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Political Action: Election of Qns GOP heads usually do not go smoothly

Since the early 1980s until the present, there have been countywide confrontations over the election of chairman in the Queens Republican Party. Over the last 30 years, there have been five Queens GOP county chairmen. During that period of time, four of them have resigned before their terms of office ended and one was defeated for re-election.

It all began with Jack Muratori, the GOP county chairman in the early ’80s resigning his leadership position after a successful court challenge eliminated his elective office as city councilman at large. Muratori apparently believed he had to devote full time to his law practice. Immediately, a contest developed to succeed Muratori between then-District Leader Edward Coyne and then-County Vice Chairwoman Lilly Bachman.

The County Executive Committee elected Coyne, but the courts ruled that Bachman should be the county chairwoman until the next county convention due to bylaw requirements. Policy differences between the two factions seemed to have caused a split in the County Executive Committee.

In 1991, Bachman resigned as county leader and was replaced by Fran Werner, who served until 1995. In that year, she was defeated at the county convention in her bid for re-election by Joe De Fronzo, who was a transitional leader. He served less than two years before resigning as county chairman. Then-state Sen. Serphin Maltese became the county leader. Maltese would serve for the next 10 years before resigning in favor of Phil Ragusa, who is now the Queens GOP county chairman.

It should be mentioned that during most of Maltese’s tenure as county leader, the Haggerty brothers, John and Bart, opposed Maltese and led an insurgent group against his leadership. The Haggertys have continued their insurgency against Ragusa. In 2009, Ragusa was re-elected as county chairman at the Republican county convention by a significant margin. This year, he is a candidate for re-election to a two-year term of office.

Ragusa is being challenged for county leader this year by attorney Thomas Ognibene, who served on the Council for 10 years. He was the Republican minority leader for most of that time, but after giving up his seat due to term limits in 2002, he ran for public office four times from 2005-10 and lost all four times. The offices he ran for included mayor, lieutenant governor and two races for Council. Now Ognibene is running for Republican county chairman against Ragusa.

The incumbent Ragusa is a certified public accountant. He has served in the capacity of Republican county treasurer and vice chairman in addition to being the district leader of the 26th state Assembly District.

Queens is considered one of the most important counties politically of the 62 counties in New York state since it has such a large voting population and is a major part of New York City.

The Democratic Party, for example, goes through the same process of choosing its party leadership every two years, except it occurs in even years. In recent years, there has been relative peace in the Queens Democratic Party with little opposition to the Democratic county chairman, U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), although there are independent Democratic clubs in Queens that are potential insurgents against the regular organization.

Ognibene has the support of the Haggerty brothers and Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). Ragusa has the support of former Sens. Frank Padavan and Serphin Maltese. He also is supported by Councilman Daniel Halloran (R-Whitestone).

This political party election process begins with the petition process, which runs from June 7 to July 14. In early September, there will be Republican Party primaries for district leaders and members of the county committee. All of those primary candidates will be identified as supporting either Ragusa or Ognibene.

In late September or early October, the elected county committee will meet to elect the county leadership for the next two years. It promises to be an eventful year in the Queens Republican Party.

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