The previous issue of the Juniper Berry focused upon the life history of Councilman Tom Ognibene and his life prior to becoming our Council Member. In some ways, Tom has become a victim of his own success. It is hard to remember what our community was like prior to his election.
To put things into perspective, in 1991 then Mayor David Dinkins and his administration were planning to put 200 drug and alcohol patients right here in our residential neighborhood. People were placing “No Radio” signs in the windshields of their cars. Murders in the City of New York were above 2000 a year. Crime was on the rise. Our seniors were fearful of walking the streets at night. Our parks were in deplorable condition. The city's welfare rolls were over 1.1 million people. The handwriting was on the wall: The City Was Near Ruin!
Middle class Middle Village residents were voting with their feet, heading for greener pastures either down South, Upstate New York or out to the Island. The election of Tom Ognibene was the start of the City's resurgence. He was a bright light on a City Council that was dominated with Ultra Liberals. He had a common sense approach to government.
He realized that community service was the most important issue to tackle. He realized that we must restore the pride in our community and that, once restored, people would again enjoy the peace and tranquility of our quiet residential community.
Tom Ognibene set out in 1991 on a simple agenda. He had started tackling problems that had been voiced for years but went unheard in the halls of government. Right in the beginning of his tenure as our Council Representative he almost singlehandedly defeated the Dinkins proposal to place homeless shelters in Middle Village. Shortly thereafter, he focused on a long-term traffic condition called the “Metropolitan Death Curve”, resolving one of the most treacherous roadways within our community. This was an early clue of what an effective and tireless leader we had just elected to the City Council.
Each and every year thereafter, Tom Ognibene resolved longstanding problems with City funding. Middle Village flooding was a major issue for almost 30 years. Tom Ognibene obtained $2.7 million dollars. He also obtained special permission from Conrail to access its railroad property in order to double the size of the Lutheran Avenue pumping station which alleviated flooding for hundreds of homeowners. Middle Village, south of Metropolitan Avenue, was in terrible condition. Many of the streets were not mapped. Some of the streets were in such bad shape that cars could barely travel on them. Tom Ognibene went through the City Council to map the streets and provided the funding to pave the streets and help enhance the quality of life.
Perhaps Tom's legacy of service will focus on the rehabilitation of our Parks. Every single park in Ognibene's District has received funding for substantial upgrades, especially Juniper Valley Park!
Since his election, Tom has funded the total renovation of Juniper Valley Park. It is hard to believe one elected official could do so much for our community. Tom secured $1.7 million dollars in Capital funding to fix the lower baseball fields in Juniper. These fields had become hazardous for children to play on with rocks, potholes and weeds instead of grass. The conditions were unworthy of athletic activity. Thanks to Tom Ognibene the ball fields today are considered some of the finest in city parks! The Councilman then funded $750,000.00 for a state of the art Roller Hockey Rink. The Rink is now situated perfectly within the park and allows children to play hockey without interfering with any other athletic activity. Tom then secured $1.8 million dollars to build a new rubberized running track in Brennan Field. This project removed the old concrete bleachers that had become an eyesore and a haven for illicit activity. The new track is being used by one and all and is considered the finest in the City of New York. $1.5 million dollars has also been allocated for the interior of Brennan Field for a combination Football and Soccer facility with a new state of the art surface called “Field Turf” which will withstand high usage and allow our children to play sports in a safe environment.
Within the next few weeks, the upper Juniper Ball fields will go under construction for a total of $2.2 million. These ball fields will be the envy of the city with a sprinkler system and proper drainage which will give our children the premier playing fields in all of Queens. Thanks to Councilman Tom Ognibene, his legacy of upgrading our parks will last for years to come.
In the area of public education, Councilman Ognibene has been a true supporter and friend to our school system. He fought hard to insure that the schools within his Council District were afforded additions to alleviate overcrowding. Each school received a state-of-the-art computer center to allow our children to keep up with the technological changes that are occurring in our world today.
It was our Councilman who fought tooth and nail to defeat a 35 multiplex movie theatre on Woodhaven Boulevard and Metropolitan Avenue. In its place, an educational complex will be built. The children of Woodhaven, Glendale and Middle Village will finally have a local zoned high school to call their own! No more trips to Franklin K. Lane and dealing with severe overcrowding. Instead we will have a safe new high school to focus on our children's needs.
Tom Ognibene also implemented his common sense approach to government in the field of fighting crime. He was the first elected official to speak out and articulate the problems existing within the 104th Police Precinct. The Councilman was an early advocate of specialized units to reduce crime, targeting drug sales and use, auto theft and robberies. Tom fought vigorously for a specialized R.I.P. (Robbery Investigative Program) unit to combat crime in the 104th Precinct. At a time in the early 1990's you were more likely to be a victim of a robbery here in the 104 Police Precinct than you were in Bushwick!
Tom has wisely used his allocation of government funding to purchase for the 104th Police Precinct, six new Police Cars and an Auxiliary Police Vehicle. In this year’s budget, Tom secured a Mobile Police Command center to help combat specific crime problems and to increase police visibility in our community. The results have been remarkable: Crime is down substantially in the 104th Precinct.
Ognibene has also been renowned as a champion for our Senior Citizens. He was an early advocate for additional funding for senior services. He has set up a special program that allows seniors to get transportation to and from food shopping and medical appointments. He has funded every senior center in his Council District and has fought to relieve the burden of prescription drug costs.
The next level of support the Councilman brings to our community is a remarkable $3.3 million dollar grant to economically revitalize our local commercial strips including Metropolitan Avenue. Tom realizes that the lifeblood of middle class communities is their small commercial strips, with local establishments known as “Mom and Pop” stores. Throughout this great city we have seen local commercial strips fail dramatically changing the character of the community.
Tom Ognibene has done more for our community than any other elected official who has ever represented us! He not only made our community feel secure that its tax dollars were not going to waste, he insured that our community’s needs were met.
Recently those in the ultra-liberal left wing have been hellbent on destroying the Ognibene legacy. They are also trying to prevent Ognibene’s Chief of Staff, Dennis Gallagher from succeeding him in making our community stronger and safer. Residents who know Tom and Dennis are confident that the good people of our community will see through the ultra-liberal ruse.
The Ognibene legacy will be one of a dedicated public servant who delivered for his constituents! Tom is a man who stood tall and fought for his community under extreme criticism from the biased media. He never wavered. He always fought for the needs of his community. He is an articulate spokesman for the hard working middle class. He will be remembered for his strong support of our uniform officers, seniors, and the youth of our community. Most of all we will remember Tom Ognibene as the best Councilman this community could ever have! Good Luck Tom, and thank you. You will be missed!