As the race for mayor heats up this election year, a shake-up in New York’s outer boroughs is already beginning to take place. After reaching out to other local Republican groups around the city to initiate a well-attended summit of political activists back on January 11, the recently formed Rockaway Republicans of south Queens have suddenly run headlong into a rising Queens County insurgency aimed directly at Republican mayoral incumbent Mike Bloomberg.
Unlike some of the older Republican groups in this town, the Rockawayites are an amalgam of many viewpoints and had hoped to use this diversity to good political effect. Including in its ranks many old-style social conservatives who stand for a return to traditional values, this group also counts in its ranks fiscal moderates, libertarian leaning thinkers, and many former Democrats who deserted their old party when it lurched leftward in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The newly formed Rockaway group had set its sights on an early alignment with Republican Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a fiscally moderate businessman and “just-in-time” Republican who converted to the GOP at the 11th hour in the last mayoral race to claim the party’s ballot line. The Rockawayites certainly hadn’t counted on the sudden emergence of a socially conservative challenge from central Queens led by former Queens City Councilman and minority leader, Tom Ognibene, a politician who speaks to the hearts of many of their group’s members.
The incumbent mayor, of course, had leapfrogged over his former fellow Democrats in the race for the top spot at City Hall in 2001 by claiming the Republican nomination as his ex-political brethren slugged it out in the crowded Democratic field. Bringing to the fray his years of experience as a phenomenally successful businessman, as well as oodles of cash, Bloomberg wooed the city’s Republican leaders and ran successfully against another former Democrat in the Republican primary, the somewhat lackluster Herman Badillo. He went on to win the general election, beating the highly liberal Democrat Mark Green, who’d been badly battered in the bruising Democratic free-for-all Bloomberg had shrewdly skipped.
Like Mayor Giuliani before him, Mayor Mike went on to govern the city effectively, despite a plethora of fiscal problems that awaited him as he walked in the door. Like his predecessor, too, the current mayor brought a socially liberal philosophy to the table. Not as confrontational as Rudy Giuliani, however, Bloomberg unruffled many of the feathers that Giuliani had seemed to delight in ruffling during his tenure.
But the current mayor has at least one other trait in common with his illustrious predecessor: Like Giuliani, Mayor Mike has shown little interest in his adopted party’s political grassroots and has followed a policy, since winning City Hall, of studiously ignoring the clubs and local leaders that constitute the party whose banner he now carries. But where Giuliani at least provided some access and attention to local Republicans at the community level, Bloomberg has seemed hard-pressed to bring himself to do even that. And therein lies the source of the current grassroots Republican uprising against him.
Bloomberg and his people see the Ognibene challenge as one driven by patronage, or rather lack of same, since the mayor has given precious few jobs to Republican party loyalists. Indeed, the mayor and his spokesmen seem offended at the very thought of such venality.
The mayor, his people tell us, is only interested in getting the best people for the jobs he has to dispense, not in giving out political favors. But having stocked his administration largely with Democrats, he also seems to be telling the Republicans, whose banner he nominally carries, that they’re a second and third string bunch at best, with insufficient talent in their ranks to compete with their Democratic brethren. This message hardly sits well with the party the mayor adopted as his own.