In 2004, Councilman Dennis Gallagher told the Queens Tribune that Juniper Park Executive Board Member and long time Maspeth activist, Anthony Nunziato, was “dedicated to his community and stops at nothing to fight for what he believes in.” Fast forward to 2006: Dennis Gallagher has Tony Nunziato removed from Community Board 5. What the heck happened? The story is a sordid one and is about to be told for the first time in print.
As we all know, Mr. Nunziato has a long history of civic involvement, standing up for the interests of Maspeth by actively supporting such projects as the Grand Avenue Truck Bypass Plan, development of the Elmhurst Gas Tanks site as a park, cleanup of Newtown Creek and the former Phelps Dodge site and saving St. Saviour’s Church. He has been on the board of Maspeth Town Hall for 12 years, and has served as its president for the past 4 years. He has been a Community Board 5 member for more than 10 years.
Dissatisfied with the way Maspeth was being represented in the State Assembly, he mentioned to some people that he was contemplating running as a Republican against the incumbent, Assemblywoman Marge Markey, a Democrat, during the next election cycle.
After that, all hell broke loose.
Kenneth Rudzewick, President of Maspeth Federal Savings, Board Member of Maspeth Town Hall and major campaign contributor to his friend, Marge Markey, was not happy when he heard this news. He called Tony and asked him to promise to step down as president of Maspeth Town Hall should he decide to in fact run for office. Tony refused, pointing out that there was nothing in the bylaws of Maspeth Town Hall stating that the president must resign if he or she should run for public office. Tony did agree to step down should his election bid be successful. The following week, several dozen members of various electrical unions (none of whom reside in Maspeth but contribute gobs of money to Ms. Markey’s campaigns), all signed up to become members of Maspeth Town Hall on the day that the election was held. They then collectively voted Tony out as president, opting instead for Eileen Hagan, who wasn’t even planning on running for the seat.
Almost immediately thereafter, a rumor started circulating that Tony had a fight with Dennis Gallagher and cursed at him in front of the councilman’s staff. We all know that Tony does not conduct himself that way. It turns out that the source of the rumor was Dennis Gallagher himself. His own staff denies that the altercation happened and he has no witnesses stating otherwise, but Dennis needed to manufacture an excuse for what he was about to do – remove Tony from the Community Board.
Why would Councilman Gallagher, a Republican, want to punish Tony Nunziato, also a Republican, for running against Democrat Marge Markey? The answer is that there are Republican and Democratic parties in Queens County in name only. They in fact are really one united party. They make deals with each other behind closed doors to not run candidates in certain districts so that the handpicked favorite or incumbent may run unopposed. While running without adversaries, they build up their war chests so that when these career politicians eventually seek higher office, it is assured that they will enter the race with a monetary advantage over their opponents. A good example of this would be Melinda Katz. She ran unopposed in her district in 2005, yet has over $300,000 in her campaign coffers (mostly from the very people destroying the character and livability of Queens – developers – but that’s a whole other story). So, Tony’s candidacy would act as a monkey wrench thrown into the well-oiled machine, directly threatening the chances of one of the cogs, Gallagher, to run unopposed for the next office he seeks.
Now, one would think that this would raise a few eyebrows at the local papers, and that they would be clamoring to write about the stories of corruption developing right before them. But no – whenever there is a holiday, politicians buy ads in all the local newspapers, thereby ensuring nothing negative about them ever gets printed, lest they decide to not be as generous the next time around. In return, the local papers give them tons of free publicity; usually an entire page of each paper is devoted to stomach-churning photos of politicians giving awards to each other or boring coverage of their fundraisers.
Tony tried hard to make amends with Gallagher and asked to be reinstated on the community board. The Councilman has thus far refused to do so. Gallagher also has threatened to cease funding the civic association because we have asked him to do more than simply write weak letters to bureaucrats in support of saving St. Saviour’s. In typical knee-jerk response to seeing his name in red on the St. Saviour’s construction fence – something he preposterously has been alleging that we perpetrated – he had his chief fundraiser and event emcee, Joe Cimino, write a blistering letter to the editor of the Times Newsweekly attacking JPCA President Robert Holden and suggesting that our members were mere “bobblehead dolls” without minds of our own.
The moral of this story is: be careful when exercising free speech in this town and God help you if you should mention that you are simply thinking of running for office. You may just find your rights trampled upon by our so-called, self-anointed “neighborhood leaders.” Those who you thought had always been friends of the community might actually go out of their way to become your worst enemies. Those with well-greased palms will do anything to protect the Maspeth Machine.