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Ricatto opens office, defends his staff driver

Delayed after his campaign bus accidently struck and killed a boy at an Ozone Park intersection, City Council candidate Michael Ricatto launched the opening of his Howard Beach campaign office last week on Cross Bay Boulevard and publicly told his side of the story about the incident for the first time.

Ricatto, a candidate for the special election to fill the vacated Council seat of state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D−Howard Beach), suspended his campaign following the death of 9−year−old Ibrahim Ahmed, who was killed while crossing at the corner of Rockway and Cross Bay boulevards in Ozone Park. The motorist stayed at the scene of the accident and was charged with driving with a suspended license.

Ricatto resumed campaigning after the boy’s funeral two weeks ago.

In a private interview in his campaign office, Ricatto said the driver of his campaign bus, 22−year−old Alexander Aponte, recently received a ticket and paid the fine, but did not have enough money to pay a surcharge attached to the ticket, which led to his license being suspended.

Ricatto said Aponte was not aware that his license was suspended because the state did not give Aponte any notification.

Aponte “came home, put everything in the drawer and forgot about it,” Ricatto said.

He said Aponte has worked for him as a driver for two years.

“I didn’t hire the guy when I started the campaign,” Ricatto said, noting Aponte had a clean license when he was first hired. “He’s driven me to Albany.”

Ricatto said because of past history, he had no reason to double−check Aponte’s license.

“Everybody concentrated on the fact that his license was suspended instead of why it was suspended,” he said.

The candidate said he told residents about the circumstances while campaigning and found they could see how Aponte forgot about the ticket.

“I explained it to them and they understand,” he said. “I found more than one person who said, ‘Geez, this happened to me.’ ”

Asked why he did not come out with the explanation sooner, Ricatto said he did not want the community to lose sight of Ibrahim’s death.

Speaking to his supporters during the launch of his campaign headquarters, Ricatto pointed to his business experience as the quality that separates him from the six other candidates running in the Feb. 24 special election.

“What we have done in this city is make it so unappealing to be here because of the taxes we have to pay,” he told the crowd of a few dozen.

Ricatto also said he would fight against cuts to express buses and the A train in the district, which covers Howard Beach, Richmond Hill, Woodhaven, Ozone Park, South Ozone Park and a portion of the Rockaways.

“We can’t afford to be cut on these particular things,” he said.

Rick Metzger, a Republican district leader from Forest Hills, said he was backing Ricatto because of his experience.

“Mike is a guy that’s been out since the get−go,” Metzger said. “I think Mike is going to do very well.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e−mail at hkoplowitz@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 173.

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