By Conor Greene
It’s not even summer yet, but this fall’s City Council race in the 30th District just got more interesting with Thomas Ognibene’s decision to challenge incumbent Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley in a bid to regain his former job.
“The last time I ran, I think the biggest problem was we had two viable candidates at loggerheads,” said Ognibene, referring to fellow Republican Anthony Como’s victory in last summer’s special election to replace Dennis Gallagher. Crowley finished second in that race, followed by Ognibene, who said that a lone Republican on the ballot “clearly would have won the election and would have carried that into the general election.”
Ognibene, a Middle Village resident with a local practice, said the events leading up to his decision to run began when the Queens Republican Party leaders asked him if he would consider running for mayor on the Republican ticket if the party decided to not endorse Mayor Bloomberg. Ognibene was the Conservative Party’s candidate for mayor in 2005 and had discussed the possibility of challenging Bloomberg again this year.
However, the path was cleared for Ognibene to run for his old City Council seat, which he held from 1992 until term limits forced him out of office in 2001, when Como recently told him “he was going in another direction” and would not be challenging Crowley his fall. Around the same time, the Queens GOP decided it would in fact support Bloomberg.
The result, according to Ognibene, is a Queens Republican Party that is devoid of internal strife for the first time in recent memory. “This probably is the first time for the Republican Party in this county that everyone is aligned behind one guy,” he said. “During my final meeting with Mayor Bloomberg, he said, ‘Tom, I would love to have you support me, and I would love to support you.’”
Como was unable to be reached before press time because he was traveling, but a source said he is being considered for an appointment by the Bloomberg administration to a position in the Department of Housing. An announcement is expected once the standard vetting process is completed.
Ognibene sat out last November’s election, when Crowley (D-Middle Village) defeated Como by 12% out of 33,000 votes cast in the district, which includes Maspeth, Middle Village, Glendale and parts of Ridgewood, Woodhaven and Richmond Hill. The win allowed the Democratic Party to regain one of three seats that were held by Republicans at the time. (The GOP has since gained one seat back with the election of Ozone Park resident Eric Ulrich in the 32nd District).
Crowley said on Tuesday that her focus now is solely on representing the district. Still, she left no doubt that she will definitely seek re-election. “Yeah. I love my job. I want to have a full term. I would be honored to represent the people for a full four-year term,” she said.
With a full slate of issues to deal with, including the proposed Maspeth high school and the swine flu outbreak, Crowley is “not concentrating on reelection right now... I’m a fulltime councilwoman, and when it comes time for campaigning I hope my job will speak for itself, the good work I’ve done. When the people of the district come out to vote I think they will re-elect me as their Councilmember.”
It is likely Ognibene, who represented the district from 1992 until term limits forced him out in 2001, will tout his experience and his relationship with Bloomberg. “The most important thing is that the people living in this community need aggressive leadership. I know from my ten years experience where to go, where to look [to solve problems].”
Ognibene declined to comment on how he thinks the district has been represented since November. “I just feel it’s a short period of time and it’s hard for me to judge,” he said of Crowley’s time in office. “I think it really is up to the people to make that judgment so I’m not going to comment on that. I will run and people can then make a decision.”
One message he will push is the benefits his relationship with Mayor Bloomberg would provide for district residents. “The person who has the advantage as a councilmember is the person who can work closely with the mayor, that is the single most important thing,” said Ognibene. “No matter what powers the City Council has, they really do not measure up to the ability of the mayor to do things in a community that are positive, and to keep things from happening that are not positive. I feel I can bring that to the community.”
In terms of pertinent issues for the district, Ognibene mentioned the problems last summer caused by trains transporting garbage that were idling near residential areas and Christ the King High School. “I think you have to pay special attention clearly to the issue with what I call the garbage train,” he said, noting that action in federal court will likely be necessary. “Then there are the usual issues: school control, improving schools, the economic issues and trying to ameliorate the impact of the economic downturn.”