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The Council's Youngest Member Faces a Veteran

by Judith Kurens, Oct 28, 2009
 
Left photo from Eric Ulrich 2009 and right photo from Frank Gulluscio 2009
Republican Eric Ulrich (left) and Democrat Frank Gulluscio (right) are in a race for Queens District 32 in the southeast part of the borough.

Republican Eric Ulrich, a St. Johns University law student, has held his southeast Queens City Council seat only since February. But, now, less than a year after taking office he must face the voters again and fend off a challenge from Democrat Frank Gulluscio, 60, a longtime civic leader who served as the right hand of the former incumbent, Joseph Addabbo.

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As the race entered its final week, charges flew, with Ulrich being accused of illegally using staff and supplies provided by his most prominent supporter, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Gulluscio facing charges that he had not paid taxes and that his brief stint as president of the local community school board was tainted with corruption.

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It's the latest turn in a district that has seen its share of political controversy.

Ulrich won the February nonpartisan election for the district 32 council seat that was left vacant when Addabbo moved on to the State Senate. His victory came after three potential opponents -- including Gulluscio -- were knocked off the ballot because of mistakes in their nominating petitions. One of the other candidates -- Geraldine Chapey -- challenged Gulluscio's petitions because, she said, he did not have the required number of signatures.

Chapey though, went on to come in third, as Ulrich won by 3,316 votes.

A Powerful Friend

This time around, Ulrich, the council's youngest member at 24, has the advantage of help from Mayor Michael Bloomberg's financially entrenched and extensive campaign operation. The two opened a joint campaign office in Rockaway. In some neighborhoods that overlap district 32, the mayor's popularity has reached 80 percent.

Ulrich believes his connection to the mayor could help his constituents. "I think the mayor is going to win," Ulrich said. "As a team we can see to it that District 32 residents do not get shortchanged when it comes to getting their fair share of city services, public transportation, better schools."

Ulrich won Bloomberg's favor when he endorsed the mayor for a third term, in April, before anyone else in the Republican leadership did so, according to a local blog, Lost in the Ozone.

Dueling Lapses?

Gullusci has charged that Bloomberg's support violates campaign finance laws. He has filed a complaint contending that Bloomberg's camp helped coordinate Ulrich's leafletting and offered the him complimentary use of a staff mmbers, the Daily News reports. Together, the complaint maintains, the help from the worker and the shared campaign office constitute a donation that "may well exceed" the limit set by city law.

Calling the comlaint "absurd," Ulrich told the News, "The last thing we would need or want is to violate any campaign finance laws."

Some do not take Ulrich seriously because he is so young and so has limited experience in government and politics. But Ulrich has insisted his age is "not such a weird thing."

Bronx Councilmember "Joel Rivera was 22 when he joined the City Council, so he beat me by two years," Ulrich told New York Magazine. "Chuck Schumer was 23 at the State Assembly. Joe Crowley was 24. Anthony Weiner was 26 or 27. So what if I am young."

Ulrich, a lifelong resident of Ozone Park, has been working in politics since his teens. He serves as president of the Our Neighbors Civic Association of Ozone Park Inc., and a member of the 102nd Police Precinct Community Council.

Gulluscio cites his own long record of civic involvement. He does not, though, mention his service as president of the Community School Board in 1989, according to Boro Politics. That could be, Boro Politics reports, because his tenure "ended in his dismissal, along with the entire board, by the chancellor after an investigation revealed that Gulluscio had earned his appointment as president in exchange for votes on other matters, including the installation of his campaign manager as an elementary school principal."

In other bad news for Gulluscio, the Daily News said it had learned he still owes sales taxes to the state fom his now defunct beauty supply distributorshp.

The Community's Needs

The district, which covers Ozone Park, Hamilton Beach, Linderwood, Woodhaven, Richmond Hill, Broad Channel, Rockaway, Bell Harbor and Breezy Point, is largely a family community and home to police officers, teachers and city workers. Economically, district residents range from upper middle class to unemployed. Community Board 14 has one of the highest unemployment rates in New York City, according to district manager Jonathan Gaska.

Democrats hold a three-to-one advantage, and the Working Families Party, which has endorsed Gulluscio, could have clout. "You have a strong working class, labor population in South Queens, said party spokesperson Dan Levitan. "Party members are looking to elected leaders to solve their problems. … We feel Gulluscio is the better man."

A key issue in the area, according to Community Board 9 district manager Mary Ann Carey, is illegal multiple family dwellings. The district's councilmember, she said, should work with the city's Building Department to close such homes, which, she said, create overcrowding and sanitation problems. Gaska said the district needs a councilmember who will allocate funding for "urban renewal" and "capital investments [to] would generate more jobs."

During his brief time in office, Ulrich, a member of the transportation committee, initiated a study to increase rapid bus transit on the Woodhaven and Crossbay Boulevards. While serving on the Youth Services Committee, he helped direct federal stimulus dollars to t jobs for local students. "I saw to it that kids had something to do and make a few dollars at the same time," he said.

Gulluscio's Platform

While Ulrich has ties to Bloomberg, Gulluscio has worked alongside Democrats Assemblymember Audrey Pheffer and Rep. Anthony Weiner on such issues ranging as transportation, social security cost of living adjustments and developing parks and recreation in the Gateway area of Queens. This fall, they petitioned for a reinstatement of cost of living adjustments (COLA) to social security benefits, which the federal government plans to suspendthis year.

"A lot of the seniors didn't know about the proposed COLA freeze. When I told them, they were jumping over each other to sign the petition," Gulluscio said. The group has also asked Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue to reassess the proposed freeze."

For the past two years, as district manager for Community Board 6, which covers Rego Park and Forest Hills, Gulluscio has been working to expand subsidized ferry service running between Riis Landing, in the Rockaways, and Pier 11 in Manhattan. "Four years ago Congressman Weiner brought in $15 million to the district for the enhancement of ferry service for New York City and the Rockaways, but, according to Gulluscio, Bloomberg has not allocated the funds."

Ulrich has said he would also work for more money for ferry service.

Gulluscio, who has noted that Rockaways residents have some of the longest commute times in the entire country, said he hopes to serve on the council's Transportation Committee if elected. He would like to see expanded subways service to the Rockaways and has worked to install bike lanes across Howard Beach.

Gulluscio, a lifetime Howard Beach resident, strongly supports the plan to improve the Gateway National Recreation Areaover the next 20 years. Many of the areas covered by this plan, such as Charles Park, Hamilton Beach Park and Spring Creek, are in the 32nd district.

Now, much of the park is abandoned and unsafe, according to Gulluscio. Parts, he said, are in "such disrepair" that kids can't play ball. "The tennis courts are full of rocks and crevices," he said. "And the Hamilton Beach area doesn't have girls bathrooms for the girls who play baseball there."

Money and Backing

Gulluscio, who serves as the Democratic district leader, has the backing of a number of unions Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Union Local 338 and DC37 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, as well as two of the city's largest municipal police unions -- the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and the Detectives Endowment Association.

For his part, Ulrich won support from the Queens Tribune and Citizens Union, whose sister organization publishes Gotham Gazette, As of Oct. 23, Gulluscio had raised $44,177 in private contributions and $73,330 in matching funds and spent $67, 706. Ulrich collected $58,295 in private contributions, $84,122 in public matching funds and spent $51,623.


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