Queens Republicans pick Democrat to challenge Councilwoman — and shake up their leadership, too

Councilman Robert Holden has yet to decide which party he will caucus with in the Council.
File photo/QNS

Middle Village civic leader Robert Holden officially secured the Republican Party line on Wednesday in his bid to unseat incumbent Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley of the 30th District, who had defeated him in the Democratic primary.

The lifelong Democrat was officially given the Queens County GOP’s support as the party itself underwent a shakeup on Sept. 28. Former Congressman Robert Turner, who had led the party for four years, was voted out of his chairmanship post and replaced by JoAnn Ariola, a Howard Beach civic activist and Republican district leader in the 23rd Assembly District.

Despite a decisive loss to Crowley in the Sept. 12 primary, Holden had already intended to go on to the November general election on the Conservative, Reform and “Dump de Blasio” lines. Up until this week, the Republican candidate for the Council seat, attorney Joseph Kasper, had been virtually nonexistent on the campaign trail. He wasn’t listed in the Campaign Finance Bureau’s “Follow the Money” contribution database, had no campaign website and doesn’t even live with the 30th District’s confines, which include Ridgewood, Glendale, Maspeth, Middle Village and parts of Woodhaven and Woodside.

But, as QNS first reported, rumors began circulating that Kasper would drop out of the City Council race to accept the nomination for a State Supreme Court judgeship in the November general election; he had unsuccessfully campaigned for a seat last year. That rumor came to fruition this week after Kasper was nominated for a judgeship on the Conservative line, opening the door for Republicans to nominate Holden, a Democrat known to be friendly to and critical of members of both parties at various times.

‘He really does lean to the right’

Ariola told QNS in a phone interview on Thursday that the Queens County GOP had approved a Wilson-Pakula waiver permitting Holden — a registered Democrat for more than four decades — to replace Kasper on the Republican ballot in the 30th Council District race this November.

“He’s a lifelong moderate Democrat and he really does lean to the right, to the conservative part of the Democratic Party,” she said. “I don’t have any concern that he’s not going to do the right thing with regards to the people he represents and the parties that endorsed him.”

When interviewed by QNS earlier this month about the rumors that Republicans were looking to recruit him, Holden said that he was open to the idea and would be willing to talk with the party’s leadership. In a phone interview Thursday, Holden said he was thrilled to get the Republican line, and believes it will help give him an advantage in the general election after a lopsided loss to Crowley in the primary.

“It enhances my chances; it doesn’t split the base vote,” Holden said. “We have a lot of Reagan Democrats, conservative Democrats in the district. I think if they stay with me [and if I get] Republicans, conservatives and independents, I’ll be in very good shape.”

‘A very different election,’ but same jousting

The primary race between Crowley and Holden — civic rivals who’ve been going at each other for nearly a decade — was one of the most heated in the city. Both sides exchanged in a mail war, sending vivid fliers laced with attacks at each other to voters across the district. They also sparred at a Ridgewood debate.

After learning that the Republicans officially named Holden their candidate, Crowley blasted Holden in a statement from her campaign over what she called a bait-and-switch that duped the district’s voters.

“He clearly always planned to run as a Republican after the primary, but lied to voters time and again these past four months,” Crowley said. “What’s worse, he used taxpayer money to fund his campaign of lies and lay the groundwork for this despicable bait-and-switch. If we can’t trust Bob as a candidate, then we certainly can’t trust him in elected office.”

Holden dismissed the allegation, saying that he has secured his campaign funds properly through the city’s system, getting 80 percent of his contributions from people in the district. He also pledged to turn up the heat on Crowley as they battle for the district’s voters.

“This is going to be very different than the primary. I’m going to go toe-to-toe with her; I’ve got major lines now,” he said. “It’s a very different election, and I’m going to beat her this time, and I’m going to beat her at name-calling.”

Crowley and Holden will face off in the Nov. 7 general election.

A new boss at the Queens GOP

Meanwhile, the Queens County GOP’s leadership voted on Wednesday, Sept. 28, to choose Ariola as its new chairman after Turner’s two terms of service. Ariola said that the majority of district leaders were under the impression that Turner wouldn’t seek another term in office, and a number of them had approached her about succeeding him.

Turner, as it turned out, announced that he would seek another term in office, leading to a committee vote that went in favor of Ariola.

“Bob Turner did a fine job as county leader, and it was never my intention for this to come to a vote,” Ariola said. “It was my intention for Bob to name his successor and be treated with the respect that he needed. He did decide to take it to the vote, it was his decision to take it to a vote. He had not reached out to any of the leaders to say that he was running. So they were left to assume that he was not.”

One Republican source close to the situation, however, charged that Turner was taken aback, and that he didn’t expect that his chairmanship would be contested.

Even some of the district leaders who supported Turner had no idea that there was even going to be another nomination,” said the source, who spoke to QNS on the condition of anonymity. The source indicated that the chairmanship election left “a bad taste in the mouths” of some and potentially created a rift in a party that’s fought internal divisions for years.

Ariola indicated that there was no such rift, and the party was appreciative of Turner’s leadership in recent years.

“We really needed him. He stepped up to the plate and he did a fine job,” Ariola said. “It wasn’t that any one found fault with his running of the party.” 

Queens’ lone elected official in city government, Councilman Eric Ulrich, took to Twitter on Wednesday night to congratulate Ariola and thank Turner for his service.

“I am happy to announce my good friend JoAnn Ariola has been elected the new Chair of – at Russo’s on the Bay,” he wrote. “Bob Turner was a true champion for the Republican Party and we are greatly appreciative for his service.”

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