Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bloomberg Boosts Ulrich From Fluke To The Man To Beat by Sal Gentile - City Hall News

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Six months ago, he was a fluke.

Then he became the mayor’s man.

Eric Ulrich, who won a special non-partisan election in February to fill the Council seat that covers Rockaway and parts of southeast Queens, was at first dismissed as a lightweight. As a 24-year-old Republican in a district where Democrats hold a three-to-one enrollment advantage, labor unions and Democratic bigwigs considered Ulrich one of their easier marks.

Then, in April, Ulrich made a tactical move that seems to have paid considerable dividends: He backed Mayor Michael Bloomberg for a third term before the rest of the Republican leadership. That decision won him the favor of Bloomberg’s deputies and support from the mayor’s formidable campaign operation.

That has put his opponent, Frank Gulluscio, at a sudden disadvantage, at least as Gulluscio’s supporters present things.

“He’s the underdog,” said State Sen. Joseph Addabbo, who held the seat before Ulrich, of Gulluscio. “He understands that.”

Addabbo has been working the phones to shore up support for Gulluscio, who was his chief of staff for the last three years of his Council term. Addabbo hopes his ties to organized labor, from his days as the chair of the Council’s Civil Service and Labor Committee, will help counteract the Bloomberg advantage.

So far, the effort has been slow-going.

Unions and the Working Families Party have directed their attention elsewhere in the city during this heated primary season, while Ulrich, with the help of Bloomberg and his millions, has been rooting himself in the district.

The two have opened a joint campaign office in Rockaway, which should help Ulrich gain a foothold in a part of the district where he is not as well-known. The district is bifurcated between “mainland” communities like Ozone Park and the Rockaways. Ulrich is from the former, whereas Gulluscio has been known across the district for years.

“They know me as Addabbo’s chief of staff,” Gulluscio said. “This is a blue collar district. The unions, the people that are living here, are middle class people. I’m middle class like them. They know that.”

Gulluscio and the Democrats may seek to paint Ulrich as out of touch with the middle class families that inhabit the detached homes and small-town neighborhoods of places like Howard Beach. But the mayor is popular with those same voters, Bloomberg’s aides argue, and once his campaign in the district is in full swing and voters are barraged by television ads, Ulrich will get a boost.

A poll conducted last year by Republicans in the overlapping Senate district, where Addabbo defeated Serphin Maltese, illustrated Bloomberg’s strength there, according to a person who has seen the results. In some portions of the area that overlap with the Council district, the mayor’s popularity reached highs of 80 percent.

Democrats in Queens dismiss the idea that Bloomberg will have coattails, pointing to the fact that most of the mayor’s support comes from Democrats who do not vote Republican down the line.

Even some Republicans discount the power of having Bloomberg at the top of the ticket.

“There’s no coattails effect. It’s a fallacy,” said one Queens GOP official. “It’s a mythology we resurrect every cycle.”

(Some Queens Republicans have grumbled about the mayor in the months since signing off on his quest to get the GOP line.)

The difference, Bloomberg’s aides argue, is what can be done with the Bloomberg campaign’s resources. If the mayor’s name on the top of the ballot is not enough to lift Ulrich over the tide of Democrats that will come to the polls, the get-out-the-vote operation targeting the district’s registered Republicans will. Blueprints for such a targeted election-day sweep are already in formation, according to Bloomberg campaign aides.

More than that, Bloomberg’s lieutenants have leaned on connections to other prominent officials on Ulrich’s behalf. Rep. Peter King, a galvanizing figure among conservatives, has traveled to the district to campaign with Ulrich. Former Mayor Ed Koch broke with Democrats to endorse him.

In addition to the political help, Ulrich has been able to rely on Bloomberg for assistance in governing, enabling the junior Council member to get more traction than he otherwise might in cutting through the city’s tangled bureaucracy for the benefit of his district.

“The mayor has helped me deliver, whether it be city resources or city agencies, to respond to constituent complaints,” Ulrich said.

Among the situations that this has helped him in, Ulrich said, was when he was wrestling with the Parks Department and its commissioner over assigning lifeguards to Rockaway Beach.

“I personally spoke to the mayor about this situation,” Ulrich said. “Three days later, I got a call from Adrian Benepe.”

That access to the highest reaches of the city’s hierarchy, surpassing even the leaders of the Council, is invaluable, Ulrich argued, and has helped him establish a relationship with constituents who may have originally been skeptical of him.

The mayor’s money, he added, has not hurt.

“We’re planning a fundraiser where the mayor will be a guest, and I’d be honored to have his support,” Ulrich said. “And if he had any friends that believe in him and like him that want to contribute to me, I’d gladly accept their contribution.”

ABOVE: (right) Eric Ulrich got a boost in his candidacy by uniting early with Mayor Michael Bloomberg. (left) Frank Gulluscio was once considered a shoo-in for a Council seat in Queens. Now, thanks to the mayor, he is the underdog.