When I look at the recent history of the
Queens Republican and Conservative parties from the
1960s all the way to the present, one name stands out
personifying that era: Serphin Maltese.
He first began his political career as a
Democrat, but changed to a registered Conservative in the
early days of that party and continued to hold high
leadership positions in the Conservative Party up to 1988,
including Queens County chairman, state executive director
and finally state chairman.
During these times he also served on the staffs of U.S.
Sens. James Buckley and Al D'Amato and was also counsel to
the State Senate Majority from 1972. It seemed it was
Maltese, to an extent, who was instrumental in forming a
close working relationship between the Republican and
However, he also had ties to the Democratic Party as
exemplified by his support of 26th A.D. Democratic
Assemblyman Vincent Nicolosi up to 1980 and later his
support of Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio of the
38th Assembly District.
In 1988, Maltese first ran for the state Senate as a
registered Conservative with Republican Party endorsement.
He defeated his Democratic opponent by a decisive margin.
In 1990, after having a dispute with the Republican County
leadership at the time, he was denied the Republican party
He then ran in "an opportunity to ballot write-in
primary," he said. He won by a landslide, with plenty of
help from the Republican State Senate Campaign Committee.
After that experience, Maltese changed his party
affiliation from Conservative to Republican.
In 1995, Maltese and his political associates took control
of the Republican County Organization at the County
Convention that year. In 1997, Maltese himself would
become Queens Republican county chairman, a position that
he would hold for the next 10 years in addition to being a
state senator representing the 15th State Senate District
of southwest Queens.
It was during this 10-year period that an insurgent
movement developed against Maltese, led by brothers John
and Bart Haggerty. They raised the issue that being county
leader and state senator at the same time was a conflict
of interest. They also said that Maltese was not giving
enough time to county party business, in addition to not
having enough candidates recruited to run for public
During the last four years, a series of primaries for
district leaders and members of the county committee
developed as well as court challenges. Maltese stepped
down as county chairman earlier this year and chose Phil
Ragusa, a district leader from Whitestone, to become the
new county chairman.
However, the struggle for county leader this year seems to
have become more intense between the two opposing groups.
In the state Senate Maltese chairs the Cities Committee,
which deals with urban issues, in addition to being a
member of committees involving higher education, rules
codes, criminal law, finance and civil service and
Maltese considers among his most significant achievements
in the state Senate was providing $175 million in funding
for Wyckoff Hospital in Ridgewood in 1992 to keep it open
and also to protect the jobs of hospital employees. He
also led the way in providing $55 million for the
LaGuardia Community College expansion program in
There is considerable interest in why Maltese won
re-election last year by fewer than 1,000 votes over his
Democratic opponent Albert Baldeo, a political unknown.
Some political observers believe that the constant Queens
Republican interparty struggles in recent past years have
weakened Maltese's base of support, which affected last
year's state Senate race, and may affect next year's race
when Maltese's probable opponent is City Councilman Joe
Maltese said the interparty conflict did not affect last
year's state Senate race but rather he attributed the
close race to the Democratic sweep by Hillary Clinton and
Eliot Spitzer that affected local races. He also mentioned
a low voter turnout in areas where he could usually expect
Now that Maltese has relinquished the county chairmanship,
he will be in a better position to concentrate on
strengthening his position in preparation for next year's
state Senate campaign. He will have considerable financial
backing next year from the Republican State Senate
In discussing how to improve the state Senate, Maltese
surprisingly called for term limits, but at the same time
said, "Two years is not enough. The term of office should
He would like to see the term of office for the state
Senate expanded to four years with a possible limit of
three, four-year terms.
Next year's election may well decide whether the era of
Serphin Maltese will end or continue into the future.