When Michael Bloomberg spoke at the Queens Village Republican Club dinner at Antun’s catering hall Sunday night, he got a standing ovation from someone, at least.
“He’s been a good mayor,” said Joseph Gravagna, 29, of Queens, who works in advertising. When asked if he was bothered in any way about the mayor un-enrolling from the party last year, Gravagna said, “No, because he’s been a good mayor.”
Much of Bloomberg’s remarks were focused on his own record–with a little flattery mixed in. At one point, Bloomberg said that if the members of the audience wanted to give credit to someone for putting the city on sound footing, they should "look in the mirror,” since New York is coping with the budget crisis better than many other cities.
Bloomberg's appearance at the club had been the subject of debate for days, but the dissenting members of the club agreed not to protest too loudly because of the nature of the event–the mayor was invited to present an award to children who won an essay contest sponsored by the club at two local lawmakers, Senator Frank Padavan, a Republican, and Assemblywoman Barbara Clark, a Democrat.
But many Republicans were annoyed at Bloomberg’s presence at the club, and they did not mind saying so to a reporter.
“The mayor’s aides invited him to the dinner,” said Phil Orstein, a club member who arranged the dinner Sunday. “They called up the chairman of our board and told him that the mayor was coming,” he said. “He’s not coming here to get our endorsement. We’re not giving it to him. None of us really want him to buy a third term for any amount of money.”
“I know he’s playing us, he’s using us. And I’m going to come after anyone who says that he’s there for the endorsement. I’ll go to their door–" Orstein paused. "I don’t want to get angry. I’m sorry. I get carried away a little bit."
While Bloomberg spoke, Tom Ognibene, who challenged the mayor in a Republican primary in 2005, sat at the far end of the room. When the mayor attended the event in 2005, Ognibene and Bloomberg politely shook hands and exchanged greetings. This year, they didn’t.
“He’s got a lot of bridges to repair,” Ognibene said. He declined to say on the record what Bloomberg could do to build those bridges.
Sitting on either side of Ognibene were John Haggerty and his brother, Bart, Republican operatives who have clashed with the county leadership and supporters of Bloomberg.
As Bloomberg left, children and their parents rushed to get photos with the mayor. Bloomberg obliged. Club members remained in their seats, eating their salads and bread rolls. Bloomberg made his way out of the dining room and a trail of photo seekers followed him, including John Haggerty, whose right arm was in a sling. When the mayor inquired, Haggerty said he broke his arm after a fall.
"You’ve got to sue the city," Bloomberg joked. Haggerty, who said he believes in tort reform, laughed and said, "I can’t. I’m a Republican."