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Political Action: Ognibene poses threat to Queens GOP seat held by Ragusa

The year 2012 is being referred to as possibly the most critically important political year in American history, but in Queens, a civil war within the county Republican Party is taking place. The official county organization, led by Chairman Phil Ragusa, is being challenged by an opposition group led by the Haggerty brothers, John and Bart.

Bart Haggerty serves as chief of staff to City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) of the 32nd Council District. Ulrich has been allied with former Councilman Thomas Ognibene, who is supported by the Haggertys and is considered the chief candidate challenging Ragusa for the Queens Republican Party leadership.

At this point, petitions for district leaders and county committee have been filed, which are being followed up by general objections and specifications from both sides. There will be city Board of Elections hearings and possibly court actions concerning the validation of candidates’ petitions.

As we look at the overall campaign, there are 18 state Assembly districts in Queens, each having a male and female district leader, which means 36 leaders comprise the party County Executive Committee along with county officers and members at large. Presently, there are four Assembly districts which may have primaries, since both sides have filed petitions with opposing slates of candidates in those areas.

One of these four districts is the 25th Assembly District, which includes parts of the eastern area of Flushing and Whitestone. The 25th Assembly District has as the incumbent female leader Sheila Peralta, who has been an officer in the Northeast Queens Republican Club and also served on former Assemblyman Doug Prescott’s staff. The male candidate running with her is John Watch, who has also been active with the NQRC. They are running against the incumbent county organization, but they seem to want to publicly keep their distance from the Haggerty brothers.

On the other slate, the opponents running in support of the county organization are Dr. Anthony Daddiego, a special education teacher, and Jean Leavey, who runs a dance school. Both of them are strong supporters of Queens GOP Chairman Phil Ragusa and want to keep him in office. They both indicated a desire to work on getting more people registered as Republicans as well as getting more Republicans involved in clubs and the GOP county organization.

What is interesting about this race is that Councilman Daniel Halloran (R-Whitestone) was originally the candidate for district leader running with county organization support. He unexpectedly dropped out of the race and Daddiego recently took his place. Had Halloran remained in the race, we would have had an incumbent councilman running for the party position of district leader.

All four candidates for district leader in the 25th Assembly District want to rebuild the Republican Party in their home areas, but they are choosing different paths in pursuing their goals.

The county committee will choose Queens GOP leaders at the party county convention, which will be held within 20 days after the Sept. 13 primary. In addition to district leader, there will be primaries in some election districts for the county committee. In terms of the election of county chairman, whichever candidate gets the largest county committee vote becomes county leader for the next two years.

At the last Queens GOP county convention in 2009, Ragusa defeated the Haggertys by a significant margin.

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