Thursday, October 1, 2009

Now an Incumbent, Crowley Seeks Full City Council Term

Nov Contests Marks Third Election Since Gallagher Resigned

By Conor Greene

For the third time in less than a year and a half, and the fourth time in her short political career, Elizabeth Crowley is kicking off a campaign for election to the 30th District City Council seat. There is one major difference this time around, however – she is running as an incumbent, allowing her to run on her record over the past nine months in office.

Crowley (D-Middle Village) is no stranger to campaigns as a result of the political turmoil that has gripped the district since former Councilman Dennis Gallagher resigned after pleading guilty to sexual assault last March. Since that time, Crowley lost to Republican Anthony Como during a four-way special election last summer, before winning last November’s rematch.

In an interview with the The Forum this week, Crowley said she never had doubts about running again this November, when she will face former Republican City Councilman Tom Ognibene, who represented the district from 1991 until term limits forced him from office in 2001. “I like the job and there is still so much to do,” said Crowley. “In the first nine months we started a lot, have quite a number of accomplishments, but still have more to do.”

Crowley, who first entered the political fray when she lost to Gallagher in 2001, hails from a well-known political family. Her cousin, Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), is head of the county Democratic Party, and both her parents served on the City Council at one point as the result of political appointments. While Ognibene expects to benefit from his close relationship to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Crowley touted her ties to organized labor and said a number of key endorsements will be unveiled in the coming weeks. “I don’t think any organized labor union will endorse my opponent,” she said.

While Crowley says the last nine months passed in the blink of an eye, she counted among her accomplishments pushing to have the downzoning of parts of Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale through the City Council, although critics say that effort started four years ago when volunteers went door to door surveying each block. “My number one promise was the rezoning, and it sat on people’s desks for over four years before it got the attention it needed and became law. That I can take credit for,” she said.

In addition, Crowley bragged that after years of Republican leadership in the district, which also includes parts of Ridgewood, Woodhaven and Richmond Hill, she was able to “bring back more discretionary and capital dollars that this community has ever had from a councilmember.” She is now looking forward to seeing projects such as the rebuilding of St. Saviour’s Church and renovations to local libraries come to fruition.

Another huge victory for Crowley was the successful push by her and other officials to prevent 16 fire companies from being eliminated, including Engine 271, which serves a portion of the district in the Ridgewood area. “I was quite relieved when we were able to keep all 16 fire companies open, and I don’t think that would have happened if we didn’t make as much noise as we did,” she said. “I was particularly happy to see that.”

Crowley is also looking forward to seeing her first piece of legislation brought up for a hearing next month, although the new law was the result of tragic circumstances. The Robert Ogle Law would increase the penalties for leaving an unattended car idling and is named after the Middle Village teenager who was fatally struck along with a friend by an alleged drunken driver earlier this year. The driver had stolen the unattended vehicle from a nearby deli just minutes before causing the tragedy on 80th Street. “It sometimes takes years and years [to push new laws] but we’ve been nudging the legislative department on this,” said Crowley.

So far, Crowley has stayed relatively quiet on the campaign front, instead focusing on her council duties. “I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to work on citywide issues such as healthcare and education and be able to get good results, while never forgetting about what’s going on here in my backyard,” she said, adding that time constraints are by far the job’s biggest challenge. “It’s making sure that you are everywhere. You are one person, so you are limited by your schedule, and [despite] working around the clock, there are still so many more people you want to meet with,” she said.

Immediately after being sworn into office, Crowley was confronted with a major issue that divided her constituents – the city’s plan to build a 1,100-seat high school on the former Restaurant Depot site in Maspeth. While she voted against the project, she was unable to garner enough support from her colleagues to block the plan. However, she says that convincing the city to provide priority zoning for the local community was still a major accomplishment.

“The [city] spent two years working on that project, and the mayor wanted it in his capital budget, and months into my administration I went up against a whole administration that wanted to put a school open to every student in the City of New York in Maspeth,” said Crowley. “I won and was able to get priority zoning like no other councilmember was able to get. I stuck to my guns.”

Crowley placed a lot of the blame for that situation on Gallagher, who served as Ognibene’s chief of staff before winning the council seat in 2001. “I know that for two years before I was there, a lot of things happened… So when my opponent says all these good things about his chief of staff… that’s part of the reason the community suffered a lot in those two years,” she said.

Other than that jab at Gallagher, Crowley declined to criticize Ognibene. “I wish him well and look forward to the next couple weeks of campaigning. I hope he remains a gentleman and we can have a peaceful dialogue about what’s important,” she said.

Over the next five weeks, Crowley expects to continue to share her message and vision for the district with voters, while at the same time the Republican Party works to regain a seat it once held. “I feel great,” she said. “I have more support than ever before. If the election was today, I think I win by a landslide.”

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