Craig Caruana didn’t bring up Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) during his recent candidate interview with the Queens Chronicle, but consciously or not, he’s trying to take a page from his fellow Republican’s playbook.
Make your first run for office while younger than just about everyone on the Council, emphasize that you could serve the district better than your opponent, stake out moderate positions and highlight your deep roots in the community, one of the more conservative ones in Queens. Ulrich did it with great success.
Whether Caruana can is something the voters will decide Nov. 5. There is at least one key difference between the two that will have an impact: Ulrich initially ran for an open seat in a special election, while Caruana is facing an incumbent with not only her own experience behind her but one of the biggest political names in Queens: Crowley.
He’s making his inaugural run for elective office against Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village). But despite her advantages in experience, name recognition and party support — and the fact that all signs indicate the man at the top of the Democratic ticket will win the mayoralty, Caruana expresses optimism about his chances.
“I think I can do a better job than the incumbent,” he said. “I’ll be more responsive with constituent services. That’s the biggest complaint I get going door to door: that there’s no response from the incumbent.”
One of the biggest problems for the district, he said, is that it ranks 46th out of 51 when it comes to discretionary funding, money that is mostly doled out as Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) sees fit and then goes to projects each lawmaker picks.
Crowley reportedly lost a lot of her share a few years ago when she put out a press release making an announcement Quinn had wanted to make first. But Caruana says the funding gap goes far deeper than the press release, and symbolizes Crowley’s lack of effectiveness on the Council.
And whatever funding he would get if elected, he said, he would leave it to the people to decide how to spend it. That would be done through participatory budgeting, in which a Council member can decide to let the constituents vote on which projects to fund. Only a handful of Queens lawmakers have utilized it. Crowley is not one of them. Ulrich is.
“I think that’s a really great way to show some outreach and get people involved,” Caruana said, adding that it also “screams transparency” to the citizen. “Voter apathy and cynicism are a huge problem, and that’s a way to address that.
A research investigator for a risk management firm — who once seriously considered going into the intelligence service — Caruana has taken a leave of absence to run his campaign. He’s getting support from members of organizations he’s involved with, such as the Juniper Park Civic Association, and one of his biggest backers is his girlfriend, fellow Middle Village resident Mary Ann Cazzola, a nurse.
To make sure he covers all the issues in the district, he said, he’s putting together a spreadsheet based on what residents are telling him. But he knows where he stands on a number of subjects.
• He opposes granting permits to the Knockdown Center in Maspeth, contending that the operators have not been completely straightforward about what they want to do there.
• He opposes the homeless shelter proposed for Glendale.
• He supports charter schools in general.
• He would have to really think through any proposed change to mayoral control of schools before backing it. But he said Bloomberg’s policy of closing underperforming schools has been “a big, big problem,” and he would have to examine possible closures on a case-by-case basis to determine his position on each one; and that he agrees with the United Federation of Teachers that tying student and teacher evaluations to test scores is wrong as it’s being practiced.
• He regrets the loss of the St. Saviour’s Church property in Maspeth, and blames Crowley but did not make any promises about the dismantled building, saying he didn’t want to make any he may not be able to keep.
• He would like to establish a Polish business organization to help bring members of that community together and make them feel more welcomed by native residents, possibly basing it at the Ridgewood Library.
This article originally misstated the nature of Mary Ann Cazzola's job. She is a nurse. We regret the error.