All signs pointed to a victory.
People coming out of the polling booths had said they voted for Elizabeth Crowley, 31, the Democratic challenging for the District 30 council seat. During the lead-up to the election, unaffiliated voters were saying they would also support her.
Crowley waited with supporters at the Woodhaven House in Rego Park for the results. As they trickled in, she had reason to remain optimistic. But she also remained cautious.
Finally, her opponent, incumbent Councilman Anthony Como (R-Middle Village), called her to concede. For Crowley, this moment had been in the works not for months, but years. After three attempts at the seat, she had finally won it.
When she is sworn in to office in January, Crowley will be the first Democrat to take the District 30 seat, which covers Maspeth, Middle Village, Glendale, Ridgewood, and parts of Woodhaven and Richmond Hill. She first ran for the seat in 2001, losing to Republican Dennis Gallagher, then losing in June in a special election to Como. The special election was necessary after Gallagher resigned as part of a plea deal following charges of sexual assault.
When she lost the special election, by just 41 votes, some people involved in local civic groups suggested she shouldn’t run again. She didn’t think that was a possibility.
“How could I not run again? I owed it to my supporters to run again. It was way too close.”
Crowley comes from a large — surprisingly large, in fact — family of civic and politically minded people. Both her grandfathers were police officers. Her father, Walter Crowley, put himself through law school prior to meeting his wife, Mary Childs Crowley. Then, as Elizabeth describes it, “they had as many kids as they possibly could have.” Elizabeth is number 14 of 15.
While most are probably more familiar with her cousin, U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), both of Elizabeth’s parents served on the City Council, though only for a short time. Walter Crowley was appointed to fill Thomas Manton’s seat in January of 1985, when Manton vacated it to fill Geraldine Ferraro’s congressional seat.
However, weeks after winning a tough primary race in September, Walter died of cancer. His wife filled the seat for the remainder of the term.
The parents’ focus on civic work clearly had an impact on their children, most of whom went on to become teachers and nurses, or got involved with the local community board or civic groups.
For the council-elect, that impact clearly manifested itself in politics, and her goals during her administration reflect her education and history. The mother of two boys, Owen, 11, and Dennis, 12, Crowley campaigned heavily on improving education.
“I want to make sure our kids have good access to public high schools, because right now, they don’t, not locally, not as good as we can give them,” she said. “Most parents in my community send their kids to private high schools.”
She noted that Grover Cleveland, in Ridgewood, is at 200 percent capacity, and, on average in city schools, only half the students graduate on time.
While she isn’t impressed with the mayoral control form of school governance, which gave the mayor full control of the city’s schools in 2002, she isn’t a proponent of returning to the old system of school boards. Rather, she said the current system needs to be tweaked, including placing an educator, and not an attorney such as Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, in the top position.
She said the amount of money spent on improving the system hasn’t done enough, and would have been better spent on new teachers and reducing class size.
Crowley hold a bachelors degree in restoration/preservation and a masters degree in city and regional planning. Not surprisingly, preserving the character of the district is of utmost importance to her.
District 30 is a semi-suburban area, unlike most of the city. The homes are generally not near train stations and construction is of a lower density. “People that live here are happy that it is that way; they’re happy to have a driveway and a backyard,” she said.
But in recent years, the development has been increasing, with new structures being built larger. Regulations are being bent and more people are occupying residences. This is affecting the area’s infrastructure, from the sewer system to the number of kids in schools.
The area is having a hard enough time adjusting to the recent growth. More would overburden an already overburdened system, she said. “We’ve got to play catch-up before we can further develop,” she said.
Of course, there is a chance that Crowley will have to vacate her seat in just one year, as this election was only to fill the remainder of Gallagher’s term, which ends after 2009.
However, with her education, environmental and preservation goals and her opportunity to follow through on her promises, she doesn’t expect that to be a problem.
“If I do my job as well as I intend to, my work will speak for itself and I don’t think there will be any competition,” she said.