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The Queens man installed as a city Board of Elections commissioner during a political coup in January recently spoke to a Republican club about his tenuous relationship with party leadership and cleaning house at the board.
His speech took place against the backdrop of the ongoing turmoil within the Queens Republican Party.
Michael Michel was appointed to a four-year term as the Queens GOP commissioner Jan. 23 against the wishes of Queens Republican Party Chairman Phil Ragusa. He replaced Judith Stupp.
The Democratic and Republican parties from each borough typically get to pick the 10 commissioners who run the board. But Ragusa missed a deadline, which allowed City Councilmen Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), James Oddo (R-Staten Island) and Vincent Ignizio (R-Staten Island) to install Michel instead.
“I take the job very seriously,” Michel told a crowd of about 30 people gathered at the Northeast Queens Republican Club meeting at Clearview Golf Course April 17. “Some people are upset I took the job, some people are nervous I took the job.”
Michel is president of Christ the King High School, a parochial institution in Middle Village, and has strong ties to a faction of the Queens GOP at war with the current leadership.
He was a staffer for former Councilman Tom Ognibene and was later hired in 2008 and 2009 as Ognibene’s campaign consultant, according to campaign finance data. Ognibene was the attorney of record for Michel after the Queens GOP tried to stop his appointment in court.
Michel was also paid by Ulrich’s campaign last year when the councilman ran for state Senate. Both Ognibene and Ulrich are outspoken critics of Ragusa, and Ulrich has repeatedly called for his ouster. Most recently, Ulrich and a list of other district leaders signed a petition politely asking Ragusa to step down.
But the chairman appears to be holding strong, and Wednesday evening he appointed former City Councilman and lawyer Anthony Como as his vice chairman.
“During this important election year, we need to run competitive races to ensure that NYC doesn’t become a one-party town,” Ragusa said in a statement.
At last week’s GOP meeting, Michel told the crowd he had not talked with the current Queens Republican Party leadership in seven years.
“They can call me anytime they want,” he said.
But the longtime Middle Village resident sought to dispel any rumors that he was controlled by the insurgent party he is tied to.
“One of the things that people said is, ‘I might be controlled by people,’” he told the crowd. “My wife controls me, that’s about it.”
The GOPer, who served on the city’s redistricting commission a decade ago, said he will listen to anyone and everyone, and challenged critics to provide proof of any bias.
The board is a main source of patronage jobs doled out to loyalists in both the GOP and Democratic Party. Michel’s appointment is thought by many in GOP circles to shift the balance of power away from the current leadership. Several employees have already either been axed or have resigned, including Queens Republican Party Executive Director Robert Hornak, who quit in early April. The departures had nothing to do with the resignation of Vincent Tabone, the vice chairman, who was indicted on corruption charges last Thursday.
“I did not fire people,” Michel told one inquisitor at the meeting. “What happened was if someone doesn’t do the job, then they don’t deserve the job.”
Michel portrayed himself as a fair boss who hoped to streamline operations at the board and help members of the party, regardless of which faction they came from.
“I want to give the power to the district leaders and the people at the bottom,” he said.
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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