replace the county Republican Party’s commissioner at the Queens Board of Elections with their own pick, Michael Michel, for a four-year term.
The board is notoriously known as a source of patronage jobs used to reward rank-and-file party members for their loyalty, and the coup represented a victory for Ulrich and an insurgent faction of Queens Republicans at war with party Chairman Phil Ragusa.
After Michel took over, a handful of high-ranking GOP members either left the BOE or were fired and went to work for the mayoral campaign of John Catsimatidis, who took a shot at Ulrich when he laid out nearly $15,000 to finance a mailer bashing the councilman in the general election.
The good-government group Citizens Union said it was behind the proposal, but there were questions as to whether or not the city could implement it.
“This is a bill that is laudable in that it intends to remove the perception or actual conflicts of interest that may occur for board officials,” said Alex Camarto, the group’s director of public policy and advocacy.
“The Council’s authority with regards to elections is something that’s debated and it’s not always clear,” he added. “What is known is the city has the right to determine the mode of selection for its officers.”
Using the municipal home rule law, the city could, implement a system of non-partisan elections or runoff voting, but when it comes to writing ethics laws the Council’s authority may be pre-empted by state law.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.