Debating before an audience that shrank dramatically following the departure of Republican mayoral candidate Mike Bloomberg, three contenders for City Councilman Tom Ognibenes (R-Middle Village) seat sounded off last week at a forum sponsored by the Juniper Park Civic Association.
A crowd of more than 300 residents from Middle Village and nearby neighborhoods gathered last Thursday night to hear Bloomberg, whose visit elicited enthusiastic shouts of support from sections of the audience.
Democratic mayoral candidate Mark Green did not attend but was represented at the meeting by U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), prompting boos from residents who believe his campaign has neglected the area.
Stressing that his administration would build upon the legacy left by Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Bloomberg repeatedly touched on a theme that the best days in this city are yet to come.
The media mogul began and ended his visit by voicing strong support for the candidacy of Dennis Gallagher, a Republican who served as Ognibenes chief of staff and hopes to succeed his boss in the City Council.
But Democratic hopeful Elizabeth Crowley received a boost of her own as her cousin Joseph Crowley touted her as someone who has accomplished a great deal in her life.
He also tried to quell concerns about the 23-year-old candidates age by informing the crowd that he had been elected to the state Assembly when he was only 24.
Gallagher faced Elizabeth Crowley and Green Party candidate Sharain Pereira in a brief debate conducted at the end of the meeting, by which point much of the audience had trickled out following Bloombergs departure.
Whereas Gallagher said his background in government would enable him to further the accomplishments of Ognibene and Giuliani, Crowley and Pereira assured the audience they would bring change to a system that is struggling.
I have the experience needed to make sure our city goes in the right direction, Gallagher said.
Crowley, raising her voice to a passionate pitch, tried to rally the audience behind her in a bid for reform.
Now change is needed more than ever, she said, decrying the low performance of the educational system and shortages of local police officers as unacceptable.
Pereira, who had not been actively campaigning in the Middle Village area, presented herself as a person who thinks outside the box and would offer creative, innovative ideas to the Council.
A question from panelist Lorraine Sciulli called attention to a comment Elizabeth Crowley made in a previous debate when she said Middle Village would no longer get the best services if she were in City Council.
We have to distribute the funds fairly, Crowley said, clarifying that she only meant that Middle Village should not receive a disproportionate amount of funding.
Gallagher denied the suggestion of imbalanced funding, asserting that each and every community under Tom Ognibene has received its fair share.
When the candidates were asked by panelist Tiffany Elliott to detail the volunteer work they had done in the community, Crowley said she was brought up on community service and works actively with the painters union.
Gallagher rattled off an extensive list of community work, including membership in the Juniper Park Civic and Middle Village Property Owners Association and service as a coach for local athletic teams.
Pereira, who volunteers as an EMT with the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps, said she considers volunteerism to be an incredible untapped resource that needs to be harnessed.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.
©2001 Community News Group
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