2005-01-14 / Front Page

Republican Summit A ‘Watershed Moment’

The Rockaway Republicans drew a diverse group of about 85 GOPers to a grassroots gathering in Belle Harbor this week. They concluded their party is in dire straits at the state level and that its leadership is to blame.

The New York Republican Party is “spiraling downwards towards irrelevancy and complete collapse,” said Michael Benjamin, Chairman of “Save New York,” a political action committee. “The Republican Party has laid down its arms to create a cozy relationship [with democrats] for an elite few,” he charged.

State Senator Serphin Maltese pointed to the senate race where Howard Mills challenged Chuck Schumer and suffered an embarrassing loss by a record-breaking margin. Maltese, who said Mills’ challenge amounted to no challenge at all, termed the competition “a romp.”

Ed Coyne, of the Queens County Executive Committee, took a more rhetorical approach.

“What’s wrong with the party? It’s the leadership,” Coyne announced. He said he was harshly criticized after he booed State fellow republican Joseph L. Bruno, State Senate Majority Leader in Albany “over leadership.” Coyne also pointed to last year’s assembly race in Rockaway, where democratic incumbent Audrey Pheffer ran unopposed.

“If you run a candidate against Audrey Pheffer, you have a good chance to beat her. And I hope you do,” Coyne added.

The solution, they seemed to agree, is a grassroots movement – not action from the party leadership down. Benjamin said that the party would reflect on the summit as a “watershed” moment in its history.

The other speakers echoed Benjamin and Maltese’s sentiments at the three-hour “Republican Summit” held at the Belle Harbor Yacht Club Tuesday night, which was far from a stuffy snooze fest: Attendees filled every available seat, many leaned forward with their heads up, taking notes. About a third of the crowd had to stand along the edge of the room or in the club’s entrance. Their attention was undivided.

The speeches were followed by a two-hour open discussion where Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s performance for the Republican Party came under both criticism and praise. One man called for Governor George Pataki to step down for failing to lead the party to the success that is seen on the national level. Moderator Patrick Hurley worked at keeping the focus on the grassroots effort and uniting the different groups who were present.

The strong showing of 85 people on a cold and soggy night – about half of them non-residents – was a victory in itself, said Tom Lynch, President of the Rockaway Republicans.

“We already accomplished a goal by getting 60 people together,” he said about 15 minutes before the meeting – estimating the size of the crowd at that moment.

“We’ve basically been isolated from each other,” George Greco, Chairman of the Board of the Rockaway Republicans, said during his speaking time.

It was unclear what the next move for the groups will be.

“We’re hoping that people who are more astute will take the ball,” said Lynch, who added that his group’s primary focus is earning their charter. He suggested the Manhattan Young Republicans, who co-sponsored the event, along with the Regular Republican Club of Woodside, The Brooklyn Young Republicans, and The New York State Republican Liberty Caucus.

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