2009-04-03 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

At last month's St. Paddy's Day Parade in Rockaway my buddies from the Rockaway Republicans popped up holding a sign supporting Mayor Bloomberg. This is an astonishing turnabout to some, given the mayor's remarkable rejection of the Republican label only a couple of years ago — after twice using it to run for the city's chief executive slot because he couldn't hope to claim the Democratic line. Being a Democrat in New York City can be trying if you're a politician because there's such a glut of them. Just ask our local Democratic pols: Lew Simon, Geraldine Chapey and Frank Gulluscio, all long time Democratic activists and currently district leaders here who elbowed against one another in the recent special election to succeed Joe Addabbo in the City Council race. In fact, there are so many Democrats vying for attention here that they've had to subdivide the district into "parts" to allow room for four leaders instead of the usual two. Thus, Simon and Chapey are leaders in Part A and Golluscio and State Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer are leaders in Part B. Or is it the other way around?

Anyway, it's murder to get noticed and have a shot at running for office if you're a Democrat in this town which is why it sometimes looks inviting to outsiders, like one-time Democrat Mike Bloomberg, to go Republican. In our own district the registration advantage of Democrats over Republicans is something over 3:1 - and ours is a good district for Republicans in New York City! Ah, the poor Democrats . . . and poor Mayor Mike. Unable to get to first base as a Democrat, despite his lifelong registration in that party, Bloomberg switched in 2001 to claim the Republican line, a line the GOP was only too willing to lease him for lack of top tier contenders of its own.

In 2005, Mayor Mike ran as a Republican again though one would be hard pressed to describe his mode of governing in his first term as having a Republican flavor. Nevertheless, the GOP ballot slot came relatively cheap - and the mayor could have afforded it if it hadn't anyway.

But as the Republican brand sank under the combined weight of an unpopular war, an inarticulate president and a feckless GOP Congressional majority that had forgotten it was supposed to stand for fiscal prudence, and figuring he couldn't run again because of term limits anyway, Mayor Mike chucked a now disposable Republican party line and re-registered as "unaffiliated". Ouch! That rejection really hurt a lot of Republicans.

But a funny thing happened on the way to this forum. The mayor suddenly decided a third term didn't look so out-of-reach after all. There was nothing else beckoning and he kind of liked running the city - and hey, what are a few voter referendums in favor of term limits between friends anyway? There was just one problem though. Having already spurned the one he brung when he kicked the Republicans out of the house, Mayor Mike was left without a line to run on. Oops!

Well there's nothing that can't be fixed in this world if you grease the right skids, so to speak, so the mayor immediately began wooing the city's GOP all over again. Though most local Republicans remain deeply offended by the mayor's past rejection, the GOP in this city still suffers from the same affliction it had before. It ain't got much of a candidate bench.

There was this other rich guy who had become a Republican, Gristedes mogul John Catsimidis (though in his case he apparently didn't wait for the night before to convert as Bloomberg had done). But Catsimidis, who certainly has the cash to self-finance, lacks the Bloomberg style and communication skills, nor can he really compete with the mayor on assets. In fact, the word is out that he may have already decided that discretion is the better part of political ambition with Bloomberg in the running for a third term.

So Republican county leaders in the five boros haven't dismissed the return of their one time paramour out of hand, despite having been so unceremoniously dumped by him the last time around.

Which brings us to the Rockaway Republicans. As some readers here will know, I'm one of the founding members of that group and currently sit on its board. We began the Rockaway Republicans to offer local voters an alternative to the Democratic monopoly that then prevailed. In the recent special election for City Council our years of effort finally paid off with the success of recently minted Republican district leader Eric Ulrich in claiming the Council seat vacated by Democrat Joe Addabbo. Eric, who had been a student volunteer in the campaigns of Addabbo's predecessor, Republican Al Stabile, now steps into those shoes with the promise that he'll be more attentive to Rockaway than either Stabile or Addabbo were. Time will tell, of course.

But the Rockaway Republicans have suddenly catapulted themselves into controversy by their surprise decision to endorse the GOP deserter, Mike Bloomberg, on the heels of the Ulrich win. Around the city, former allies at the grassroots level have responded with horror and indignation that this group would make such a choice, especially in advance of county leaders. The Rockaway Republicans had worked hard to build alliances and to win much needed credibility for themselves in party councils so they're sudden alignment with a mayor, who many loyal Republicans view with resentment at best, profound revulsion at worst, has prompted some not unexpected outcries and recriminations.

Yet Bloomberg puts all Republicans, not just the Rockaway sub-species, in a quandary. Truth be told, he's not a bad mayor in terms of overall competence, even if his policies often seem appalling to many of us. He's raised taxes and spending like a Democrat and imposes nanny state restrictions on the citizenry in bars, restaurants and other places of entertainment, always, of course, for our own good. It's pretty clear, too, that he'll increase costs to live in this city even more, with new and higher tolls and taxes, given the chance. He's also worked with the City Council to overturn term limits for the city's elected officials, including himself - term limits that were twice approved by voter referendum. Can you say blatant self-dealing, boys and girls?

So does Mayor Bloomberg deserve reelection? This is doubly hard for Republicans because they're bereft of a serious candidate from their own ranks. If Bloomberg uses his cash hoard to run and win again without the GOP (not an unlikely outcome), he turns the city's Republican Party into a virtual vestigial organ. On the other hand, if he wins with their line he can't do much worse to them than he's already done, ignoring Republican concerns in his governing policies and giving them the boot when they're no longer of use to him. At worst they look like the same old shameless hussies they've always been, creeping back to their abuser for more of the same; at best they're still in the game . . . sort of.

For Rockaway Republicans there's even more at stake. This group put its hard won prestige on the line in the hope that Bloomberg will reciprocate by demonstrating concern for their district and, especially, their peninsula. Their newly elected City Councilman can also be hurt or helped by a mayoral favor. Is swallowing one's pride and supporting someone whose policies are barely palatable, on the basis of managerial competence alone, worth it?

As Tom Lynch, president of the Rockaway Republicans, recently told me, what's the alternative? Whoever gets the Democratic Party's nod is likely to be even more left leaning than Bloomberg while having less executive experience. Bloomberg, after all, built up his own billion dollar enterprise and ran it until taking on the day-to-day challenges of being mayor. If he's not perfect, he's not as bad as he could be and in some aspects of the job he's actually pretty good. You can never hope to get everything you want in a candidate after all, so why not take what you can get? Still it sound's like the hussy talking, to me! rockirreg@aol.com

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