Council hopefuls tout W. Queens feats

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In one of their final chances to face off before the primary, four candidates vying for City Councilman Tom Ognibene's (D-Middle Village) seat outlined their plans for Council District 30 at a debate held at the Catalpa YMCA in Ridgewood Monday evening.

One of the three Democratic contenders - Robert Cermeli, Elizabeth Crowley and Linda Sansivieri - will emerge from the Sept. 11 primary to face lone Republican candidate Dennis Gallagher in the general November election.

The four political hopefuls are fighting to replace Ognibene, the Republican minority leader who is being forced by term limits to end his 10-year career in City Council.

The debate, sponsored by the Queens Ledger Newspaper Group along with the Woodside Herald and the Queens Gazette, allowed candidates to address issues ranging from community policing to education and city taxes for the district that covers Middle Village, Glendale and Ridgewood as well as parts of Richmond Hill, Woodhaven and Forest Hills.

It was moderated by Queens Ledger publisher and Community Board 5 member Walter Sanchez and featured questions posed by three community leaders.

Cermeli, 56, a 10-year veteran of Community Board 5 and School Board 24, has worked for 33 years as a capital budget administrator for four mayoral agencies, experience he said will be vital to his success in the council.

"You're going to have candidates telling you what they're going to do," he said. "I have a track record."

Crowley, 23, a painter and substitute school teacher, comes from a political family which includes a father who served on the City Council and a cousin who represents Queens in Congress, U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights).

Crowley said the dedication she has demonstrated in reaching out to constituents in the months leading up the election "shows the commitment I'll have in the future."

Sansivieri, 49, a 26-year resident of Middle Village who currently works as a preschool teacher, has served for 12 years on School Board 24 and worked as the staff director for state Assemblyman Frederick Schmidt's Middle Village district office in the 1980s.

"I have hands-on experience with the problems of this district," she said.

Gallagher, who has served for 10 years as Ognibene's chief of staff, is basing much of his campaign on the incumbent's achievements and those of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, which he described as "a stepping stone to build on."

"It is most important that you have a candidate with experience in City Council," Gallagher said.

Green Party candidate Sharain Pereira did not participate in the debate.

All of the candidates said major changes would be necessary to enable the 104th Precinct to effectively address public safety in the district.

Gallagher said he would continue to provide funding for the department as Ognibene has done, most recently through allocations for six new police vehicles and a $300,000 mobile command center.

Both Cermeli and Sansivieri stressed the need to hire more police recruits by offering competitive salaries.

Crowley said she believes a satellite office should be established for the precinct so officers would be better spread out and more capable of responding rapidly to calls.

The candidates were torn on how to address student achievement in the city's struggling school system and particularly District 24, the most overcrowded in the city, represented by Ognibene's council seat.

Gallagher called for the most drastic changes in school leadership, advocating placing the school system under the control of the mayor.

The Democratic candidates consider school boards to be a vital bridge between parents and school officials and would not support their abolition. Sansivieri and Cermeli both advocated placing more control of the schools on a county level, with individual chancellors assigned to each of the five boroughs.

None of the candidates said they would support the proposal by Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, a mayoral candidate, to raise taxes as a means of funding after-school programs for children, although Crowley said she would consider it after all other funding alternatives had been exhausted.

The debate also gave the candidates opportunity to respond to allegations and concerns specific to their individual candidacies which might threaten to sidetrack their quests for City Council.

Gallagher has contended with the most serious allegations in the months leading up to the election, having been accused along with Ognibene of receiving vacations in exchange for political favors by government witness Ronald Lattanzio in the recent corruption trial of Buildings Department employee Darral Hilton.

"They have found nothing because there is nothing," Gallagher said, asserting that neither he nor Ognibene has ever been to the places where the vacations had allegedly been planned.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:22 pm, October 10, 2011
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