By Kami-Leigh Agard
On June 14, Americans celebrate Flag Day, honoring and paying tribute with the Pledge of Allegiance, speeches, beautiful renditions of the national anthem, and small and large displays of the flag. With the Rockaway Republican Club’s (RRC) reboot ripping and roaring at a feverish pitch since this past February, they are beckoning the community to join them at their grand Flag Day fundraiser celebrating “Old Glory” on Wednesday June 14, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., at Jameson’s Pub.
Though the GOP has evolved in the past 150 years, one thing that has stayed the same is its nickname: “The Grand Old Party.” However, as both Rockaway residents and former Republican political candidates, Paul King and Tom Sullivan, attest, “everything old becomes new again,” and with a new board led by President Mary Glynn, the inception of a Young Rockaway Republican Club, a heavy-hitting lineup of monthly speakers, and more upcoming events—the RRC remains true to the new principles that gave the Republican party its birth, but with a new energy.
The RRC first kicked off in 1991 and, since then, has had many reincarnations. However, King and Sullivan are confident that the RRC’s successful 2023 renaissance has been empowered by the elections last year that demonstrated the impact red voters had in a blue state like NY.
For Sullivan—who ran for Assembly District 23 against incumbent Democrat Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato, but lost by a margin of 15 votes, his election, though fraught and decided by an airtight margin and a drawn-out legal battle—he saw how residents on both sides of the aisle, voted on the critical issues that mattered most to them.
He said, “It was pretty obvious that the number one topic for the last two years has been crime for both Republicans and Democrats. And because of our stance on crime and other heavy-hitting issues, Paul and I had quite a few Democrats vote for us. These were voters who were not happy with the defund the police movement and the state’s cashless bail reform laws. So, several state and city elections last year reflected how crime moved the needle for Republicans in NY.”
King, who ran a plucky race for Congress to represent NYS’s Fifth Congressional District but lost against 25-year Democrat congressional incumbent Gregory Meeks, agreed. “Tom hit the nail on the head. Crime was number one for many voters. It translated for everyone in our neighborhoods, like Belle Harbor, Neponsit and Breezy. You have people who are wondering, ‘Can my kids still live here?’ Some people say they want to move away, but I believe a lot of people are saying, ‘No, we need to stand up for what’s right.’ Even when I campaigned in traditional Democratic neighborhoods, in which African Americans and immigrants were the majority, they also said, ‘Enough is enough. We voted a certain way because it’s supposed to be best for us, but crime is killing our kids, and our kids aren’t getting a good education, so they don’t have a good shot at the American dream.’ So, I think that ‘enough is enough’ factor in the Democratic community, plus Republicans standing up and saying, ‘Hey, we need to fight for our children’s future’ are what made all the difference in last year’s elections,” King said.
When asked how the RRC will woo residents to join, despite NY being a blue state with many conservative residents despondent as to if their vote will count, both Sullivan and King both believe every vote matters.
King responded, “There’s strength in numbers in any democracy. It’s easy to get discouraged, especially in NY, where we’ve had a one-party government for a long time. However, we can make a difference here locally. We can make a difference at the state level, and certainly at the federal level, not just through elections, but by being good active citizens, letting our representatives know these are the issues that are important to us. Even if we’re a more Republican neighborhood than we were when I was growing up, if we have a Democratic representative, a lot of them are still going to be responsible and have to step up, and make sure our priorities are taken seriously. Our votes can’t be taken for granted.”
Sullivan agreed with King that every vote counts, especially when voters prioritize values above party affiliations.
He said, “The common comment people like Paul and I heard throughout our campaigns was that the Republican party is dead in NY. We’re here to show them that it’s not, and this is why we’re trying to revitalize this club, bringing new life and leadership. We’re letting Republicans know that we are here, and we do want your support. And we’re letting Democrats and Independents know they have an alternative choice. In his campaign, Paul stuck with the issues that are affecting Americans—for example, education, crime, quality of life, the economy. Our goal is to bring some shine back to the Big Apple.”
As for attracting young voters to the RRC, both Sullivan and King said the younger generation needs to understand the reality of how the American dream is attained.
Sullivan said, “With winning the confidence of younger voters, Paul’s done a great job. We’ve noticed a couple of young faces at the last few meetings, and they all want to be involved. However, unfortunately for young people, there’s that odd thing that always sounds so good—free education, free medical care, free everything. Everybody should have the same, right? It all sounds good to a young person, but one day they will grow up and realize, hard work does pay off in achieving the American dream of owning a home, giving your kids a good education, but it does come with a cost. It can’t be free. There should be a level of earning it. For example, I earned my education benefit through serving five years that turned out to be 30 years in the military. It’s about giving people a hand up, not a handout.”
King added, “When we teach young folks that this is our country and working together on a united front—that’s the American way, then you can make a difference. The only way you make a bad choice is if you stay on the sidelines. However, the RRC is giving everyone the opportunity to step up and make the world a better place for all, but you have to get involved, not stay on the sidelines and be silent.”
The RRC’s Flag Day fundraiser celebration is happening on Wednesday, June 14, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., at Jameson’s (421 Beach 129th Street). Admission is just a donation of any amount. There will also be a “Best Dressed Red, White & Blue Competition,” judged by The Best Dressed Man In Rockaway, plus activities for children. For more info about the RRC and other upcoming events, visit Rockaway Republican Club on Facebook.