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Qns. GOP factions head to court to settle dispute over leadership

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Two factions within the Queens Republican Party each elected their own chairman last week, setting up a court battle over who is the party’s legitimate leader.

Queens GOP Chairman Phil Ragusa, who is recognized by the state GOP, was re-elected during a reorganizational meeting at Reception House in Flushing Sept. 28.

Former City Councilman Tom Ognibene, who is backed by another faction led by the Haggerty brothers Bart and John was elected chairman during a meeting at Villa Russo in South Richmond Hill.

Both sides claim the other’s leader is illegitimate.

Lawyers for Ragusa were in Queens Supreme Court Tuesday to file an action against Bart Haggerty and Ognibene.

Queens GOP spokesman Robert Hornak said the Haggerty faction violated a court order that prevented them from holding an official Queens GOP meeting and filed an emergency action to prevent the Haggerty faction from filing certification with the state Board of Elections.

During a reorganization meeting two years ago attended by both factions, Ragusa was elected chairman, but the Haggerty faction walked out, claimed the voting was flawed and held a separate meeting to install Bart Haggerty as chairman.

Ragusa spokesman Robert Hornak said there was a temporary restraining order in place to prevent the Haggerty faction from holding a meeting, but the group went ahead and elected Ognibene anyway.

“There’s only one chairman and that’s Phil Ragusa,” Hornak said. “Clearly, he is the recognized chairman.”

Ognibene was chosen in a vote by acclamation with Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) nominating him for chairman.

“For the good people of Queens, we need new leadership,” Ulrich said. “There’s only one man in the borough who can … unite the various factions and that is Tom Ognibene.”

Ognibene claimed the Ragusa faction was disorganized and did little to help Republican candidates.

“For some reason, we’ve been drifting back and away from that,” Ognibene said. “The important thing is right here in our own county we can make changes.”

Ognibene called Ulrich “the brightest young candidate the Republicans have had in years” and said Ragusa tried to sabotage Ulrich’s election in a 2009 special election when he “put up a shill named Ricatto,” referring to former GOP Council candidate Michael Ricatto.

Ognibene also claimed Ragusa “tried to derail Bob Turner’s candidacy,” when Ragusa mulled nominating little-known Republican Juan Reyes. Turner went on to win the seat that had been held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, who resigned because of a texting scandal.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Updated 2:24 pm, October 6, 2011
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