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Crowley and Como deny Juniper Pk. Civic snub

Two candidates running in District 30's special election to replace Councilman Dennis Gallagher said they did not snub an influential civic group's debate last week after being criticized by the civic's leaders and their two other opponents in the race.

Democrat Elizabeth Crowley and Republican Anthony Como said they missed a May 22 candidate debate held by the Juniper Park Civic Association due to scheduling conflicts and did not purposely avoid the event.

Both candidates said they had planned to attend the debate at its previously scheduled time on May 16, but could not make the rescheduled event because they had agreed to meet with the editorial board of a Queens weekly newspaper.

"I'd like to go to everything all the time, but you have to figure where you'll reach more people," Crowley said.

Como said he left a message for the civic's leaders that he would attempt to appear at the debate. He said he had committed to the previously scheduled date.

Republican Thomas Ognibene and Democrat Charles Ober, District 30's other two candidates who attended the debate, took aim at Crowley.

Ognibene blasted Crowley for making a bid for the seat while continuing to pay off a violation she received during her 2001 run against Gallagher.

"If you owe a parking ticket, see how long you can go without paying the city $56,000," he said. "It's an outrage."

A spokesman for the city's Campaign Finance Board said Crowley was fined $56,267 for exceeding spending limits during the 2001 race as well as failing to explain money order fraud allegations. But he said Crowley has been paying off the penalties.

At the debate, Ognibene listed his three district priorities as fighting overdevelopment and traffic congestion, preventing school overcrowding and pushing for more aggressive policing on lesser crimes, such as graffiti.

Ober said his three top priorities were preserving senior and youth programs through city budgeting, improving the district's quality of life through fighting graffiti and truck traffic and retaining neighborhood character by halting overdevelopment and landmark preservation.

Crowley said she thought the district's key issues included improvements to neighborhood schools, fighting overdevelopment and fixing borough infrastructure to combat flooding.

Como listed shrinking class sizes, lowering property taxes, lowering the district's traditionally low crime rate and combatting flooding as priorities.

The Campaign Finance Board made its first payment last week of public matching funds to candidates in the race, the agency's spokesman said. He said Como received more than $75,000 and Ognibene got more than $58,000, while Ober had not qualified for any matching funds at the time of his first campaign disclosure because he had not raised enough money.

Crowley could not receive money because she is still paying off the violation from her previous run for the seat, he said.

Joseph Suraci, a Republican attorney from Middle Village, said he dropped out of the race last week after he did not gather enough signatures to remain on the ballot.

The special election follows Gallagher's resignation in late April as part of a plea deal to keep him out of prison. He pleaded guilty to sexual abuse after being accused last summer of raping a 52-year-old woman in his Middle Village district office.

District 30 covers Ridgewood, Middle Village, Maspeth and Glendale.

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