The Rockaway Irregular
Shortly before the February 24 special election for City Council in the 32nd Council District, of which western Rockaway is a substantial part, I got a call from Tom Lynch. Tom, of course, is the founding father and longtime president of the Rockaway Republicans, established in 2004 by him and a small group of like-minded colleagues in the garage of his friend George Greco, one cold winter's night. They set up the Rockaway Republicans with one thing in mind: To restore political competition in Rockaway by replacing the then-recently defunct Gateway Republican Club (which shut its doors in 2002) with a new, more forward looking Republican group.
Tom, on the other end of the phone, regaled me with the efforts his club had been making for City Council Candidate Eric Ulrich, a mainlander who had reached out to Rockaway and, specifically, to Tom's club around 2005. (Full disclosure here: I'm also a founder and current board member of the Rockaway Republicans.) "If we don't turn out our voters this time," Tom agonizingly explained, "I'm done." He was thinking of all the earlier races the Rockaway Republicans had run and lost in their some time seemingly quixotic effort to build an opposition group.
Patiently I reminded Tom that the Rockaway Republicans were really pretty new so it was unrealistic to expect too much and that they had actually had a surprising impact, both in our district and borough wide, considering how small they were (only about 40 official members with 20-25 who are active, though they've managed to build a broad mailing list of Republican sympathizers to call on in electoral races). But Tom wasn't having any of it. Although his club had previously and successfully backed Eric Ulrich and Jane Deacy for state committee positions, overturning longtime mainland dominance of the local GOP, it had thus far had absolutely no impact in general elections. The candidates it had backed locally went down to consistent and ignominious defeat before a 3:1 Democratic majority in the district as Republican influence continued to wane nationally.
Tom told me, "If we don't get a strong Republican vote this time, in an offyear special election where every vote counts and the field's split between five candidates, then what's the sense of continuing? I'm gonna resign," he said emphatically. "I'm just gonna chuck it all and go sailing on my boat." I argued with him, of course, and explained that the club and Republican politics on the peninsula wouldn't be the same without him but Tom's a tough cookie. When he makes up his mind about something, it's hard to move him. Tom's a very idealistic guy and thinks people should vote for ideas and beliefs, not just because of name recognition, incumbency or because a candidate has a big bankroll. Still, he's savvy enough to know that that's not the way the real world works. Nevertheless, he told me, if people say they believe something, then that's the way they ought to vote — and they ought to vote! "If Eric Ulrich doesn't get a solid Republican showing," Tom persisted, "even if he doesn't win because that's not what's important, but if he doesn't get a good turnout from our Republican base, then I'm through with all of it!" Late on the evening of February 24 we knew Tom wouldn't have to resign because Eric, the long-shot, underdog from Ozone Park, who only a few years ago was playing softball in the How ard Beach Little League, had logged a convincing victory of 47 percent of a vote that exceeded 7,000 cast in a crowded field. Ulrich, still basking in his well-earned victory (he had prepared and primed himself for this campaign since high school and ran one of the most professional, smoothly operating races ever seen in the district), now has roughly nine months as an incumbent in the seat formerly held by Joe Addabbo — nine months to prove himself to his constituents. It's still a predominantly Democratic district and in a race that doesn't split the Democratic vote among three or more competitors like this one did, he could have his hands full. But he's won himself a little time to demonstrate what a young guy (he's only 24 and engaged to be married) with energy and political smarts can do for a constituency that seems willing to at least give him a chance to show his stuff. Rockaway, especially, will be watching since the portion of the Council district that is western Rockaway has long felt itself forgotten by mainland representatives in the past.
Eric won by building a base that included Rockaway voters and he isn't likely to forget that, not when he's going to need this constituency again nine months from now. As for Tom Lynch, he called the following morning to tell me he's off to the dentist now that he can relax after a hard fought campaign. Of course, he's not resigning either. So local Republicans can relax, too, because Tom's still going to be at the helm. With Eric Ulrich representing us in the City Council, that could be a winning combination.