Elizabeth Crowley throws hat into congressional race

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley announces her run for U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman's congressional seat flanked by her sons Dennis (l.) and Owen. Photo by Joe Anuta
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City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) formally declared her run for Congress Thursday afternoon, ensuring a three-way scramble for Democrats hoping to snag the seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside).

“The very values that keep our communities safe, that protect our seniors and that help our families prosper need to be assured on a national level,” she said, joined by her sons Dennis and Owen in front of the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. “My story reflects the stories you hear throughout working-class Queens.”

Crowley called herself “uniquely qualified” for the role in Congress, especially in light of the House showdown on health insurance covering contraceptives and women’s health in general.

The news conference marked the second announcement that Crowley would seek the House seat. She quietly announced her campaign through a spokesman’s statement March 19, the same day that state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) was endorsed by the Queens County Democrats and state Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) announced his campaign via a news conference.

Elizabeth Crowley’s cousin, U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), is the chairman of the Queens County Democrats.

When asked why Crowley jumped into a Democratic primary after her cousin already had picked Meng, she said the county Democrats function as a group and do not simply take marching orders from her cousin.

“It’s not a person. It is an organizati­on,” she said, defending her right to give voters more choice. “This is the reason we have Democratic primaries. [Residents] have a right to vote for who they want.”

Crowley only addressed a few questions before cutting off a gaggle of reporters and greeting her supporters.

Political insiders have noted Crowley’s presence in the race will take away votes from the other two Democratic candidates. But speculation in the party as to who will benefit from the split differs greatly.

“She’s white. She might split up the white vote and help Grace,” said a source in the party, referring to the fact that the district is 37 percent Asian, although that number includes both South Asian and East Asian residents. “She is a woman. She might also split up the women vote and help Rory.”

Spokesman Eric Yun would not specifically address speculation that Crowley joined the race to split the vote, but said: “She is in it to win it.”

The contest for the Democratic primary began last Thursday, when U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) unexpectedly announced he would retire at the end of his 15th term on Jan. 2 2013. The announcement was only hours before he was set to be endorsed by the Queens County Democrats.

The Queens County GOP has not endorsed any candidate for the seat, but the shortlist includes City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone); Juan Reyes, president of the Forest Hills Republican club; and J.D. Kim, a lawyer with a practice in Long Island.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 9:27 am, March 23, 2012
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