An Interview with Councilman Tom Ognibene - JuniperCivic.com
Serving Middle Village and Maspeth since 1938.

Originally published in the April 2001 Juniper Berry Magazine

An Interview with Councilman Tom Ognibene

Q. Tom, having time to reflect now, after 9 years as our Councilman, what do you believe was your greatest accomplishment?

A. I think it's hard to say what would be the single greatest accomplishment because fortunately, we've been successful in many areas. I would have to say that one I am especially proud of is a situation that occurred in Woodhaven. The Board of Education was denying the third graders pupil transportation to Public School 113. The Board, in their infinite wisdom, was forcing these 9 and 10 year olds to cross Woodhaven Boulevard, Myrtle Avenue and Union Turnpike just to attend school. This was a treacherous route that even I would have felt uncomfortable taking. My office did extensive research, and we determined, from accident information received from the police department, just how dangerous and deadly this route was. We filed a formal complaint and, after six months, and three appeals, we were successful. What made me angry about this process was that a bus was already there for first and second graders that was half-utilized and easily could have accommodated the third graders without going through this bureaucratic maze.

Q. What would you say was your most memorable time in office?

A. The most frustrating time that I had in the Council was dealing with former Mayor David Dinkins and his staff. That's why my ability to help elect Rudy Giuliani and then Governor George Pataki were the two most memorable moments of my time in public life. In a way, Rudy Giuliani has been a victim of his own success. People have forgotten how bad the city had become. Seniors were afraid to leave their homes, businesses were closing and our city was on the brink of financial ruin. We needed a tough, aggressive, strong-handed leader who could turn the tide. After 8 years of Rudy Giuliani, I don't think there's any person in this city that could disagree that we have become a safer, more economical, vibrant city. Even Rudy's detractors create false issues to attack him and his credibility. God help the City of New York after Rudy leaves.

Q. Tom, we've focused on the positive. What was your biggest disappointment, perhaps something that you were unable to accomplish and wanted to?

A. I'd have to say that I had two very disappointing things that I wasn't able to do. The first, and foremost, was my inability to convince my colleagues in the City Council that a night time juvenile curfew was the most humane way to reverse the tide of juvenile wrongdoing. It was pretty clear to me that nothing positive could happen to a child on the streets at night at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning on a school night. Major crimes are at a record low, and yet, at every meeting I attend, quality of life issues are now at the forefront. Most are related to juveniles, like graffiti, and public nuisances. I do hope that whoever replaces me will have the moral courage to continue this fight. I think it's essential for the City of New York.

My second biggest disappointment was the inability to restructure the 104th Police Precinct. Clearly, the precinct is geographically too large as evidenced by the police response time. It was always my hope to convince the police department to either restructure the lines or create a police substation in the Maspeth/Middle Village portion of the community. This is another issue I hope the next Council Representative will pursue vigorously.

Q. What is the most valuable lesson your learned or experience you had during your tenure?

A. I learned that the public has a great deal of wisdom. They know what's right for their community. Listening to them has enabled me to know what their needs are, and to be able to take those needs with me to City Hall and work towards meeting them.

Q. During your time as our Councilman is there anything specific that you derived personal pleasure from?

A. Absolutely. I have derived the most personal pleasure for being one of the top political figures in the City of New York who had the moral courage to stand up to attacks against the Mayor. The Mayor's detractors often leveled vicious and unwarranted attacks on him, such as people referring to him as a killer, or a fascist. It was always a pleasure to be asked to be a spokesman on behalf of the Mayor. I was shocked at the number of death threats I received after some of these appearances. I once stated that the minority communities in New York City owed a debt of gratitude to the Mayor for making their communities safe, by taking them away from the thugs who ruled their streets and returning them back to the hard working tax payers. For this, I got numerous death threats.

Q. Tom, what's the first thing that pops into your mind when I ask you to tell me something that amused you in the City Council?

A. Oddly enough, that might be the easiest question you've asked so far. Each and every day in the City Council, Council Members cry out in support of free speech, even while they desecrate a portrait of the Madonna and cover it with dung. The Mayor wanted to cut funding for the museum that hosted this despicable exhibit. The "crazies" cried out that we couldn't do this because of free speech. It was then that I pointed out that six months earlier these same Council persons came to me to support them in their quest to cut funding from a day care center that had a book entitled Little Black Sambo on their shelves. I chuckled when I caught these ultra-liberals in their own hypocrisy.

Q. What hopes do you have for the future?

A. I'm sure no matter what I do, I will continue in some capacity in public service. As you know I have dedicated the last 15 years of my life in service to the community. This is my home and I have always put the interests of the community first. That is why I am confident that when my closest ally, friend and Chief of Staff, Dennis Gallagher gets elected to the City Council, he will continue the programs and projects that we started together. I can't think of anyone with more experience and who is as dedicated to his community. Dennis Gallagher is the only person that could step right in and continue the positive changes in our community.