By Gabriel Rom
The late City Councilman Tom Ognibene was a physically imposing man, but Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) never saw him as such. Rather for Ulrich, Ognibene “was not a towering figure — he often lowered himself to pick others up.”
The many friends, family and political colleagues who were raised up by Ognibene came together to say their final farewell last Friday morning at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Glendale.
Customarily eulogies are not given at Sacred Heart Church at the end of a mass, but due to the especially intimate bond between Ulrich and Ognibene, the young Queens Republican offered brief but heartfelt words at the end of the service.
“He was larger than life in so many ways,” Ulrich added. “He was a giant.”
“Tom was a wise man and a giving man,” said Rev. John J. Fullum, who led services. “God, family and friends were at the center of his life. He stood for family values at a time when it is very difficult to do that.”
The funeral was a true bipartisan affair with elected officials from both the Republican and Democratic parties present.
Those in attendance included Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, Queens GOP Chairman Bob Turner, U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), among others.
Ognibene died Oct. 12 at the age of 72. After his death condolences flooded in from both and Democratic and Republican officials.
“Tom Ognibene dedicated himself to our community and city,” Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale), tweeted last week. “He was a true gentleman.”
“When Tom first ran for elected office, people said he was crazy,” Ulrich told the congregation. “They were right.”
Ulrich, making a reference to himself and the debt he owed Ognibene for jump-starting his own political career, cited Sir Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further than others, it is only because I was standing upon the shoulders of giants.”
Ognibene, first elected to the Council in 1991, mixed a strong conservative vision with practicality and brought the interests of the central section of the borough to a citywide platform. He exhibited a knack for political horse-trading and quickly rose to the position of Council minority leader in 1994, holding the position until 2001 when he left office because of term limits. In 2005 Ognibene unsuccessfully challenged then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the Republican mayoral primary.
Speaking as much to Ognibene as to those in attendance, Ulrich concluded his eulogy.
“Tom didn’t sacrifice years of his life in vain. He took what he learned, shared it with those he loved, and he carried out the remainder of his days with grace and dignity. How honorable. How rare.”
Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@