By William Lewis
An important focal point in the 30th City Council seat special election recently occurred at the Juniper Park Civic Association Candidates' Night.
Although all four candidates had agreed to participate, only two were present: Republican Thomas Ognibene and Democrat Charles Ober. The other candidates, Democrat Elizabeth Crowley and Republican Anthony Como, indicated they could not appear due to other commitments shortly before the function.
There were over 100 guests in attendance. Opening statements were made by the candidates, discussing their backgrounds and qualifications to hold the office. This was followed by questions from a panel of association executive members, which led to written questions from the floor.
Once the meeting started, it moved rapidly. Ognibene spoke of his experience in being a member of the City Council for 10 years (1992-2001), which included seven years as the minority leader. He mentioned his efforts in developing the city budget. He also discussed how he has worked on getting a larger police presence in the community and dealing with school overcrowding.
Ober cited his efforts to improve quality of life through the Ridgewood Civic Association. He mentioned his efforts in combating drug traffic near the Brooklyn border. He believes his background in corporate finances should help in working on city financial priorities.
Both candidates singled out overdevelopment in the district as a serious problem that needs to be continually addressed. To stress this matter, Ognibene held up an enlarged photograph of a house being built by Como, his Republican opponent. He indicated that this house was too large and detracted from the neighborhood's character.
Ober also said that as a councilman, he would work on developing programs to assist senior citizens.
Ognibene has the Conservative Party's endorsement and Crowley the Working Families Party's endorsement. Now Ober has received the Independence Party's endorsement. Third party support is spread out among three of the four candidates.
Ober has the support of the large, Manhattan-based 504 Democratic Club, which emphasizes disability rights. He has been endorsed by City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside).
“Charles Ober has been active in the Democratic Party and active in his community for a long period of time,” said Avella, in making his endorsement. “This is the type of person we should be electing to public office, a candidate that has a real commitment to the community.” Avella has announced he will be a mayoral candidate next year.
During the program, Lorraine Sciulli, an executive panel member and civic first president, indicated that if Crowley had been present, she would have asked her the following question: “According to a Campaign Finance Board audit, your campaign was required to pay $56,267 in penalties, $22,207 of which was for exceeding expenditure limits. Another $20,000 was for failure to adequately explain allegations of money order fraud. The penalties are currently being paid on an installment plan. Why should we trust you to handle our tax money when it appears you can't handle campaign contributions?” (This matter referred to Crowley's 2001 losing Council race.)
Ognibene and Ober were very knowledgeable about the issues affecting their City Council race. The Candidates' Night was presided over by Juniper Park Civic Association President Robert Holden, who ran a well-organized meeting. The civic is one of Queens' largest and active in Middle Village and Maspeth. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has referred to it as “the most successful civic association in the City of New York.”
This race concludes June 3, with voting taking place on the same day as the petition drive for the next 30th Council campaign. If this race is close and the results are decided by absentee ballots or a recount, the second campaign will go into motion without an incumbent Council member. It could be weeks before it is known who the winner is in the special election.