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Queens Chronicle

Ognibene to challenge Crowley in council race

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Posted: Thursday, May 21, 2009 12:00 am

Tom Ognibene has gone from challenging Michael Bloomberg for the top seat in the city, to receiving his endorsement as he guns for his old seat on the City Council.

“They’re not rumors,” said Ognibene, an attorney, when asked about hearsay on his possible candidacy.

Ognibene will be challenging Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) for the District 30 Council seat, which includes Maspeth, Middle Village, Glendale, Ridgewood, and parts of Woodhaven and Richmond Hill.

It appears his path to the municipal election will be without road bumps, as Anthony Como, a short-term Republican councilman for the district widely expected to run, has apparently opted out of the race. While Como could not be reached for comment, party sources said he is being considered for an appointed position within city government.

Ognibene’s decision came after lengthy discussions with Republican leaders, including former state Sen. Serphin Maltese and Como.

If elected, this wouldn’t be his first time in the office. Ognibene served in the District 30 seat from 1992 to 2001, when he was forced out due to term limits.

Since that time he has been somewhat at odds with county Republicans.

In 2005 members of the Queens County Republican Party encouraged him to run for the mayoral seat against Bloomberg, taking a stand against the mayor’s lacking in certain Republican ideals.

However, the QCRP switched its endorsement to Bloomberg, who eventually knocked Ognibene off the Republican ballot, succesfully avoiding a primary race. While Ognibene continued to run on the Conservative Party ticket, he was defeated soundly by the incumbent.

Then in 2008, when the city held a special election for the District 30 seat following the departure of former Councilman Dennis Gallagher, the party endorsed Como, though Ognibene had expressed his interest in running.

Both continued their candidacy in the race, which Como ended up winning, only to lose a follow-up election in November to Crowley.

After that election, Ognibene told the Queens Chronicle he was done with politics for good, tired of being at odds with the party.

Now that is all in the past. “We have put to bed all the infighting in the Queens County Republican Party,” he said.

The QCRP has yet to officially endorse Ognibene and is hesitant to make any public comments until it does. However, an upper-level party official who asked not to be named said Ognibene makes a formidable opponent, with plenty of experience including that of minority leader in the council. “We are ecstatic he is running,” the official said.

While Ognibene was considering running for the mayoral seat again this year, he is now happy to have Bloomberg’s endorsement for the district position, he said. Likewise, Ognibene is now supporting the mayor’s bid for a third term. “I don’t think anyone out there can steer through this [economic] crisis like the mayor,” he said.

A spokesperson for Bloomberg did not return a call seeking to confirm the endorsement.

Ognibene said his connection with the mayor’s office, as well as his hands-on experience and knowledge of the budgeting process, would be invaluable to the district if he were elected.

Tom Long, chairman of the Queens County Conservative Party, said that while the group has yet to endorse Ognibene, it will likely happen this week. “I would be more than surprised if it didn’t,” Long said.

“He has experience, he’s not bashful and he speaks out when he sees a wrong being done,” he added. “He will add a strong voice for the working taxpayers of this district.”

Republicans see District 30 as a possible seat they can reclaim. Crowley, the incumbent, is the first Democrat elected to the district since its creation. Both Long and Republican chairman Phil Ragusa have said the 2008 November election was somewhat of a fluke, in which Democratic candidates such as Crowley were swept into office thanks in large part to then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.

“In 2008, there was no doubt that there was an Obama wave or whatever you want to call it,” Long said in a previous interview. “In 2009, there will be people voting primarily for City Council and mayor, which is all local. It will have a different effect.”

Also, Republican Eric Ulrich won a special election in February for neighboring District 32, which includes Howard Beach, Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, South Ozone Park, Woodhaven, Broad Channel and part of the Rockaways. That seat previously belonged to Joseph Addabbo Jr., who vacated the position after being elected to the state Senate.

Crowley did not return calls seeking comment on Ognibene’s candidacy.

Welcome to the discussion.