Friday, February 20, 2009

Rockaway Resentment May Tip Special Election to Republican in Queens by Nicole Turso - City Hall News

Read original...

With Democratic District Leader Frank Gulluscio out of the running thanks to Geraldine Chapey’s successful challenge at the Board of Elections, the momentum in the special election to succeed Joe Addabbo in the City Council that Gulluscio once commanded now seems to be shifting to Republican District Leader Eric Ulrich—not Chapey.

Much of this newfound support for Ulrich and seeming abandon of party loyalty has to do with distaste for Chapey’s brand of politics, and the long standing rivalry between mainland communities like Howard Beach and Ozone Park, and the Rockaway peninsula.

Even long time Democratic supporters have begun to sense a problem, perhaps most evident in last week’s debate. Chapey was heckled by the audience at St. Barnabas Church in Howard Beach for what they called “dirty” political tactics. Ulrich, meanwhile, was applauded for his defense of Gulluscio’s right to run for the seat.

“There seemed to be a dynamic in the room that people were coalescing to Eric,” said Betty Braton, chair of Community Board 10 in Queens. “There is some undercurrent of feeling that Rockaway politicians don’t recognize issues that are important to mainland residents.”

Rockaway residents complain that because it is more densely populated with voters, Council members pay disproportionate attention to the mainland at the expense of the Rockaways. Addabbo and his predecessor, former Republican Council member Al Stabile, were both mainlanders themselves. But for those in the mainland communities, the problem rests with Rockaway politicians failing to reach out to those more populous communities.

Frank Dardani, a Gulluscio supporter and Ozone Park resident, said he has not seen an effort made by either Rockaway candidate, Chapey or Democratic District Leader Lew Simon, to connect with mainland voters.

Though he would not admit to supporting a specific candidate, he was quick to say political party would not influence his decision.

“I’ve voted for Republicans in the past if I thought they would do a good job—I would do the same today,” he said.

Rockaway residents seem to have the reverse reaction. Instead of sticking to peninsula candidates, they are also joining with mainlanders in support of Ulrich for the seat.

“Many favored Eric coming out of [the debate],” said Stuart Mirsky, founding member of the Rockaway Republicans Club. “I was surprised because he’s not a Rockaway boy, and people around here like to go for their favorite sons.”

Referring to Chapey and Simon, Mirsky said, “both have their following, but they also both come with some antagonism and strong antagonism from other groups in the community.”

Ulrich declined to accept his status as the new front-runner, but recognizes the voter shift—attributing it to Chapey’s political attack on the other candidates.

“I may not be in the same party, but I don’t think people are looking at the party labels right now,” he said. “The system has been used against them. People are very angry that the ball has been taken out of their court.”

Even if he wins the Feb. 24 special election, Ulrich’s time on the Council may be short-lived. In a neighboring, much more traditionally Republican district, Anthony Como got only five months in the Council succeeding Dennis Gallagher before being defeated in his rematch against Democrat Elizabeth Crowley.

And Gulluscio has already posted a message for supporters on his Facebook page indicating he is already looking forward to November:

Frank Gulluscio is re-grouping so we can win in November,” the message read. “Expect to hear about the reinvigorated campaign real soon and thanks to all for your support.”

Ulrich said he has not planned that far ahead, but thinks he will have the advantage.

“I will have more than eight months to prove myself to the voters,” said Ulrich. “If I am elected, I intend to be re-elected.”