By Mark Hallum
Last week’s election within the Queens County Republican Party saw former U.S. Rep. Bob Turner unseated as chairman by Joann Ariola, a district leader from Lindenwood.
Turner’s loss came as a surprise for the incumbent, who did not know he was facing an opponent until the last minute and, along with others who looked at her sudden rise with suspicion considering her close association with Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park).
Bob Capano, district director under Turner and also a former professor of Ulrich’s at St. Francis College, described the election of Ariola as an upset orchestrated by Ulrich himself to consolidate power within the GOP.
“If Eric Ulrich thinks putting his hand-picked puppet in as chair helps his 2021 mayoral ambitions, he is sorely mistaken. Queens residents know what an honorable public servant Bob Turner is, and for Eric Ulrich to initiate this coup just to centralize his own power is disgusting,” Capano said in a statement. “Bob Turner was unifying the Queens GOP and bringing consensus to the party. It is very sad that Eric cares more about his own power than respecting the public service of a true gentleman in Bob Turner and the cohesion of the Queens Republican Party.”
Turner told the TimesLedger Newspapers in an interview he did not know in what capacity he would remain involved in the Republican Party, but said it would not be in Queens.
“The incumbent, me, was largely unaware that there was a challenge and could not muster enough counter support, so that’s that,” Turner said of his unexpected loss. “I spoke to the Republican mayoral candidate [Nicole Malliotakis] and the state chair of the party and they were urging me to stay involved, and I will.”
Turner described Ariola as a “longtime party loyalist” and “devotee” of Ulrich. Turner believes she will do well in the new role. Ariola is president of the Howard Beach-Lindenwood Civic Association.
Republican City Council candidate Joseph Concannon, who is facing Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens), said he was not at the meeting at Russo’s on the Bay in Howard Beach Sept. 27 where Turner was shown the door, but he heard that most of the district leaders in Queens attended.
“I wish her well and I hope she improves on everything that Bob Turner has set into motion,” Concannon said.
Turner’s loss comes with clear signs of division with the Queens Republican Party.
Queens County Republicans were repairing their party after a period of disarray until last year’s November 2016 elections in which the GOP united under Turner and fielded about 20 candidates at the state and federal level to challenge Democratic dominance in the city. Turner expressed at the time a desire to bring his organization together under the banner of then-candidate Donald Trump as well as ramp up competition against their “liberal counterparts” in seats where Republican votes could be levied.
But all the candidates nominated by Queens GOP failed to unseat any of their Democratic opponents.
One observer formerly involved in the Queens GOP was critical of Turner’s approach in 2016, and said the strategy was a “shotgun approach” to a goal which requires emphasis on individual campaigns in districts with potential.
This source described the geographical rift in the Queens Republican Party prior to the 2016 elections as the “38th Parallel,” with northern Queens splintered off from southern Queens, where Ulrich and Bob Turner led in the south and the late GOP Chairman Phil Ragusa in the north.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall