Tapalaga, the president of the Middle Village Republican Club (MVRC), said the modern American political system has lost its way. At least in Middle Village, Tapalaga aims to steer it back on course.
"Whether Republican or Democrat it really comes down to community involvement," said Gabriel Tapalaga, 36, the president of MVRC. "That's what politics really should be about."
In an interview the community leader voiced frustration with the twenty-four-hour news cycle phenomenon, one Tapalaga says is drowning out serious political debate.
"We're entering a time where we have 100 different ways of communicating, but it seems the electoral process has really been left behind," said Tapalaga, a Queens native and Middle Village resident who runs a law firm in Manhattan. "We're in the sound bite age and politicians give sound bite answers. I think we deserve more."
At Tapalaga's Republican club get-togethers (the group meets once a week), Middle Village residents have the opportunity to engage in substantive policy discussions in a comfortable social setting. Though the group primarily serves as a social networking forum, Tapalaga said he hopes their enthusiasm for serious debate will rub off on others - especially local elected officials.
"If [as a community] we talked more about issues we'd have a better electorate and better representatives," Tapalaga said. "I think our city, state, and federal governments can benefit if we talked more about the issues."
Tapalaga said at the MVRC monthly meetings, which attract 40 to 50 club members, the group discusses a broad range of topics ranging from the economy to, most recently, education reform. After what Tapalaga described as rigorous debate, the club established a position on education reform, summarized in a white paper of sorts - perhaps the first in Middle Village history - written by the club president.
In the paper, titled “Debating Democracy,” Tapalaga argues that politicians should engage in "issue specific" debates on the local level. This way, said Tapalaga, elected officials and political candidates would be forced to present their own policy positions well before taking office.
Once elected, voters could then hold officials accountable to specific promises they've made on, say, mayoral control of schools or local school zoning. (Tapalaga and the MVRC, by the way, advocate for a streamlined, more efficient education system wherein students would be allowed to reach their full potential).
Tapalaga said the paper won't affect policy, but it might inspire community members and their elected officials to refocus their priorities.
"I hope it gets people thinking that the political and election process can be made for the better," Tapalaga said. "If [the Republican club] can be more persuasive and get issues into the mainstream, we will have done our job."