Reprinted from the TimesLedger Newspapers 08/23/2007...
Political Action: Era of Serf Maltese as boro's GOP leader
BY William Lewis

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 Conservative parties.

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 endorsement.

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 office.

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 pensions.

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 2005-2006.

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 Addabbo.

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 strong support.

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 Campaign Committee.

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 be expanded."

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.



  AlbertBaldeo.Com 2005