Crowley and Ognibene Vie for Council Seat
By Conor Greene
Voters in the 30th Council District have two well-known candidates to choose from when they go to the polls on Tuesday: Democratic incumbent Elizabeth Crowley, who has represented the district for the past 10 months, and Republican Thomas Ognibene, who was the area’s councilman from 1991 to 2001.
Since taking office to serve the final year of disgraced former Councilman Dennis Gallagher’s four-year term, Crowley has made healthcare, environment, education and public safety top priorities. “I’m not really getting too distracted by the campaign – my work as a councilmember does not stop and for one minute I can’t let that fall to the side,” she said.
Ognibene said he has run a traditional campaign that has focused on issues that are important to residents using mailings and visits to community groups. He questioned some of Crowley’s claims, including that she was instrumental in pushing through the long-stalled downzoning of parts of Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale after taking office. “I think people are beginning to understand that what she says and what she does are two different things.”
Along with the rezoning, Ognibene also questioned the amount of money Crowley brought back to the district. He accused her of inflating the cost of projects – for example, $325,000 was earmarked for upgrades to the bocce courts at Juniper Valley Park – to make it look like she brought back more money. “She made a tremendous amount of claims about bringing back tons of money but we all know it’s inflated,” he charged.
Crowley argued that she has effectively rep- resented the district this year, including bringing back a substantial amount of funding during tough economic times. “The promises I’ve made, I’ve kept and I am bringing back resources in a tough economic year. They trust that I will continue to work hard for them over the next four years,” she said. “I will continue to prioritize education, healthcare and public safety and I hope I have the opportunity to continue what I’ve started over the next four years.”
Ognibene also accused Crowley of focusing on publicity rather than improving the community. “It’s nice to run around and get your picture in the paper, but I call that fluff. If you want to see what Tom Ognibene did, you go out into the community and look,” he said, listing school additions and park projects among his achievements while in office. “These are tangible things I did. There is nothing she has done that is tangible.”
Republican leaders are eying this seat as one they can possibly regain, and Ognibene said the difference between him and Crowley “comes down basically to philosophy... People have to make value judgments about a candidate rather than rely on party affiliation.”
Throughout the campaign, Crowley has sought to portray Ognibene as being out of touch with the community. “The differences are that I know what’s relative today. My opponent has been gone, and I’m not sure he knew what was relevant when he was on council. I don’t see him out there – all I see are his billboards,” she added, referring to several large advertisements for Ognibene located throughout the district.
“She believes in form over substance, and I believe in delivering real services to thecommunity and not misleading the commu- nity,” countered Ognibene. “I want to get elected on what I’ve done while she wants to get elected on what she said... I’m not out of touch – I live in this community, help out on issues including on lawsuits I donated my time to, I’ve been to meetings, I talk to people, pay taxes, so how am I out of touch? It’s a question of who is the best advocate.”
The race was relatively quiet over the past few weeks until this past weekend, when Crowley sent a mailer to voters referencing allegations against Ognibene involving construction bribes while he was in office. Ognibene, who said the allegations against him were ultimately discredited, called the mailer “disturbing” and said that “most people realize that this type of negative campaigning is not effective.”
The decision to raise these allegations, which involved bribes including vacations allegedly provided by building-consultant Ron Lattanzio to Ognibene and Gallagher, who was his former chief of staff, in exchange for help obtaining permits, “deprives Crowley of her Shirley Temple veneer and shows she is in somewhat of a panic,” said Ognibene. “It was discredited a long time ago and proven to be false.”
Crowley defended the mailer, stating that “anything that was in a mailer that I sent out was true.” She accused Ognibene of using “his influence as a councilmember in the wrong way” and said that Lattanzio admitted to bribing Ognibene. “I think that people in the district need to know that,” she said. “While all this was happening, building ran amok in our neighborhood and I’ve spent the last year trying to reform what happened when he was in the City Council.”
The 30th District includes all or parts of Maspeth, Middle Village, Ridgewood, Glendale, Woodhaven and Richmond Hill.