Thursday, November 6, 2008

Addabbo Topples Maltese; Helps Democrats Take Control in Senate

By Patricia Adams

Joe Addabbo’s victory over Serf Maltese in the 15th Senate District was a key component in propelling the Democrats to majority control of the New York State Senate. The long, hard fought race, laced with negative campaigning attributed to the Maltese campaign, ended with Addabbo unseating the 20-year Republican incumbent by 10,447 votes for a percentage victory of 58 % to Maltese’s 42%.

With the results in, Senator-elect Addabbo made his way through a crowd who chanted “Joe! Joe! Joe!” at a victory celebration held at Russo’s on the Bay in Howard Beach At the podium, Joe Addabbo spoke to his supporters. “Just a moment ago I got a phone call from Serf Maltese—and no it wasn’t a robo call,” Addabbo quipped. “Although he said he thought the numbers would be different tonight they were not and then he offered me congratulations on my victory.”

The crowd erupted wildly before allowing Addabbo to continue. “I have always said that I could not do it alone and I could not have. First I have to thank my family. Everyone thought I had the hard job,” said Addabbo, “but my wife was home with two kids making sure everything was ok. My first thanks goes to my wife.”

“And then there’s that army of people called volunteers,” he continued, “who I could definitely never have done without. Every day 40, 50, 100 or 200 people. Today I understand we had 1,000 volunteers out there.” Addabbo also thanked labor leaders, advocacy groups and the people, he said, “who just believe in good government... To all of you, I say thanks to you. We have proved that positive campaigning beats negative campaigning."

Both candidates in the race agreed that from the onset they knew it would be a tight race. “We knew it was going to be a hard fight,” said Maltese at the joint campaign headquarters in Glendale he shared with Councilmember Anthony Como. “But make no mistake about it, this was a presidential defeat.”

Addabbo, on the other hand, while acknowledging that he and his campaign staff knew they had a big fight on their hands, attributed his victory to something quite different. In addressing hundreds of cheering supporters, Joe Addabbo said, “We all knew it was an uphill battle, but tonight we won. The bottom line is this: you believed in something like I believed in something. You believed that these people out here, outside of these walls deserved better. You believed that when we spoke about issues it was the right thing to do and not go negative. You believed that going out there hour after hour, making phone calls and knocking on doors was the right thing to do. But you people believed in something more; you believed in me and that I appreciate more than I can say.”

Maltese said the results of the election were “somewhat surprising”, noting that he received "such a good reception" over the course of the campaign. Maltese was quick to make the point that there are twice as many registered Democrats than Republicans in the district, adding, "It always was a difficult district to hold on to."

But staunch Addabbo supporters, many Republicans themselves, were quick to insist that Addabbo would have won the election despite Democratic enrollment and without the “coattail” effect.

“Senator Maltese can say whatever he likes about why he didn’t win”, said Howard Beach resident Marie Atwell, “but his loss is a combination of abandoning many parts of his district. The way he campaigned was an embarrassment to me as a Republican. Obviously I am not alone because the same people who have voted for him time and time again realized that we needed a change.”

When asked what his future plans were now, Serf Maltese said, “I'm 75 - I'm retiring, just a little earlier than I plan to," adding that he will spend more time with his grandchildren.

But change appeared to be the message Addabbo wanted to talk about. “We have a lot of work to do. Today is just the first step. It’s time for me to roll up my sleeves and get to work as we move forward toward January. I cannot do it alone. I look forward to working with everyone that wants to work with me for the betterment of my people. They deserve better and after today, will get better.”

Crowley Beats Como for City Council Seat


By Conor Greene

In a rematch of the summer’s special election, Elizabeth Crowley rode the wave of Democratic support on Tuesday night to a victory over freshman City Councilman Anthony Como.

Crowley, of Glendale defeated Como (R-Middle Village) 18,592 to 14,603 this week after narrowly losing to him in the June special election. The win allows Democrats to reclaim one of three City Council seats currently held by Republicans. It also marks the first time a Democrat has represented the 30th Council district since it was created in 1991.

At her campaign celebration Tuesday night in the Woodhaven House, Crowley chalked the win up to more than just the success of Barack Obama at the top of the ticket, given her 12 percent margin of victory. “This was a true representation of the district,” she said, referring to the more than 30,000 residents from Maspeth, Middle Village, Glendale and Ridgewood who cast votes.

In a reversal from the special election, when she hired The Parkside Group to run her campaign, Crowley focused more this time around on direct contact with voters. While her campaign advisors minimized her contact with the media over the summer, she made herself much more visible and accessible to reporters and residents during this campaign.

“I think the campaign in June was very rushed,” she said. “With this one, I had more time during the summer to contact voters, and think I was able to get my message across to more people.”

An educator who holds a master’s degree in urban planning, Crowley made supporting local schools and addressing quality of life issues, such as traffic concerns, the focus of her campaign. When asked what her City Council agenda will include, Crowley responded simply, “overdevelopment, education and making sure our district is well funded and doesn’t get cut when the mayor bridges the budget gap.”

Crowley credited support she received from the Juniper Park Civic Association with helping her stay even with Como in conservative areas such as Middle Village, where he was counting on a large advantage. “It was good that I went to their meeting before the election, where there were over 200 people I was able to communicate with,” she said, referring to a candidates night last week that Como didn’t attend.

While the civic didn’t formally endorse a candidate, its president, Robert Holden and some members threw their support behind Crowley. “It definitely helped [in that I was able to come close to Como in such a conservative area,” she said of that support. “In Middle Village we nearly had the same amount of votes, and that was probably due to the help of the civic. That should be his base, but it wasn’t.”

In stark contrast to the atmosphere at Woodhaven House, the mood was somber in Como’s Myrtle Avenue campaign headquarters, which he shared with Senator Serf Maltese (R-Glendale). Maltese lost on Tuesday to Councilman Joseph Addabbo after nearly twenty years in Albany (see related story) in a highly contested race.

As results came trickling in from individual polling places, supporters of the Republican ticket appeared resigned that the GOP’s rough night would trickle down to the local level. Maltese and Como arrived at the headquarters after 10 p.m. to deliver the bad news. “Anthony and I have been partners for a long time,” Maltese told the crowd. “Unfortunately, this time we weren’t partners in victory.”

Maltese and Como both blamed their defeats on the huge surge in Democratic voters who went to the polls this year, many for the first time. In council and senate districts that have about twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans, the political climate was simply too much to overcome, said Maltese.

“The circumstances were such that, despite our best efforts, it was not something we could achieve and accomplish,” he said, adding that he felt that this was the “best campaign” he and his staff had ever run. “Nothing was going to be easy in this campaign because of the presidential race.”

Como’s comments mirrored those of Maltese, whom he calls his political mentor. He noted that there were a number of paper ballots to be counted, but conceded that they generally go the same way as the machine votes. “We worked very hard and I had a great staff,” he said.

In the wake of the election, Como was not ready to say what he will do moving forward. After running two campaigns over the past five months, he is now looking forward to “getting his life back in order” and said practicing law again is an option. Prior to running for election, he served as an aide to Maltese, a Board of Elections commissioner and in the district attorney’s office. “I look forward to what the future may hold for me,” he said.

The council seat was held by Thomas Ognibene from 1991 to 2001 and by Dennis Gallagher from 2001 until this summer, when he resigned after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting a 52-year-old woman. It was those circumstances, combined with the political climate, that opened up the seat to Democrats. This marked Crowley’s third run at City Council, having lost to Gallagher in her 2001 bid to succeed Ognibene.

For Crowley, the hard work now begins, with her main focus on making sure the district receives its fair share of city funding. “The people spoke and need somebody who is going to work hard and bring back the resources,” she said. “The truth of the matter is, he [Como] did not bring back to the district what Councilman Gallagher was able to bring back, the funding was substantially lower, and we can’t have that.”

Civic Concerned about Traffic on Grand Ave


By Conor Greene

A project to combine two triangles on Grand Avenue into a larger green space has caused traffic nightmares because the city refused to first implement a plan to reduce the amount of truck traffic along the busy stretch, according to a local civic group.

As part of the city’s Safe Streets to School program, two small triangles at the intersection of Grand and Flushing avenues at 64th Street are being combined. The project is intended to provide local school children heading to St. Stanislaus Kostka elementary school with safer crossings and create additional buffers between pedestrians and vehicles.

While the Juniper Park Civic Association doesn’t object with that effort, its executive board is not happy that this project is underway while the Maspeth Truck Bypass Plan has remained stalled for several years. Under that proposal, trucks heading towards Brooklyn would be routed through west Maspeth to reach the expressway, instead of using Grand Avenue.

On October 19, the civic organization sent a letter to the city Department of Transportation expressing concerns about the triangle reconfiguration moving forward before the Truck Bypass Plan is finalized. “We believe that this will cause the traffic backup to become more of a problem down Grand Avenue,” the civic wrote. “Sr. Rose, the principal of St. Stan’s, is opposed to this reconfiguration because the trucks are already spewing toxic air into the windows of the school.”

Several days later, the group Transportation Alternatives wrote to DOT’s Queens Commissioner Maura McCarthy asking the department to reroute trucks off Grand Avenue so as to not “significantly impair the benefits of the Safe Streets to School program for St. Stanislaus… We want every Safe Streets to School project to succeed in every community and it would be a shame if it didn’t in Maspeth because of the through truck route,” wrote the group’s executive director, Paul Steely White.

A segment of the avenue between the two triangles was first closed to traffic two weeks ago, according to the JPCA. Since then, traffic jams have occurred, causing trucks to sit idling in front of the school. At times, traffic has backed up as far as the entrance to Mount Olivet Cemetery, nearly three blocks to the east.

Tony Nunziato, a JPCA executive member and chairman of the Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force has been one of the community members working for several years to have the Truck Bypass Plan implemented. “I have been stating since I first learned about the triangle reconfiguration several months ago that if the Bypass Plan wasn’t implemented before this construction, traffic would get worse and not better,” he said. “Unfortunately, I was right.”

Robert Holden, president of the JPCA, stressed that the group is “definitely in favor of the reconfiguration of this intersection,” but not without the bypass plan. “By not planning properly, DOT is turning what was a traffic headache into a nightmare,” he said.

The city DOT did not respond to several messages seeking comment on the civic organization’s concerns and the status of the Truck Bypass Plan. McCarthy said previously that there still are additional studies that must be completed before the bypass plan is implemented.