New chair seeks to revive fortunes of Kingston GOP

Following a campaign season that brought it to the brink of extinction, the new chairman of the Kingston Republican Committee said that he was planning to rebuild the group from the ground up,  John P. Quigley, tapped to replace former chair Chuck Polacco earlier this month, said that the effort would focus on finding dedicated committee members and reaching out to Democrats turned off by the party’s leftward drift.

“Right now the [Kingston] Republicans foundation is made up of quicksand,” said Quigley. “We have to change that, and once that foundation is built and we have the ability to stand on our own two feet, then we can consider next steps.” 

Quigley, 27,  will face an uphill climb as he seeks to rebuild a committee that has seen a steady decline in numbers and influence over the past decade. Currently, the party does not hold a single elected office in Kingston. Last year it failed to field candidates for the citywide office of alderman-at-large and a majority of the Common Council’s nine seats. 

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Internal divisions further weakened the committee as nine members resigned to support Serve America Movement mayoral candidate Vince Rua. The resignations left Republican candidate Ellen DiFalco without critical organizational  support, She went on to lose by a wide margin to incumbent Democrat Steve Noble. 

Quigley said that the committee, which has 54 seats, currently has between nine and 13 members who reliably show up to meetings and actively participate in committee business. 

Quigley got his start in politics as a teenager helping in his father’s, Town of Ulster supervisor James Quigley III’s, 2008 run for county comptroller. The younger Quigley studied business administration and political science at Sacred Heart University before going on to work on the campaign of former congressman Chris Gibson and as a district director for state senator George Amedore. Currently he serves as the Republican deputy commissioner at the Ulster County Board of Elections. 

Quigley said that he planned to put his political background to use rebuilding the city GOP committee, with an emphasis on quality rather than quantity. “In years past we’d take anybody just to fill the seat,” said Quigley. “Then that anybody wouldn’t show up for meetings, and it lost value to be a committee member.” Quigley said that his rebuilding effort would begin with a door-knocking campaign to reach out to every registered Republican in the city. He will be seeking potential committee members with the right skills and a willingness to actively participate in political work. Quigley added that his initial goal was to fill between 25 and 40 seats with high-quality committee members. Quigley’s rebuilding strategy also includes outreach to disaffected Democrats. 

Quigley said that he believed a many moderate Democrats felt left behind and shunted aside by the Kingston Democratic Committee, which, with Republican fortunes at a low ebb, has been able to effectively select the leadership of the city in recent years.

“When you have too many like-minded people in power, you lose the ability to challenge the status quo,” said Quigley. “If we’re not challenging each other, how do we know we’re moving forward with the best policies?” 

Quigley’s effort to revive the Kingston GOP faces challenges, notably a surge in Democratic party enrollment and the deep unpopularity of president Donald Trump among politically moderate voters. In recent years an energized “resistance” movement has led to an unprecedented string of progressive electoral victories in Ulster County.

Quigley said that he believed a focus on local issues and innovative solutions rather than party dogma could help local Republicans navigate the headwinds. “It’s okay if you’re a Trump supporter, it’s okay if you’re not,” he said. “Trump doesn’t plow our roads, Trump doesn’t pay our city taxes, and Trump definitely won’t stop our water rates from going up.”

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