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Queens Republicans were shocked to learn a leader of their organization and City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) were allegedly involved in a bribery scheme to get state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) on the GOP mayoral ticket, and many said Tuesday’s arrests signaled a need to change the party’s leadership.
But current Republican brass contend the party is not on life support and that Queens GOP Vice Chairman Vince Tabone not only acted on his own, but allegedly promised something he did not have the power to deliver.
The charges of wire fraud and bribery against Halloran and Tabone are just the latest blemish on the party’s reputation. A political coup led by a long-running insurgency rocked GOPers in February when a group of Republican Council members installed members at the city Board of Elections against the wishes of the county leadership.
But, oddly enough, Tuesday’s arrests have left many party members upbeat about the future.
“The party is in ruins right now,” said longtime Queens Republican Party member James McClelland. “But I think this is the start. The base of the party and the district leaders need to come together and figure out who is going to lead in the future.”
McClelland said Republicans from two factions — those aligned with the current leadership under Chairman Phil Ragusa and those aligned with an insurgent faction led by Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and longtime Queens GOPer Tom Ognibene — need to come together to pick someone to settle the infighting that has dogged the party for years.
“Some people just can’t line themselves up with either faction, given their history of ineptitude and corruption. They are dying for a third actor,” said one party insider who did not want to be named. The sourse was quick to point out that though Tabone is now under federal scrutiny, John Haggerty, a high-ranking member of the insurgent faction, just went to prison last month for stealing $750,000 from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s campaign.
Speaking on a New York 1 talk show Tuesday night about new leadership, Ulrich floated the name of former U.S. Rep. Bob Turner, who won an upset victory against the Queens Democrat-backed state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) to fill the seat of disgraced Rep. Anthony Weiner. Turner has proven to be a popular and noncontroversial figure in Republican circles, according to Queens GOP members.
“If I’m drafted, I’ll serve,” Turner said. “This isn’t a job I want to campaign for. But if there is a consensus that this would be the right way to go, I’ll do it without any strings attached.”
But acting Queens GOP Chairman Phil Ragusa said the party was doing fine, since Tabone acted without authority from the Queens GOP and has since resigned.
“The Queens County GOP is alive and well,” he said. “We are going to be doing the things that we are supposed to do, and that is to field candidates and get good-quality Republicans elected.”
The party had endorsed billionaire John Catsimatidis — who had employed Tabone on his campaign and as legal counsel at his company — in the mayoral race. But while Tabone publicly backed the grocery store magnate, he allegedly took $25,000 in bribe money to help get Smith get on the Republican ticket. Since Smith is a Democrat, he needed a certificate called a Wilson Pakula from at least three of the five GOP county leaders in the city to run on their line.
Tabone was captured on tape saying he essentially ran the Queens party, but according to Ragusa he would not be able to sign a Wilson Pakula.
“He couldn’t do it. He would have to have come to me, and I definitely would not have signed a Wilson Pakula,” Ragusa said.
Catsimatidis said he had been aware of the investigation, had cooperated with feds and Tuesday fired Tabone from the campaign and suspended him without pay from his company, Red Apple Group.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2013 Community Newspaper Group
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