Former Congressman Bob Turner is running to become chair of the Queens Republican Party today, setting up a bitter clash with chairman Phil Ragusa, sources say.
Mr. Turner is mounting a vigorous challenge against Mr. Ragusa and may have the votes to become the new chairman, according to two sources close to the party, A leadership vote, bringing together all the district leaders in the borough, is set for 12:30 p.m. in Whitestone.
“It’s going to be a bloodbath,” predicted one Republican source neutral in the dispute. “Ragusa is not backing down.”
A leadership vote occurs every second year and attempted challenges to Mr. Ragusa are not uncommon. The Queens Republican Party is split into two factions. A northern faction, led by Mr. Ragusa, has held onto control of the party since 2007, despite challenges from a southern faction that includes Councilman Eric Ulrich.
In 2011, Mr. Ulrich led a failed coup to install former Councilman Tom Ognibene as chair of the party. Now, Mr. Ulrich is strongly behind Mr. Turner and called for the former congressman to takeover in the wake of a bribery scandal that engulfed the party earlier this year.
The bribery scandal, which involved Republican Councilman Dan Halloran allegedly quarterbacking a bribery scheme to land Democratic State Senator Malcolm Smith on the GOP mayoral primary ballot, led to the arrest of Vince Tabone, Mr. Ragusa’s executive vice chairman. Mr. Tabone was soon ousted from his post but the scandal damaged Mr. Ragusa’s reputation, particularly among the borough’s Republican rank-and-file, according to political insiders.
Mr. Turner is not believed to be a long-term solution to the party’s divide. If he emerges the victor, the person he chooses to be executive vice chairman–the party’s number two slot–could eventually take the helm.
“It’s the executive vice chairmen that really matter in all of this,” explained the neutral GOP source. “Bob Turner doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to lead the party long-term. Someone else will have to eventually step in.”
Mr. Ragusa did not immediately return a request for comment.
Update: (9:20 a.m.): Mr. Turner told Politicker he wasn’t sure about running until recently, but was motivated by an urge to reform the party.
“I was not running for this but I said I would serve if drafted. There was movement afoot to do this,” he explained. “The current situation really needs to be changed. It’s been tinged with corruption over the past five years. We have one elected official [Mr. Ulrich] left who won’t even speak to the county chairman. Things are a mess.”
“Why Queens county wants to hold on to power is beyond me,” he added. “I promise to serve for a couple of years and turn this into a better organization.”