Photo by Steven Malecki
By Rich Bockmann

An insurgent faction of Queens Republicans is orchestrating a power grab by remaking the borough’s Board of Elections office in its image following a successful political coup earlier this year.

In January, a trio of City Council members hostile to Queens GOP Chairman Phil Ragusa exploited a loophole allowing them to install Michael Michel as commissioner of the Queens BOE, a position that gives him the power to dole out political patronage jobs to loyalists.

Since Michel took office Jan. 27, a number of Republicans at the office who hold executive positions in the county party have either stepped down or been fired, according to personnel records obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request.

“They’re trying to inch their way into taking over the entire Queens party,” said Nick Bellucci, who was fired from his $42,659-a-year job as an administrative assistant in March. “Having the commissionership makes it look like they’re part of the official party. They’re part of a renegade Queens party, not the real one.”

The records provided by the board do not give a reason for Bellucci’s termination, but he said he was fired due to a write-up for coming into work late — a mark he said many employees have on their records but one Michel used as an excuse to clean house.

“I would like to get a lawyer and get Michel for that,” he said. “That whole crew is a bunch of vindictive …. I’ll leave the rest blank.”

Executive members of the county party to either resign or be fired under Michel’s tenure include Vice Chair Marie Lynch, Executive Director Robert Hornak, Director Natalie Dubovici and Member at Large Rolaine Antoine. Robert Beltrani, whose father by the same name is a vice chairman of the party, was also fired.

Both Hornak and Dubovici said they saw the writing on the wall when it was announced Michel would replace Ragusa’s appointee, Judith Stupp, and chose to resign rather than have a termination on their résumés.

Several staffers who were fired declined to comment, and GOP insiders said a number of former employees are lawyering up to bring civil suits against the board.

In each county, the BOE office is run by Democratic and Republican appointees who offer jobs as incentives to rank-and-file party members who help candidates get elected.

Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) is currently in a battle with Ragusa for power of the county party, which many see as being ineffectually run. In 2012, Ragusa backed Juan Reyes against Ulrich in the GOP primary for state Senate, which Ulrich won before losing in the general election to Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach).

After Ragusa failed to file the paperwork to reappoint the party’s commissioner to another term earlier this year, Ulrich, along with Council members James Oddo (R-Staten Island) and Vincent Ignizio (R-Staten Island), seized the opportunity to exploit a loophole and install Michel to a four-year term as GOP commissioner at the BOE.

Ragusa said he found it unfortunate that a “disgruntled faction” of Republicans chose to wage a war against the party at the expense of BOE employees.

“The depths to which they have sunk to fire or intimidate BOE employees that have traditionally supported the county leadership is truly disturbing and threatens to risk the integrity of the coming election,” he said. “I have been told there is an investigation ongoing and I hope their illegal and unethical behavior is addressed before it’s too late.”

Ulrich did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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