Friday, June 20, 2008

Queens Chronicle Assistant Editor Profiles Councilman Como

The Queens Chronicle wrote a profile on newly elected Councilman Anthony Como and at first glance it looks like the voters of 30th District picked a winner.

Let's hope he performs his duties up to his apparent capabilities. The story screams "local boy done good"

With Votes In, Como Takes District 30 Council Seat

Votes were officially certified by the city's Board of Elections last Friday in the special election for City Council District 30, giving Middle Village Republican Anthony Como a definitive, if narrow, victory in this hotly contested race.

With voting machines opened and recanvassed, and all paper ballots — including absentee and affidavit ballots — counted and recounted, and with all disputed ballots put to rest, the final count gave Como a 41-vote lead over Glendale Democrat Elizabeth Crowley, at 2,442 votes to 2,401.

Middle Village Republican and former District 30 City Councilman Thomas Ognibene came in a close third with 2,110 votes, while Ridgewood Democrat Charles Ober finished fourth with 766 votes.

Within political and media circles, it is easy to forget that amid all the hype attached to this sometimes bitter personal and ideological battle to replace the disgraced former-Councilman Dennis Gallagher — who in April was forced to resign as a part of a plea bargain over charges of sexual assault — attention to the race was low in a broader sense.

In a district which comprises a large part of middle Queens, including Maspeth, Middle Village, Ridgewood, Glendale, and parts of Woodhaven and Richmond Hill, a turnout of fewer than 8,000 voters — though higher than many anticipated — was scarcely high by any other standard.

Local residents who have followed this election closely perhaps have a sense of who Como is, and what he wants to bring to the district in terms of his passions, ideals and causes. But for the tens of thousands of district residents who did not vote, but who he will represent, he is a man worth getting to know.

Como's name could gain importance in the coming years, even beyond district lines. By virtue of circumstance, term-limits in the City Council could mean he will wind up council speaker by virtue of seniority, due to the extra year-and-change added by having been elected June 3 (other council members go up for election or re-election in November 2009).

Complex state election law requires that he face election again this November, then again in November 2009, before sitting a full, four-year term (making him a good candidate for speaker in about five years). But the advantages of winning the seat now are clear in terms of establishing the Como brand before voters hit the polls again — and again.

The Queens Chronicle sat down with Como toward the end of a long day on Tuesday to get to know him a little better. The new office is familiar: it is the same one that belonged to Dennis Gallagher before he resigned, a corner, storefront office on Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village. For a few hours, the 34-year-old councilman relaxed, spoke about his ambitions and his life growing up in the area and sipped a large iced coffee just before dashing off to attend four evening meetings with civic groups, Little Leagues and seniors. He had been sworn into office just the day before.

Como was born at Wyckoff Heights Hospital, in Brooklyn, on April 22, 1974, the second of three children to Sicilian immigrant parents. For most of his young life, he lived with his parents, older sister Rosa and younger brother Sal on Woodbine Avenue, in Ridgewood, and attended Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Catholic school from first to eighth grade. During most of that time, his father worked in construction and carpentry unions and his mother was a seamstress.

After his father underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery, his parents opened a grocery store in Ridgewood, about the time Como was in eighth grade. Afternoons, he and his siblings would get home from school, change clothes and help out around the store, sweeping floors, organizing shelves, doing whatever small jobs needed doing. "It was the best thing," he said. "You learn the value of a dollar. And it made us an extremely close family.

It's not because I was forced to do it," he added. "But I realized that my parents had been there all day and I felt it was selfish of me to say, 'hey, I wanna go play outside,' but meanwhile my parents have worked already 10 to 12 hours."

His family moved to Middle Village around the time Como moved on to high school, when he attended Christ the King Regional High School, also in Middle Village. It was there that he first informally met state Sen. Serphin Maltese, on the board of directors at the school, who, in years to come, would become a "father figure" to Como.

It was a relationship that developed quickly when Como was at Queens College, where he earned a double-bachelor's degree in urban planning and political science. In his last year, he interned for Maltese, then took a full-time staff position with him the next year after he graduated.

For the three years following, from 1997 to 2000, Como stayed on staff with Maltese, while also juggling a full course load at Hofstra law school. "I'd always wanted to be an attorney," he said. "I always wanted to go to law school. Ask my family, since I was a kid, I always wanted to go."

While he worked for Maltese, he made a lasting impression. "He was a very bright young man," Maltese said. "Better than that, he was somebody that was very feeling, very concerned about the people that he dealt with. I could always depend on him to follow through."

Once he had finished law school, Como left Maltese's office with the senator's blessing to serve as an assistant district attorney under Queens District Attorney Richard Brown from 2001 to 2005.

We had many conversations about that," Maltese recalled. "I was an assistant DA … and I thought that since he wanted to stay in public service that he should take a similar route."

Once inside the courtroom, Como rose quickly to prominence. In a phone interview, Brown said that the assistant district attorneys who did "extraordinarily well" were assigned to the homicide investigations bureau. "They're the ones who arrive to homicide cases in the middle of the night and are the first line of defense to our obtaining all the background information that we need with respect to our homicides," Brown said.

In 2002, Como won the Hal Miller Weinstein Memorial Award in his first year, given to those first-year assistant district attorneys who, in Brown's words, most exemplify the "spirit, enthusiasm and dedication to public service" of the former assistant district attorney for whom the award was named, and whose life was cut tragically short in a car accident in 1992.

(Como) was certainly a team player," Brown said. "He was always willing to step up and lend a hand." He went on to commend his popularity among colleagues, his "good investigative instincts," and the long hours he put in after hours and on weekends.

In 2005, Como left the district attorney's office to run in a special election to replace Michael Cohen for the 28th District state Assembly seat, an election he lost to Andrew Hevesi. "It was a fun race," he said in retrospect. "But it worked out the way it did, and I believe everything happens for a reason."

With the election finished, Como soon took on the dual responsibilities of acting as chief legal council to Maltese, and working as the commissioner to the Queens Board of Elections.

In his first year, he was offered the presidency of the BOE for the city. "It was tough, because it was my first year," he said. "But I enjoyed the challenge and I enjoyed the job. Sometimes when you serve well, you get punished by getting another promotion."

Over the years, Como has served as a member on numerous organizations, including the Glendale Civic Association, Middle Village Property Owners / Residents Association, The Congress of Italian-American Organization and as legal counsel to the Juniper Park Civic Association.

He also formerly served as a board member for the Italian American Federal Credit Union and Italian Charities of America. Like his mentor, Maltese, he has also served on the board at Christ the King, a post he retains today.

Recently married to longtime sweetheart Tiziana, a school psychologist, he said he hopes to have children sometime soon, but is in no rush. He first looked forward to taking his wife away for a couple of days now that the grueling election race was over, and to moving into their new home in Middle Village, still under construction, within a few months.

That said, Como's greatest challenge clearly lies before him, a fact of which he was clearly aware. For starters, there's the city budget, which the City Council has to approve by June 30 — necessarily Como's top legislative priority at the moment.

But it's also no secret that in the wake of the Gallagher scandal — particularly because Gallagher was a divisive figure around the community to begin with — district residents are looking to move forward, a view expressed repeatedly from civic meetings to polling stations over the last several months.

"I was brought up by my family, and in politics, to believe that your word means something, and your handshake means something," he said. "That's the type of campaign I ran. … I ran on me and my merits, and I knew people would see that.

I owe something to the people that voted for me," he added. "And that's what I've got to deliver on now

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