Two devastating floods and the scandalous rape case involving a Middle Village councilman dominated headlines in Mid- Queens this year.
In July, then again in August, residents were swamped under torrential downpours that sent sewage-tinged rainwater flooding into low-lying homes and businesses, causing thousands of dollars in property damage.
On Aug. 8, the second — and worst — of the two summer storms rapidly overtaxed the sewers, causing water to bubble up from clogged catch basins and underground arteries too small and poorly maintained to handle the massive inflow.
Soon, civic leaders and lawmakers were calling the flooding “an absolute disgrace.”
Citing trouble spots like the Cooper Avenue Underpass, which was submerged under 12 feet of water, critics faulted the city government for failing to expand the sewage infrastructure, despite steady population growth and rising drainage demands.
Exacerbating the problem, they asserted, was the lack of maintenance of local catch basins and underground pipes.
“Why should we have to suffer because (the city) does not do the damn maintenance?” asked civic leader Bob Holden in September, still fuming about the floods more than a month after the storms.
With recovery efforts lagging across in September, the federal government stepped in with a long-awaited “disaster zone” designation for Queens — thereby, making millions of federal dollars available for temporary housing, home repairs and low-cost loans.
But even today, some flood victims feel shortchanged by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s compensation formula, which only reimburses property owners for a portion of the monetary hit incurred during the storms.
As these flood-ravaged residents were recovering the remaining losses, a Middle Village lawmaker was weathering his own brewing storm of controversy.
On July 9, investigators descended upon the district office of Councilman Dennis Gallagher to scour the premises for evidence of an alleged rape.
The raid came a day after a 52-year-old Middle Village grandmother told police that the councilman had raped and sexually assaulted her there the previous night, after they’d met at a watering hole just around the corner from his home.
Gallagher immediately proclaimed his innocence, saying the sexual encounter had been consensual.
But his accuser’s charges, whether true or not, might as well have spelled the end of his authority on the City Council. With an opening trial date looming in early August, Gallagher relinquished his membership at the Budget Negotiating Committee on the urging of council leadership.
Three days later, the council unanimously voted to strip Gallagher of his six committee assignments and minority whip post, thereby forcing him to forfeit a $5,000-a-year bonus to his regular $112,500 council salary.
Vowing to retain his one remaining title of “councilman,” Gallagher turned himself into police the following week, pleading not guilty to rape and sexual assault at his Aug. 3 arraignment in Queens Criminal Court.
Since his indictment, the councilman has kept a low public profile while preparing for his upcoming trial and trying to regain some of his eroded political clout. So far, these efforts have produced mixed results.
In September, Gallagher quietly threw his hat into a primary race for a delegate’s seat to his Assembly district’s judicial convention — a politically obscure position that he eventually failed to capture after finishing last among five other candidates.
After hiring celebrity attorney Benjamin Brafman (who previously defended Michael Jackson and Sean “P Diddy” Combs), Gallagher won a reprieve in court last month when the presiding judge granted his legal team extra time to challenge his indictment on claims of prosecutorial misconduct.
A final decision is expected on Jan. 24.