A seemingly innocent invitation is causing a storm of controversy in GOP party politics and has prompted the ‘retirement’ of one of its top officials.
In a recent article by City and State, an anonymous reader sent a copy of an invitation for Catherine James’s Retirement Party which set off a fury of allegations. Katherine, the former Deputy Chief Clerk at the Board of Elections, was accused of soliciting campaign contributions for her ‘retirement party’ using BOE resources, according to the article. However, the headline, RETIRING QUEENS BOE EMPLOYEE USED OFFICE RESOURCES TO SOLICIT “CONTRIBUTIONS” TO POLITICAL CLUB is erroneous and misleading.
Katherine James did not know that BOE resources were used for the invitation. Katherine did not even know about the party as she wasn’t part of a planning or organizing committee and she certainly didn’t oversee the design of the invitation. The event was a complete surprise.
Some questions remain. Why would a Republican club – a club where Katherine is a board member – list the BOE as the return mailing address? Did she think 300 recipients would turn the other cheek? Perhaps it was a snafu, a really brainless snafu that screams conflict of interest to every recipient both democrats and republicans alike? Sounds like nonsense.
For 50 years Katherine has been around a political element. We doubt she’d make a rookie mistake or mastermind her own destruction. Nevertheless anyone with an axe to grind now has the perfect stump for a clean chop.
Tensions were brewing up. On March 24th the Queens County Executive committee informed Katherine there would be a meeting to discuss endorsements of congressional candidates. Katherine served as one of the highest-ranking officers of that committee as the Vice-Chair. On the day of the event she couldn’t attend due to a family commitment. She returned to work on Monday to hear that Chairman Phil Ragusa endorsed Alan Jennings, a democrat, through a Wilson Pakula in the new fifth congressional district. Katherine is the District Leader for the 32nd AD, which is an AD in the 5th congressional district. Katherine didn’t get a phone call and it was in her hometown where Jennings would receive the GOP line. She felt bypassed and refused to go to future events unless amends were made.
Despite the makings of a quirky political feud, it’s unlikely that Ragusa or Tabone sent the problematic invitation. Both are smart enough not to encourage negative press on the Party. So, then, who engineered the mail piece? Who would benefit from Katherine’s retirement and an opening of a coveted patronage post? Was another audit from the Comptroller’s office or a visit from the DOI part of a calculated risk – a means to an end? Or was it more sinister, a power-grab, or retribution for a past offense?
It appears that all members of the Queens County Executive committee come under the spotlight for a periodic scrutiny and it was Katherine’s turn to finally be picked off by forces unknown.
Was it the butler? The strategic plan to take out the low guy on the totem pole was likely executed by whoever is upset with Tabone, Ragusa, or Steven Graves who is said to yearn for the day when he can throw County under the bus even though there are allegations of corruption, fraud, and bribery against Graves. Adding insult to injury, rumors are floating around that stories are being pitched to the NY Post for the final humiliation.
City and State mentions Katherine as the President of the Women’s Republican Party of Queens. This is incorrect. Katherine resigned that position when Serphin Maltese and Frank Padavan were the last two Queens Republicans serving in the Senate. Katherine served ex officio as Vice-President.
Katherine is the mother of four children, now adults. Her husband is a retired Fire Captain. She attended Queens and Brooklyn College and got her start in politics when she went to the Conservative party for guidance and education. She ran for the school board where she won and served for 10 years. Katherine was also the NYS Common Cause downstate director and she worked for the Jamaica Service program for older adults – a 36-year-old social service agency, including ten years of service in the City Council.
Katherine carved out a reputation in Queens as an activist. She volunteered for the Salvation Army, the Girl Scouts and a myriad of other service based organizations. Years later, she heard of a vacancy at the BOE for a republican office worker. Then-chairman Serphin Maltese met Katherine and quickly hired her for her energy and enthusiasm.
Katherine James didn’t willfully retire; she was fired and removed from the payroll. The headline is the proof in the pudding. She could have felt it was coming down the pipeline, but she probably didn’t think she would be framed and caught up in a web of allegations at the twilight of her career. Down at the BOE, Marie Lynch, the former Director of Equipment has become the new Deputy Chief Clerk. For Katherine, the way it was done was neither professional nor commensurate with the service she performed to the county of Queens.
We call that Queens politics.