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Crowley faces 4 opponents from the Bronx

Provided no one is removed from the ballot, Crowley will face Democrats Aniello "Neil" Grimaldi, Dennis Coleman and Curtis Brooks in the Sept. 14 primary, according to the city Board of Elections ballot petition filings.

The winner would then square off with Republican and Conservative contender Joseph Cinquemani, who bills himself as the "people's choice for principled leadership."

Grimaldi, a former assistant district attorney in his home borough, said he had always wanted to run for Congress.

Motivated by what he saw as a need for major reforms, he decided to make a bid for the Queens-Bronx district about a month ago.

"I think we need major change," the 57-year-old Bronx native said. "I'm opposed to the established political system where the control is the hands of the county party."

Crowley, whose district in Queens now covers Jackson Heights, Woodside, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst, College Point, Maspeth and portions of Corona, shrugged off concerns that he was more of a Queens man than a Bronx one even though 55 percent of his constituents are in the north borough today.

"Over the last two years we've worked hard," Crowley said in an interview this week. "We're becoming very, very well known throughout the Bronx," where he said he enjoyed a wide margin of support in the last election.

After the redistricting, Crowley carried 64 percent of the primary vote in 2002, beating Democratic challenger Coleman who waged an unsuccessful bid for Crowley's seat, garnering 34 percent of the vote. Crowley went on to win the election with 73 percent of the vote, his office said.

Coleman, a community activist and former New York state senator who made a failed run for the Democratic nomination in Crowley's district in 2002, did not return phone calls requesting comment.

Brooks, who made a failed bid to unseat City Councilman Larry Seabrook (D-Bronx) last year, could not be reached.

Cinquemani, the Republican challenger, did not return calls requesting comment.

Grimaldi, who lives in the Bronx with his wife, promised to promote legislation aimed at increasing funding for social programs and medical care for minorities. He also is intent on prodding the federal government to allow for the non-partisan appointment of Justice Department personnel and on pushing stronger protections for personal privacy and freedoms.

In a phone interview, Grimaldi sought to draw a clear line between himself and Crowley, saying the incumbent's career in politics had left him out of touch with the average citizen.

As a private lawyer who has represented indigents in the Bronx and New York City, Grimaldi said he has "been more attuned" to the concerns of the people.

Crowley disagreed.

"I think the fact that I've been re-elected overwhelming over the past 18 year in any office that I have run for proves that I'm not out of touch," said Crowley who served as a state assemblyman for 12 years before being elected to Congress in 1998.

Before going into private practice, where he represented southeastern Queens developer Everly Brown in his battle to get on the ballot for City Council, Grimaldi worked as a citywide narcotics prosecutor, an assistant district attorney, an aide to the City Council in Queens and a New York Senate lawyer.

Grimaldi took issue with Crowley's voting record and questioned his Democratic credentials on issues such as the Iraq war, the Patriot Act and the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which Crowley voted to approve.

"I think he's a Bush Democrat ... He has voted for everything (Bush wanted)," Grimaldi said.

It is a charge that Crowley flatly denied.

"You don't become a member of the House leadership by being a Bush Democrat and a Republican Democrat," said Crowley, who serves as deputy minority whip and is one of the top 16 Democratic lawmakers in Congress.

According to a survey of 2002 voting records from Congressional Quarterly, Crowley's votes were in line with the Democratic Party 93 percent of the time. Some 61 percent of the time, Crowley voted in opposition to Bush initiatives.

"I'm not opposed to the Patriot Act in concept," Grimaldi said of the sweeping legislation that gave the federal government broad powers to investigate suspected terrorists while drawing criticism from civil libertarians for being too invasive. "But I think it could be more moderate."

Crowley, whose cousin died in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center, agreed that the Patriot Act, which was rushed to the floor of Congress a month after the attacks, needed to be retooled.

Grimaldi also took aim at the No Child Left Behind Act, saying it failed students by forcing teachers to instruct for tests and not to address their wholistic development as human beings.

Crowley said the intent of the sweeping educational reform package that instituted a rigid set of testing standards in order for schools to receive federal funding was good, but he criticized the Bush administration for under-funding the program.

The Iraq war resolution, the Patriot Act and the No Child Left Behind Law garnered widespread support from both sides of the aisle when they were passed and Crowley maintained that his voting record reflected the interests of his constituents.

Grimaldi, an interfaith minister and author who writes about peace and religious conflict, was particularly critical of the war in Iraq.

Ultimately, Grimaldi said he supports the creation of a U.S. Department of Peace, which would provide for a cabinet-level position to advocate nonviolent conflict resolution on the international stage.

Grimaldi said he intends to challenge Crowley and other candidates to a series of public debates on television and in front of local community groups. Citing Crowley's significant war chest, Grimaldi said people might not otherwise have an opportunity to see how the candidates differed on substantive issues. As of the Crowley campaign's last filing with the Federal Election Commission through the end of June, Crowley had nearly $700,000 in cash after already having spent an almost an equal amount over the course of the election cycle.

Grimaldi said he has begun fund-raising but declined to discuss his progress.

None of the Democratic challengers has filed information with the Federal Election Commission.

As of July 14, Republican Cinquemani has raised slightly more than $20,000, but was left with only $241 in cash on hand.

Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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