Tom Ognibene is afraid the future of Glendale, Maspeth, Middle Village and Ridgewood will not include Republicans.
The 66-year-old former city councilman is running against incumbent Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) in the hopes of preventing a redistricting two years from now that could eliminate the relatively conservative population in the neighborhoods as a voting bloc.
“If I’m not elected … come 2011, I know the people at City Hall are not happy with having fair fights,” he said. “They’re not happy with me being here. They’d just as soon redistrict us and break us up.”
Ognibene, 66, grew up in Manhattan. He moved to Glendale in 1969 after being discharged from the U.S. Army, in which he served as a tank commander. He moved to Glendale in 1970, enrolled at Brooklyn Law School and soon became a protege of Serphin Maltese, who was then an instrumental operative in the Conservative Party.
In 1988, Maltese was elected to the state Senate and Ognibene served as his counsel, following him over to the Republican Party in 1990. Ognibene became a Republican district leader and after a redistricting in 1989 resulted in the creation of what Ognibene called a Republican council district, Maltese asked him to run.
Ognibene served in the Council until 2001, when he was term-limited out of office.
“At one point you have the world in your hands,” he said. “You know you can exercise your power for the good of the community, and the next moment you’re a citizen, and that’s it, and I went about my business.”
Ognibene went about his business until 2005, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg ran for re-election. Though Ognibene said he supported Bloomberg in 2001, he ran against the mayor four years later because he did not think he represented core Republican values.
Though Ognibene was kicked off the Republican ballot and ran on the Conservative Party line that year and lost solidly to Bloomberg, he called it “one of the great experiences in politics.”
“At that time, everybody kind of distanced themselves,” he said. “People want to be with the winner. I used to go to meetings and the people would say, ‘Mr. Ognibene, we love you, but can you beat him?’ I’d say … ‘I can’t beat him, but what do you believe in? Do you want to be with a winner or do you want to be with somebody who is philosophically identifiable to you?’”
Ognibene said the Council was more moderate in the 1990s, when there were seven Republicans instead of three today.
“We were a tremendous buffer because the left wing could never get a foothold,” he said. “They had to get 26 votes. Sometimes they couldn’t get that. If Rudy [Giuliani] didn’t like what they passed, they had to override it, they had to get 35 votes. They couldn’t get it unless we went along with it.”
Ognibene also criticized Crowley over the Council’s approval of a new high school for Maspeth without concessions for neighborhood children and a curb cut for buses, suggesting she could have won the concessions from the city School Construction Authority if she had consulted more Council members behind the scenes before the vote.
Crowley was one of the few Council members to vote against the school plan.
“I talked to other City Council members and they said, ‘Tom, she never came to me,’” he said. “But I used to do that.”
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.