Beltrani assumes boro GOP post, but second faction disputes move

By Sarina Trangle

Does the Queens GOP have a new king?

It depends who you ask.

Following the death of Phil Ragusa, who had been considered the Queens Republican Party chairman by one faction, Executive Vice Chairman Robert Beltrani automatically assumed the leadership post, according to the organization’s executive director, Robert Hornak.

Beltrani, an administrative law judge, lives in Jackson Heights with his family, according to Hornak.

He could not be reached for comment.

But Thomas Ognibene, an attorney representing Ragusa’s rival, Bob Turner, said the court never ruled on whether the former congressman’s certificate outlining the bylaws and officers of the GOP organization was valid because of deficiencies in notifying those involved in the legal proceedings.

Ognibene said he is waiting for State Supreme Court Justice Phyllis Orlikoff Flug to review his motion to revive the case and settle questions about leadership.

“The judge said, ‘I have other cases, I can’t take yours,’” Ognibene said. “The judge wanted us to resubmit the case and we said, ‘No, we really want to have a hearing. I have all my witnesses.’”

The borough GOP has been rife with power struggles for years, with a southern faction buoyed with support from Turner, Ognibene and City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and a northern faction lining up behind Ragusa and Hornak.

The recent feud was fueled by a Sept. 27 organizational meeting, where Ragusa’s camp claimed he won re-election as chairman, but Turner’s supporters argued the vote was held with insufficient notice and riddled with procedural issues.

Ragusa and Turner filed court cases seeking to invalidate certificates submitted by their opponent to the city Board of Elections, court documents show.

Turner’s case, which contended the election was “stolen” by the chairman and “his minions,” was dismissed by Orlikoff Flug in a judgment dated March 3.

Orlikoff Flug wrote that she received no evidence supporting Turner’s allegations that GOP members were given less than 48 hours’ notice before the vote and mentioned that Turner and other petitioners managed to attend and vote Sept. 27.

She also dismissed Ragusa’s case in a judgment dated March 3. The document said Ragusa’s attorney failed to show court papers had been served to Turner and other respondents before the deadline.

Ragusa and Hornak heralded the dismissals as a victory.

“We are very pleased that the court ruled in our favor and agreed the lawsuit challenging Chairman Ragusa was without merit,” Hornak said at the time.

But Ognibene said he did view the case as closed and was waiting for Orlikoff Flug to respond to a motion to renew Turner’s case.

Despite court paperwork describing dueling party certificates, a Freedom of Information Law request seeking all such documents handed into the BOE since Sept. 1 turned up only one certificate: the one bearing Ragusa’s slate.

The BOE said it acts as a repository of county party documents, but does not rule on their validity.

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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