Most people also understand that the choices were made by the local party leaders of each respective party organization. How the Democrats made their choice was pretty obvious and well reported. Weprin was chosen to be a place holder until the district is drawn out of existence next year when census reapportionment takes place. Weprin put loyalty to the Democratic Party above everything and they knew he would go away quietly, not challenge any sitting congress members, and instead would look to run again for citywide office.
How the Republicans made their choice was not so clear and was widely mis-reported. But it is worth understanding, as the process was the same that brought Queens some very strong and effective elected officials, like Councilman Dan Halloran.
When Phil Ragusa became Queens GOP Chairman in 2007, one of his first priorities was to develop a very active candidate recruitment operation. As a former president of the NY Young Republican Club, I was successful in recruiting young people to run for office, and was tasked with heading up this initiative. Between this new operation and changing attitudes after the Obama election, new problems began to arise.
To handle the large number of prospective candidates, a screening process was developed with a detailed questionnaire and an interview process. Candidates were questioned in depth so as to determine who the strongest candidate would be. We resisted the urge to just go with the obvious choice based on who had better political connections.
When Dan Halloran came before this committee, he was not the obvious political choice. A newcomer to local politics, some gave him a “where have you been?” attitude. But after reviewing all the candidates, their responses to all the questions, and assessing their strengths and weaknesses, Dan Halloran became the Party choice.
In choosing a candidate to run in the 9th Congressional District, a similar process was put in place. The only difference now was that in this case we were dealing with a bi-county district and a high profile race. There were many interested parties involved, directly and indirectly. The goal set out from the beginning was two-fold. First was to pick a candidate who can win. Second was to pick a candidate that would be a consensus candidate for not just Republicans, but for the Conservative Party, Tea Party, Libertarian Party and any other center-right faction. Not an easy goal to achieve. But nonetheless, this was Chairman Ragusa’s mandate to our committee.
As the Brooklyn-Queens bi-county committee was being convened, Weiner was still refusing to resign. There appeared to be no rush. Meanwhile, many people were expressing interest in running. We reviewed the questionnaire to make sure it was up to date and began to schedule interviews. Throughout the entire process there were over 15 candidates who came forward, and the committee met with every one of them.
It was right after the night of the first meeting of the screening committee that Weiner finally did the right thing and resigned. Then, on July 1, Governor Andrew Cuomo called the special election, giving us ten days to make a decision and file the proper paperwork. Suddenly, things had to move much faster.
We scheduled interviews with every other candidate, including some that didn’t come forward until after the July 4th weekend. Everyone was accommodated. Many extremely qualified candidates met with us, possessing a wide variety of experiences and qualifications. Some candidates were very new and without the experience one would want for a congressional candidate. Some were very interesting, but were not residents of New York State.
But they all shared a deep desire to make our country better, a sense of outrage over what they’ve seen happen over the last two years, and a willingness to help fight to achieve our ideals. And they all were people that the Brooklyn and Queens Republican organizations hope will stay involved going forward.
Meanwhile, the committee was essentially under a gag order. In spite of the number of reporters practically beating down our door to find out who the candidate would be, we promised there would be no leaks so as not to prejudice the process. Nevertheless, for days people were reporting that the candidate was already chosen. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.
A short list of the top three candidates emerged. They included Bob Turner, a semi-retired media executive who had run against Weiner in 2010, getting 39 percent of the vote; Tim Cochrane, also a successful businessman, who ran for Congress in 2008 in NY-13 on the Conservative Party line; and Juan Reyes, a bright young attorney who had a powerful political pedigree, including working for Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, serving in high-ranking positions in the Giuliani administration, and working at some of the biggest law firms in New York City.
This was clearly not going to be an easy choice, but was made a little easier when Cochrane dropped out of consideration shortly after the date for the election was set. Now it was down to two, and vigorous debate ensued. Even though the Queens Republican Chairman had the power to choose whoever he wanted, having the weighted vote advantage over Brooklyn, he always maintained that one of our top goals was to make certain we had a candidate who everyone could rally around and to not waste this opportunity with a split ticket or by having allies working at cross-purposes.
Both candidates were asked to come in for a final meeting with the committee. With the Conservative Party having already endorsed Turner, Juan Reyes gracefully announced he was withdrawing from consideration so as to ensure all center-right groups were united and working toward the same goal.
Looking back at the incredibly talented and experienced group of candidates that came forward, it is hard to imagine we could have made a wrong choice. But in the end everyone agreed that with Bob Turner we had the best possible candidate to run this race. If he wins, it will send shock waves through the establishment and should be a sign for things to come in 2012.
Robert Hornak is a Queens-based political consultant, blogger, and an active member of the Queens Republican Party.