2008-04-23 / Political Page

Mayor Sets June 3 For Special Election To Fill Gallagher's Seat

When Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced on Monday that the special election to fill former City Councilmember Dennis Gallagher's 30th Council District seat in Western Queens would be held on June 3, he set in motion a series of three elections to select representatives to occupy that office.

Waiting to have a go at what promises to be a fierce battle for the seat are six announced candidates, three Democrats and three Republicans.

The Republicans are Anthony Como, the county organization's designee and the Queens Commissioner of Elections, Thomas Ognibene, who held the post before Gallagher, and Joseph Suraci, an attorney who had been active in GOP politics in the past. All are Middle Village residents.

The Democrats are: Elizabeth Crowley, a cousin of Queens party leader Congressmember Joseph Crowley, who lost to Gallagher in 2001, and is the Democratic Party choice, Charles Ober, the choice of the Ridgewood Democratic Club, and Michael Mascetti, a paralegal from Middle Village.

Whoever turns out to be the June 3 special election winner will be running to serve only until the end of this year.

Meanwhile, on Election Day, November 4, voters in the district will go to the polls again to elect someone to serve out Gallagher's unexpired term, which ends Dec. 31, 2009.

The third election, to be held on Election Day in November 2009 will select the person who will represent the 30th Council District for a full fouryear term beginning Jan. 1, 2010.

The special election was set up when Gallagher, 43, resigned last Friday from the post he had held since 2002. His resignation was part of a plea of guilty to charges growing out of his arrest

on assault charges brought by a constituent.

For the Republicans, the main fight in the special election will be between Como, counsel to state Senator Serphin Maltese (R- C, Middle Village), and Ognibene, who lost the seat in 2001 to term limits.

Ognibene, who had been virtually second in command under Maltese, the county leader, when he left office in 2001, faded out of the picture for a short while when he had some health problems.

Since then, Maltese resigned as county leader about two years ago and was replaced by Philip Ragusa of Whitestone. Ognibene and Suraci have charged that they weren't given an opportunity to get the party's endorsement and both have promised a strong effort to win the special election.

On the Democratic side, Ober announced a challenge to Crowley when she was endorsed by the county leaders. Ober claims he was not given a chance to address the group.

As a result, no candidate in either party can expect solid support and it appears that Crowley will have an edge in the balloting because of the regular Democratic organization's dominance of elections in the county.

Scandal Over Slush Funds Has Angered Many Councilmembers: No one has made a public move to try to depose Councilmember Christine Quinn from the Speaker's chair because of the widening investigation into misuse of city funds, but it wouldn't be any surprise if an effort to remove her is launched.

Many councilmembers, including several from Queens, have been very outspoken in their criticism of Quinn's actions because of the embarrassment they are suffering. The whole mess has already started to interfere with the budget process as council Finance Committee Chairman David Weprin canceled scheduled meetings this week during which several small organizations were to come in and make their case for funding in the budget.

Weprin said he didn't think a delay of a week or two would make much of a difference, and it would provide time for possible policy changes in giving out discretionary funds, which are at the heart of the federal investigation that has already led to indictments of two council workers.

While many councilmembers have gone off the record to criticize Quinn's proposals to impose some reforms to correct a situation she was responsible for, Councilmember John Liu (D- Flushing) pulled no punches last week after Quinn issued apologies for the whole mess.

"This was nothing more than trying to get some political cover for what had happened already, and it was problematic because calling it reform casts the whole body [the City Council] in a negative light as if somehow we needed to be reformed," Liu told one reporter.

About a week previous to that, Liu issued a release commenting on Quinn's reform proposals.

"These so-called reforms are nothing more than back-pedaling that unfortunately weakens the council as a legislative counter-balance to the executive branch of government," Liu stated.

Then ramping up his anger several notches to talk about Quinn's mayoral plans, Liu declared, "It's amazing how naked ambition to the mayoralty can result in the leader of the legislative body becoming the body's own worst enemy.

"It's fine for Speaker Quinn to try and fix things in her own administration, but don't tie the hands of future councils."

Liu concluded, "If you get caught with your hands in the cookie jar, just let go of the cookies and remove your hand, and maybe give yourself a slap on the wrist. But do not tie the hands of all successors."

Councilmember Leroy Comrie (D- Jamaica), council Majority Whip, was also critical of Quinn for weakening her position vis a vis the mayor as a result of the ongoing probe. "People want to see the Speaker defend the institution and ensure that the institution at the end of the day stays what it was meant to be by its original mandate: a counterpart to the executive branch," he declared.

A similar comment came from Councilmember Tony Avella (D- Bayside).

As we said, many councilmembers are very angry over the fact that Quinn adopted the scheme of secretly setting aside money in the budget and then giving it out later to community groups, several in her own district. It has obviously weakened her position with many councilmembers. Future developments in the ongoing probe could radically affect the Speaker's position at City Hall.

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