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Four to seek Gallagher’s seat

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Gallagher, who would have been term limited out of office in 2009, pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors and agreed to relinquish his seat as part of a deal that will keep him out of prison following his arrest last year for sexually assaulting a 52-year-old woman at his Middle Village district office. The councilman announced last week that he would leave office on April 18.In the meantime, four candidates have emerged to campaign for Gallagher's seat, including Democrats Elizabeth Crowley - a cousin of U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) - who ran against Gallagher in 2001, and Charles Ober, first vice president of the Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association. The Republican contenders are Tom Ognibene, a 2005 mayoral candidate who held Gallagher's seat for 10 years, and Anthony Como, a commissioner with the city's Board of Elections and aide to state Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale).A Board of Elections spokeswoman said Mayor Michael Bloomberg would have three days to set the date for the special election following Gallagher's resignation. The election will take place between 45 and 60 days after the mayor's proclamation, she said.The seat now held by the borough's only Republican Council member will remain empty for up to two months, she said. Candidates will have 12 days after the mayor's decision to collect 2,700 signatures to get on the ballot, she said.If elected, a candidate will serve the rest of Gallagher's term and could be elected to serve two more full terms, she said.Crowley, who develops educational programs for city nonprofit agencies, said she thought the key issues in the district were improvements to neighborhood schools, fighting overdevelopment and fixing borough infrastructure to combat flooding."I'm a mother and have two kids in the public schools," she said. "Education is the single most important investment each generation makes for the next. Too many of our kids are falling through the cracks because of overcrowding. My involvement and experience will make the difference and the public will see that giving me the chance to work with them will bring about positive change."Ober, a member of the Queens Civic Congress, said he has been active in Ridgewood community groups, such as the Ridgewood Property Owners, for more than 27 years."I am ready to roll up my sleeves and tackle the problems our communities face, including flooding and sewer under-capacity, safety of railroad crossings, overdevelopment, historical preservation and policing," he said.Ognibene, who served as councilman for the district before Gallagher took office, said he will kick off his campaign on April 1, focusing on issues such as fighting overdevelopment, pushing for lower crime rates and improving education in the district. He said the special election will result in a sink or swim situation."There's not going to be time for on-the-job training," he said. "It's important that the person elected knows the job and is ready on day one to serve - that's me."Como, who was scheduled to kick off his campaign Saturday with a fund-raiser, said he has maintained a presence in the community for the past decade, working as an assistant district attorney in the Queens DA's office, acting as an aide to Maltese and serving as the Queens commissioner of the city's Board of Elections."We need great schools with small class sizes, so our kids can learn, and we need to make sure crime continues to be at its all-time low in the neighborhood," he said. "We need to make sure property taxes remain low. A lot of people who live in this area are blue collar workers who work two jobs to keep their kids in school and pay their mortgages."Several Queens County Republican Party leaders threw their weight behind Como, who ran against state Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) in 2005."He's very highly thought of and works closely with different groups in the community," Maltese said.Queens GOP Chairman Phil Ragusa said Como has been more active than Ognibene in the district, which covers Maspeth, Middle Village, Ridgewood and Glendale. "Quite frankly, I haven't really seen Tom much," he said. "I don't know if he's kept involved in the community. I think we need fresh new ideas and a fresh face."But Ognibene said he believes borough Republicans will vote for him."The only support I've ever asked for is the vote of the people," he said. "Republican voters still remember my service to the city."The Glendale Property Owners Association was scheduled to host a candidate night on April 3 at 7:30 p.m. at the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council at 62-04 Myrtle Ave. in Glendale.

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