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Mayor plants political seeds in Queens: Rival

Bloomberg, who announced a $15 million infusion for a citywide pothole-filling "blitz" in Glendale March 28, launched the $3.4 million sidewalk repair initiative Thursday in Middle Village. Both areas are the home turf of Bloomberg's chief Republican rival for the mayoralty, former City Councilman Tom Ognibene, who represented the Community Board 5 district for a decade. "Obviously, the mayor is deeply concerned about my candidacy," Ognibene said in a telephone interview Thursday. "This is two days in a row that he's gone into my council district. So it's clear I'm on his mind, which is important to me. I'm happy to know that."The Queens GOP endorsed Ognibene for mayor in February, causing a rift in the borough's Republican Party. Ognibene said "anybody who is capable of a rational thought" could see Bloomberg's recent visits were politically motivated. On March 3, Bloomberg spoke for nearly an hour at a meeting of the Juniper Park Civic Association in Middle Village, where he came out against the controversial cross harbor freight tunnel project, which local residents contend would flood west Maspeth with thousands of trucks a day. City Councilman Dennis Gallagher (D-Middle Village), Ognibene's former chief of staff and protege, said Bloomberg is clearly trying to ingratiate himself with middle-class voters who were turned off by the mayor's 18.5 percent property tax hike."The mayor realizes that he has some problems with middle-class communities," Gallagher said. "Him coming here today shows that he's trying to close that divide." Both Gallagher and Ognibene said they welcomed Bloomberg's presence in their neighborhood, saying it will keep the mayor's focus on Queens."As long as I'm in the race he remembers that there's a Queens County," Ognibene said. "If I can force him to do right for the community, then that's just another benefit."Middle Village resident Mary Beaumont, 58, said she was thrilled by Bloomberg's sidewalk initiative, which the mayor said should repair as many as 2,000 damaged sidewalks in the next 12 months. "I think it's excellent," Beaumont said. "People are tired of taking money out of their pockets fixing these things. A lot of older people in the area, they can't afford to do it."Adrian Benepe, commissioner of the city Department of Parks and Recreation, said the city gets 2,500 sidewalk repair requests a year. Past policy required homeowners to shell out as much as $1,000 to hire a contractor to fix them, Benepe said. "This is a problem that has been gnawing at us for decades," Benepe said. The new initiative started last Thursday. Homeowners with damaged sidewalks should report them to the city's 311 service hotline. The Parks Department will investigate the crack and prioritize repairs based on the severity of damage and the amount of traffic on the walkway, Benepe said. Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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