2007-08-03 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

Crunch Time
Commentary by Stuart W. Mirsky

The Rockaway Republicans have had a controversial history. Begun in March of 2004 to support a much maligned George W. Bush and rebuild a Republican alternative on Rockaway's shores, the Rockaway group was embroiled in controversy from the first, clashing almost immediately with their local district leaders across the Cross Bay Bridge and with the Queens County Chairman and State Senator Serphin Maltese (Glendale). Neither of the two district leaders nor the county chair wanted a Republican club in Rockaway again, though each managed to blame the other for the roadblocks that were thrown up.

Under the leadership of President Thomas Lynch and Chairperson George Greco, the Rockaway Republicans have quickly made a name for themselves.

Their efforts led to one of the strongest showings for Bush in all of New York City in 2004, while their decision to host a citywide Republican summit at the Belle Harbor Yacht Club in 2005 brought Republican activists, leaders and officeholders en masse to Rockaway for the first time, stirring the pot in the mayoral race that year.

Since their founding, they've had a number of major wins, including securing a hard-to-get state charter, bringing major statewide Republican candidates to the peninsula and running local Republicans for the first time in years, despite continued disinterest from existing district and county leadership.

Recently, the county chair that had opposed the Rockaway group in its infancy, stepped down, an implicit acknowledgment of their criticisms and grievances.

Club President Tom Lynch says that in 2005, he discovered why the local GOP had become little more than an empty shell. Its leaders, he learned, ruled the 23rd AD from their Howard Beach bastion by "appointment only." Of some 84 Republican county committee persons in Rockaway, only three, he learned, were actually from Rockaway. The rest were outsiders, mostly from Howard Beach, appointed by the leadership to hold Rockaway seats. Naturally, their loyalty was to their patrons in Howard Beach, not to Rockaway, and they had little interest in, or understanding of, Rockaway's issues.

Appalled at this lack of representation, Lynch led a campaign to replace non-resident county committee people with Rockawayites. This was critical, because county committee people make party decisions at the county level.

That year, two insurgents also challenged the incumbent district leadership from Ozone Park and Lynch lined the Rockaway Republicans up with the Ozone Park team to fight what he considered an anti-Rockaway status quo. Ozone Parkers Eric Ulrich and Rosemary Duffy both lost their races in 2005, but not before nearly unseating the incumbents.

Lynch's group, by contrast, managed to win 27 of the 31 county committee seats they contested that year - securing a voice for Rockaway in GOP councils for the first time. Unfortunately, Lynch had been unable to field enough candidates for the remaining Rockaway seats and, when the old district leadership squeaked back into power, they simply appointed their own people to fill them again.

A lot of water's gone under that bridge since 2005 and the Rockaway Republicans find themselves at odds, once more, with the existing district leadership.

Deciding to support Ozone Park's Eric Ulrich a second time, along with his new running mate Jane Deacy of Breezy Point, Lynch is again fielding candidates for Rockaway's 84 county committee positions. As in 2005, he could only get about 30 of his club members to step up and run, once more leaving the majority of Rockaway's seats uncontested.

Ulrich and Deacy have a good shot of winning this time out, because both are fairly well known. Deacy is especially popular among Rockaway's Republicans because she's a prominent local activist.

In fact, the challenge posed by the Ulrich-Deacy ticket is so strong that the incumbents, Terry Ariola of Howard Beach and Ed O'Hare of Broad Channel, decided to step aside completely, leaving the field to two Howard Beach newcomers. But the Howard Beach group may have managed to outmaneuver Lynch's Rockaway Republicans again.

According to Lynch, the mainland group secured enough Republican signatures in Rockaway to place their own people on ballots across the peninsula. Since Lynch's group is only contesting 30 races, those with an uncontested Howard Beach candidate will now go to Howard Beach by default. This means that however the leadership race comes out, Howard Beach could still end up controlling the Rockaway GOP and Rockaway's Republicans could end up with a minority position in their own community.

How did this happen? Lynch says he just couldn't persuade enough of his members, or other Republicans in Rockaway, to stand for the seats.

Lynch believed the Howard Beach group would just leave the lines he didn't challenge vacant, as in the past. But they didn't.

Recognizing that they might actually lose this time out, they decided to hedge their bets by making an all-out effort to place their own candidates on Rockaway's ballots.

Thus, even if they lose the district leadership, they could still win control of the county committee representation out here.

If their designated candidates for the district leadership positions win as well, the current incumbents may well make off with most of the marbles, again.

So, it's crunch time for the Rockaway Republicans. Even though they managed to help secure over a thousand signatures for their candidates this year, their failure to field enough county committee candidates means they're facing potential disaster. Their only hope of staying in the game now, is for Ulrich and Deacy to pull off the hoped-for win and to hang onto the county committee slots they already have. But it's not a foregone conclusion.

The Ulrich ticket lost last time because enough Republicans in Rockaway didn't even bother to vote. Ulrich lost to O'Hare by only 124 votes and Duffy to Ariola by 99. A bigger Rockaway turnout would have made the difference. Given Lynch's inability to get his membership to even stand for the necessary positions this year, with everything that's in play, what are the chances the GOP voter turnout on the peninsula will be enough to push Ulrich and Deacy over the top this time?

Lynch is anything but sanguine. What will he do if the Rockaway Republicans' candidates falter?

"If we can't get enough Republicans to even come out and vote, then what are we bothering for?" he asks in his booming Irish baritone.

"If Rockaway's Republicans want a change, if they want to be heard, if they want alternative candidates running in every race, then they have to vote for it now.

This is the election, this is the year when we can change it all, if we try. If not, I might as well just go sailing."

Knowing Lynch's penchant for the sea, that's no idle threat.

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