By Nathan Duke
In late March, Gallagher announced he would step down from office April 18 as part of a plea deal to keep him out of prison following his arrest last summer for sexually assaulting a 52-year-old woman at his Middle Village office.Four candidates hinted at a run for Gallagher's seat before he had announced he would step down, including Democrats Elizabeth Crowley and Charles Ober as well as Republicans Thomas Ognibene and Anthony Como. They were joined last Thursday at the forum by Republican Joseph Suraci, a Middle Village attorney who previously ran against state Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Ridgewood), and Democrat Michael Mascetti, a Middle Village resident who formed a non-profit group that tutors low-income students.Under city election law, candidates cannot run on party affiliation in a special election because there will not be enough time for primaries to be held, a city Board of Elections spokeswoman said.”We have just been confronted with an unprecedented situation,” Suraci said of Gallagher's resignation. “I think what we need in the area is a change, a new moral climate. We need a clean sweep.”The candidates told the standing-room-only crowd that the key issues in District 30, which covers Middle Village, Maspeth, Glendale and Ridgewood, were overdevelopment, school improvements and retaining programs for seniors.”Overdevelopment is a shame,” said Ober, first vice president of the Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association. “We need to get downzoned. There has been a lack of political leadership in this district.”Crowley, a cousin of U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) who ran against Gallagher in 2001, said one of the top focuses for her campaign is education.”I have two kids in the public schools,” she said. “Education is the most important investment each generation can make for the next. On week one [as council member], I'll meet with every principal in this district.”Como, a commissioner with the city's Board of Elections and an aide to state Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale), said he would fight to ensure that senior citizen programs are not cut from the city's budget as they have been in the past and vowed to push for a more open City Hall.”In their senior years, residents should live comfortably and not have to worry about being fed,” he said. “And we need to open the doors and make city government more transparent.”Mascetti said he would focus on taxes during his campaign.”I'd propose to freeze property taxes,” he said. “My grandmother lives on a fixed income and Social Security, but taxes go up every year. She is struggling to survive.”Mayor Michael Bloomberg will set a date for the election within three days after Gallagher steps down April 18. The election must then take place within 30 to 45 days, a city Elections Board spokeswoman said. The candidate who wins the seat will fulfill Gallagher's duties for the remainder of the year and another election will be held in November to determine who will fill the seat in 2009, she said.A third election will then be held in November 2009 and the winner will serve for two years. If a candidate wins all three elections, they could run for one more four-year term in 2011.Ognibene a 2005 mayoral candidate who held Gallagher's seat for 10 years, said he believes he has an advantage over the other candidates in the race because of his City Council experience. He said he will not get bogged down in the numerous elections that will be held for the seat during the next several years.”Somebody who comes in new will be running for office and not prepared to serve,” he said. “As soon as you are elected, you have to begin collecting signatures for the next election and then run again in 2009. It's a very daunting task. I have hands-on experience that will make me ready to serve on day one.”Vincent Arcuri, chairman of Community Board 5, said the candidate who fills Gallagher's seat could play an important role in the City Council.”They could be the most senior member of the Council,” he told Glendale Property Owners members. “So, choose wisely and think of the future because we will have a lot of influence.”Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.