2008-04-02 / Political Page

Mayor Faces Tough Task To Get Dem Support In Albany

Mayor Michael Bloomberg won a major political victory on Monday when the City Council passed his congestion pricing plan, but he faces a far tougher task in Albany where Assembly Democrats have not been very receptive to the controversial proposal.

From all indications, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is not going to go out of his way to take up the congestion pricing bill. He made it clear, when asked after the council passed it, that his first priority is trying to get a budget passed and then he'll deal with congestion pricing.

The deadline for the legislature to pass the mayor's bill is next Monday, April 7, in order to secure $350 million in federal funds the mayor is seeking.

According to several reports, the mayor and Council Speaker Quinn exerted considerable pressure to gather the votes that resulted in passage of the bill on Monday. It would appear that the same tactics in Albany would be much less likely to achieve a successful conclusion since Silver has maintained a strict neutrality on the proposal thus far.

In trying to round up votes to get his bill passed in the council, the mayor pulled out all the stops. In one instance, according to a report in last Sunday's Daily News, the mayor told Councilmember Hiram Monserrate that he would support Monserrate if he decides to run for the state senate again later this year against incumbent Senator John Sabini (D- Jackson Heights).

Monserrate said the mayor's action caught him by surprise, and although he was "appreciative of the mayor's support and flattered", he has made no plans at this point to challenge Sabini in the Democratic primary.

The mayor's offer of support came at a Gracie Mansion reception for councilmembers who supported the congestion pricing proposal. What is surprising is that the mayor will need Sabini's support to get his proposal approved by the senate. What kind of an offer can he make to the Jackson Heights lawmaker?

SPECIAL ELECTION: Mayor Michael Bloomberg has not set a date for the special election to replace Dennis Gallagher in the 30th District (Middle Village/Glendale/Forest Hills), but that hasn't stopped four would-be candidates in that election to declare their intention to run for the seat.

Eager to vie for the post are Anthony Como and former Councilmember Tom Ognibene, both Republicans from Middle Village, and Elizabeth Crowley of Glendale and Charles Ober of Ridgewood, both Democrats.

The party affiliations will not be listed on the ballot because special elections are non-partisan, but that won't stop Como and Ognibene from making their campaigns into a party brawl.

There's less likelihood that Crowley and Ober will get entangled because Crowley has been endorsed by the Queens Democratic organization and Ober, who's a member of the Ridgewood Democratic Club, an organization affiliate, hinted he may not challenge the organization's choice.

Crowley, who ran for the council once before, is related to Congressmember Joseph Crowley, who doubles as Queens Democratic Party chairman.

As for Como and Ognibene, Como was endorsed by Queens GOP Leader Phil Ragusa, state Senator Serphin Maltese and by the Republican county executive committee.

Ognibene said he was not invited to attend the meeting where Como was endorsed although he is a member of the committee and had previously informed Ragusa that he was interested in running for the vacant seat.

Ognibene held that seat for 10 years before having to give it up under the city's term limits law in 2001.

He's planning a full press campaign against Como, who presently serves as chief counsel to Maltese. Como also serves as Queens commissioner at the Board of Elections and is active in several civic and community organizations in his home neighborhood of Middle Village and elsewhere in the council district.

Como has not responded to our request to interview him for his account of the special election, but we hope to meet with him soon as part of our continuing coverage of that story.

We also have not been able to connect with Crowley, but we did interview Ober last week. He is president of the Ridgewood Democratic Club, of which Assemblymember Catherine Nolan is executive member and the local Democratic district leader.

Ober said Nolan will not make any endorsement for the special election and he was waiting to see what the county organization intends to do about it. Since then, the county organization officially endorsed Crowley in the special election, so we'll have to wait and see whether Ober plans to go forward with his candidacy.

If he does not, Crowley could have a distinct edge in a race where her two Republican opponents may likely split their vote. The Republicans have managed to hold on to the 30th district seat for more than 10 years, although the number of registered Democrats in the district exceeds that of Republicans.

Maltese, however, has been able to hold his state senate seat in the same area covered by the council district, so we'll have to watch and see if a Republican can win in a special election, one where the Republican vote may be split. A lone Democrat, if that turns out to be the case, will benefit from the vote split as well as a strong effort by the county Democratic organization.

AVELLA LAUNCHES 2009 MAYORAL RUN: "This is the beginning of a revolution," City Councilmember Tony Avella declared last Sunday from the steps of City Hall as he announced the start of his effort to win the 2009 mayoral race.

An admitted underdog running on a platform calling for lower taxes, less development and improved schools, the 56- year-old Bayside lawmaker told an audience of about 100 supporters: "We are going to change the way city government operates. The campaign is about all of us truly having a say and a stake in what happens in their own neighborhoods."

Avella, a maverick in the council for the past six years, has only $180,000 in his campaign kitty- far behind city Comptroller William Thompson ($4.6 million), Congressmember Anthony Wiener ($3.6 million), Council Speaker Christine Quinn ($2.5 million), and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz ($900,000). Like Avella, all are Democrats seeking their party's nomination. The lone Republican in the field is millionaire supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis.

WEINER SETS CAMPAIGN AGENDA: In a talk before a businessmen's group last week, Weiner (D- Queens/Brooklyn) struck a major theme of his mayoral campaign: recapturing full control of the city's destiny from Albany.

Why, Weiner asked, must the city's mayor ask Albany for permission to manage the city's finances to run its own schools and to make decisions on huge development proposals?

Citing the current major controversial issue, congestion pricing, Weiner said one of the major faults of the mayor's plan is that revenues from it go to "an unelected state authority", the MTA.

VALLONE, SANDERS ADDRESS FORECLOSURES: Mindful that 10 of the city's 15 ZIP codes hit hardest by the subprime mess are in Queens, Councilmembers Peter Vallone Jr. (D- Astoria) and James Sanders (D- Rockaway) made proposals to deal with rampant mortgage foreclosures.

Vallone, whose district includes part of hard-hit Jackson Heights, is proposing legislation to make it a felony for a mortgage lender to "unduly influence" an elderly homeowner.

Sanders submitted a resolution last week calling for foreclosure abatement legislation, suspending foreclosures for a year in order to give homeowners time to seek refinancing from banks.

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