By William Lewis
The recent death of highly respected Queens Republican Party Chairman Phil Ragusa has created a difficult situation for the party. Ragusa had led his county organization through one of its most difficult times in recent years.
Aside from shrinking party enrollment and the loss of some key seats in the state Legislature, the county chairman had to deal with a continuous county insurgency against him and his organization.
Every time he ran for re-election for county Republican leader, he had an opponent. This opposition continued through his two-year term of office.
These insurgent attacks had the effect of causing Ragusa and his organization to devote time and resources to confronting the insurgency, which meant less time and effort were available to choosing candidates and running political campaigns against Democrats.
Ragusa stood out as a strong leader who inspired his organization, though. For the most part he was able to keep his people working together for common objectives.
In addition to facing opposition for county leader, Ragusa was also the district leader of the 26th state Assembly District in northeast Queens. During his tenure as chairman, he was challenged twice at the polls by opponents seeking to oust him from the position.
He won re-election as district leader both times by wide margins. These election victories gave a good indication of his popularity.
It was during the City Council races in 2009 that Ragusa established his leadership credentials. That year the Republicans won three seats on the Council. It was unexpected and gave prestige to the county leader and county organization.
Ragusa also worked well with the state Republican Party and other counties as well.
It will be difficult to take his place as county leader, but it will be worked on by county executive members. The Queens Republican Party was fortunate to have Ragusa as its leader for the time it did.
Recently, the Queens Village Republican Club had Republican-Conservative gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino as its guest speaker. Most political writers up to this point seem to believe Gov. Andrew Cuomo is ahead of Astorino.
There are some signs that give Astorino a fighting chance, though. First of all, Cuomo may be facing a Democratic Party primary this year which, if it happens, will possibly take up considerable amounts of his time and resources, which could mean less time and resources for the fall general election against Astorino.
Astorino, when he first ran for county executive several years ago in Westchester County, was behind in the polls but able to win an upset victory. There is a possibility it could happen this time in the governor’s race.
We have seen another upset, where former U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) was defeated in a Republican primary after being way ahead in the polls.
It seems that this year voters have developed a high degree of interest in the forthcoming election process.
In the 11th state Senate District, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and his Democratic challenger John Liu are gearing up for a tough primary election. Both candidates are known for being aggressive.
This is the district that was held by Republican Frank Padavan for 38 years. Avella has occupied that office for four years. It remains to be seen if he can continue to hold office.
We have a long political season ahead of us with the summer leading up to the September primary for governor, Senate and state Assembly.
It will not be until the political party primaries are decided in September that the Republican and Democratic candidates will face each other in the November general election.