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

He’s been a Democrat for more than 40 years, but won a City Council seat last November with help from Queens Republicans. Now Robert Holden seems to be torn between two parties.

In his first attempt at public office, Holden lost his Democratic primary challenge to two-term Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley last September. But his fortunes turned around after securing the Republican line later that month, and he wound up unseating Crowley in November in the closest City Council race in years.

Now Holden has a decision to make. Who will he caucus with in the City Council: Democrats, his native political party that holds an overwhelming majority in the chamber; or Republicans, who helped him get to City Hall?

When QNS caught up with Holden on Jan. 3 for the first time after his swearing-in, he still hadn’t made a decision on whether he will caucus as a Republican or a Democrat in the Council, and he is in no hurry to do so, he said.

In a Dec. 26 interview with QNS after his election victory, Holden said that parties didn’t particularly matter to him, but he’s more concerned with what he thinks is best for his community.

“I’m a Democrat, but I don’t identify with Democrats, nor do I identify with Republicans,” Holden said in that interview. “I identify with community, and nobody can understand that.”

Looking at his history as a civic leader, it’s easy to understand his viewpoint. Holden acted independently in working with and/or fighting against Democrats and Republicans in civic battles over his 25 years as president of the Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA). Most recently, he feuded with his predecessor, Crowley, over the proposed homeless shelter at a Maspeth hotel.

Back in 2009, Holden and the civic association opposed then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s land acquisition practices, particularly one that involved the construction of Maspeth High School which the residents opposed. Bloomberg was a Republican at the time, though he was a Democrat before he ran for mayor and, in later years, became an independent. Crowley also had a direct role in the creation of the school in her early days in the Council District 30 seat.

Before then, however, Bloomberg was responsible for the city’s purchase of the Elmhurst gas tanks site, making it possible for Elmhurst Park to be built there. Holden and his constituents were driving forces in the deal.

Yet Holden has also worked with Democrats: Crowley collaborated with Holden and the JPCA to secure the re-zoning of Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale when she first took office, something that Holden had spent years fighting for.

At least one local Republican agreed that Holden is likely to avoid party identity altogether.

“I think regardless of who he caucuses with, Bob will legislate as an independent and won’t be beholden to either party bosses, whether they be Republican or Democrat,” said Ryan Girdusky, president of the Middle Village Republican Club.

The chair of the Queens County GOP, Joann Ariola, was involved in giving Holden the Republican line in the Council election. While much of the discussion leading up to the vote for who the GOP would support was done before Ariola was appointed, her first order of business was officiating the vote, she said.

Based on her past discussions with Holden, Ariola said that she knows that he will take as much time as he needs to make an informed decision. She believes Holden is mostly concerned with doing whatever best represents his constituents. While acknowledging his lack of political experience, Ariola said that Holden will likely have a hard time maintaining his independence.

“He will conclude there is very much a defining line in this new arena, and he will make that decision,” Ariola said.

Ariola added that she is hopeful Holden will caucus as a Republican because he is well suited for it, but she will respect whatever decision he makes.

On Jan. 4, when the city was getting slammed by a snowstorm, QNS reached Holden again while he was driving around the district with his staff looking for problem areas related to snow removal, he said. He commented on the DOI report on homeless families with children housed in crime-plagued hotels, and went on to express his complete opposition to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to close a Rikers Island jail.

When de Blasio was first asked about Holden following his Council District 30 win back in November, the mayor was publicly uneasy about him, saying, “I suspect we won’t see eye-to-eye on issues.”

Yet, on Monday, the Councilman found common ground with the mayor at his press conference announcing the success of Vision Zero. Holden admitted to the mayor that he doubted the plan initially, but “you can’t argue with saving lives.” He went on to address transportation issues in the district, and the mayor agreed to work with Holden.

“We will work together to increase the mass transit options in your district,” de Blasio responded.

As Holden continues to take his time deciding which party to caucus with, and as he receives more questions about it from peers, politicians and the press, his relationship with the mayor might prove to be the only thing that matters.


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