The Rockaway Irregular
Stuart W. Mirsky is a Belle Harbor based writer and former Assistant Commissioner at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. He is also one of the founding members of the Rockaway Republicans. firstname.lastname@example.org
The other evening my wife and I were driving up Cross Bay Boulevard on the way to a babysitting gig at my daughter's. We'd gotten an urgent call earlier in the week telling us she and her husband had a dinner to attend and no one to watch the kids. Never one to say no to my kids (or theirs), I volunteered at once, so there we were headed north on the boulevard through Ozone Park, approaching the elevated train trestle that runs eastwest along Liberty Avenue. That's when it hit me smack in the face: a big, bold picture of a guy I had come to know quite well, spread out, billboard size, along the station's exterior. It was staring down at the oncoming traffic and at me.
Eric Ulrich, the young, bright and decidedly energetic Republican district leader of our own 23rd AD, was smiling at us, bigger than life — maybe bigger than a whole subway car.
But for my concern about causing an accident (and no little worry about getting to my daughter's on time), I would have slammed on the brakes and stared in awe. I said to my wife, "Hey, look at that." We both knew Eric, of course, though I've known him longer.
Still in his mid-twenties, Eric's been a fixture and a fighter on the local political scene since I got interested in politics again in 2003. But, of course, his involvement goes even further back because he was one of those kids who had volunteered for one time Republican City Councilman Al Stabile out of Howard Beach when Al swept the field back in the days when Tom Carney and Tom Swift were the leading local Republican lights in our part of the world. Al was the guy, of course, who briefly shook up the local political establishment in the Republican resurgence that followed in the wake of Rudy Giuliani's election as mayor. He did it with a bevy of enthusiastic kids who hit the streets for him and got his message out.
But Al was term limited and succeeded, when he stepped down, by a Democrat, Joe Addabbo. Joe, of course, has now moved on to greener, and more northerly, pastures as State Senator from a district that doesn't include us. But Eric, who worked so assiduously for Stabile in those days, and who subsequently revitalized his local Ozone Park political club and, later, won an upset victory in the race for Republican district leader in our AD, was now running for that same City Council seat.
A special election, called in the wake of Joe Addabbo's departure, now pits some seven candidates in a non-partisan (no party affiliations please!) election that will culminate in a couple of weeks by giving the remainder of Addabbo's term to whomever wins a plurality of votes. That means the winner of this race need only get one more vote than any of the six other candidates and it's game time. It looks tough with all those competitors, but it's really kind of a gift to the candidate with the strongest core support when you think about it. And Eric has earned the support of people from all over his district - and our peninsula.
I came to know Eric especially well when he volunteered to guide me in my own once-in-a-lifetime (and disastrous) run for the State Assembly in 2005. Eric astonished me then with how much he knew about the political process - and with his contacts. He had the respect of politicians and officials much older, and certainly way more established, than he was. That especially surprised me because he isn't much older than my son. It's kind of hard to get your head around that when you still think of yourself as something of a kid yourself (even if you're over sixty). But Eric, of course, wasn't a kid at all and he proved that to me over and over again as he guided me through the arcane and often irksome political obstacle course that passes for the political process here in New York.
Of course, I should have known Eric was a serious guy even before that because of the way he reached out to those of us in Rockaway who were striving to rebuild a political alternative on this peninsula. He forged an alliance between his club on the mainland and ours in Rockaway and, through hard work and careful planning, went on to win the leadership position in our district, showing us he was a force to be reckoned with. I should have seen it, given the way he maneuvered across the minefields of Queens politics and the way he methodically prepared himself for political combat. Not for him the quixotic quest to make a statement that was my campaign in 2005. Eric had his sights on bigger things and now there he was, his portrait up there on the el, above Liberty Avenue, so big you could see the freckles on his cheeks. Well maybe . . . it was really pretty dark I guess, as we drove past, so I was probably just imagining them.
But when I saw his face up there it wasn't some anonymous politico without any real connection to our neighborhoods staring back at me. It wasn't an amateur or stranger but an old friend. More, it was the guy with the plan. Since his days as a Stabile volunteer, Eric's aimed to make a difference in the political realm. Sure he's a mainlander but he's been out here so many times, spent so many hours walking our beaches and streets, attended so many of our meetings and spoken up for our concerns so often, that he might as well be one of us. True, he looks young enough to be my son. In fact, he is young enough. But that doesn't mean he can't be all of Rockaway's favorite son in an off-year election that could well shake up the local political scene.
Eric wants to represent us downtown and let the mayor know that Rockaway's still around, despite bike paths that have literally cut our roads in half and toll increases that promise to strangle us on our side of the bay. Eric wants to speak up against tax increases and overspending we can no longer afford in a down economy. He wants to remind the mayor Rockaway hasn't gone away. Isn't it about time someone had the gumption to do that?