Liz Crowley’s transition: Already at Work
A smaller version of this profile piece was published in the Queens Tribune on Dec. 11, 2008
She hasn’t found her district office, nor staff. But the phone at her campaign office is already ringing off the hook. “I’m getting requests,” said Crowley. “I guess in government it’s a relatively slow time of the year.” After two failed election attempts for the city council, Elizabeth Crowley succeeded on Nov. 4, a Democrat in a historically Republican district.
Having waged a bitter campaign in a close election, Crowley attempts to balance her time between thanking supportive constituent groups, and planning her transition to office. On Nov. 20, after taking her two sons to school, Crowley headed to Manhattan to thank the Teamsters union for their support during her campaign. “With your help, we made history out in Queens,” Crowley said at the packed meeting. “I come out of the labor movement, a DC9 building trades member, on construction sites as a decorative painter.”
During her years as a graduate student at Pratt Institute, a classmate told her about the union, which represents local craftsmen, in professions involving painting, wall covering, and other ornamental work. “I went down to the painter’s union, I brought my portfolio, showed them I could do gilded work and marble faux finish,” said Crowley.
Looking at the enthusiastic Teamsters crowd, the city council’s newest member remarked, “I know from my own experiences the need to be respected for an honest day’s work and the importance of bringing back benefits, a pension.” Crowley then left the hall for her next meting. Alongside Crowley was her longtime friend Maria Alvarez, who helped Crowley with her errands.
Realizing that her union was only a block away from the Teamsters, Crowley went to pay DC9 a visit. Before entering, Alvarez noted, “Let me take a photo under the banner.” Crowley posed under the union’s banner flying above the entrance.
Inside, the political director of DC9, Jack Kittle, enthusiastically greeted Crowley, taking pride in seeing a “sister” elected to office. Before acting as a political organizer, Kittle painted the city’s bridges. “I miss that actually. The views and being away from bosses.” Kittle’s office includes miniature models and posters of famous local bridges.
Kittle praised the Democrat’s nationwide successes, but also sounded a note of caution. “The Democrats could set this up forever, or they could really screw it up,” said Kittle. In contrast, Alvarez sounded far more optimistic. “We’ll never be out from the floor.”
After discussing their children, Crowley began to exit when Kittle noticed that a construction site across the street lacked certain safety precautions. “Look at those workers, it’s not that they aren’t unionized, did they have training to lift the equipment? Are they being supervised?” Such is a day in the life of councilwoman-elect Crowley, where every moment presents an opportunity for a solution.
Crowley and Alvarez then hopped onto a subway to Queens. “I take the subway into Manhattan,” said Crowley. In Queens, where large areas remain beyond the reach of subway lines, personal vehicles are essential, and Crowley takes pride in being a “green Council member,” with a Mercury hybrid SUV that averages 35 miles per gallon. “I only buy American cars,” said Crowley.
Inside the car, Crowley exchanged notes over a Blackberry with Kate Mooney, the coordinator of her campaign office. Her next visit was to the Glendale Kiwanis’ monthly meeting. “They focus on education and children in sports,” said Mooney. Alvarez took notes as Mooney listed the names of Kiwanis’ leaders and the organization’s activities. “Do you know any of these names,” asked Mooney.
Along the way, Alvarez and Kiwanis took note of vacant storefronts and passed them on to Mooney, as they searched for potential district office sites. On Myrtle Avenue,
Outgoing State Senator Serphin Maltese’s district office appeared closed, as was his campaign office just two doors down. “This site would be ideal- a parking deal from the diner next door,” said Alvarez.
Two blocks from Maltese’s office was her next stop that day, the venerable Zumm Stammtisch restaurant, where the Kiwanians awaited their new councilwoman. The popular restaurant opened in 1972, but its interior architecture spoke of centuries-old traditions. Crowley shared lunch with Kiwanis members as Alvarez snapped away the lively scene, Bavarian flags, super-sized platters, and plenty of handshakes.
While Crowley may be relatively young, her family’s name is well known in western Queens. The Crowley family has resided in Queens since its arrival from Ireland in 1904. Her father served as a Democratic district leader, running for state assembly and congress. His success came in 1995, when he was elected to the city council. Sadly, he died two months after his election.
Her mother, Mary Crowley, 70, operates an early childhood education center in Middle Village. She is the second youngest among her 14 siblings, many of whom also reside in Queens. “It was a traditional Catholic family, we had as many children as God gave us,” said Crowley. On the street outside the restaurant, Crowley saw a family of five in neat school uniforms, Crowley posed for a photograph with them, and sharing this family tidbit.
Back to the office, Crowley and Mooney examined thank you cards that she ordered. An elderly gentleman came in to describe a problem on his block. Initially wary of elected officials, Crowley and Mooney reassured him, and took down his name for future correspondence.
Crowley attributes her upset victory in the historically Republican district to her campaign experience. “It was years and years of work. Nonstop,” said Crowley. An example was Crowley’s work in having a sidewalk tree replaced. “This woman had her tree knocked down by the Parks Department in 2004. She called [councilman Dennis] Gallagher at the time, asking, ‘What’s going on?’” said Crowley. “They might have told her it was infected. I knew it wasn’t the truth.”
During her 2008 campaign, Crowley knocked on this woman’s door and learned of her problem. “She said, ‘If you get in there, will you get me a tree for the front of my house?’” said Crowley. Crowley had her campaign staff look into the request form and came to the Parks Department. “I spoke to the Queens commissioner, and she said that it’s too close to a gas line and a street light,” said Crowley. The roots were getting in the way. No one ever told her the truth.” Crowley then helped pick bushes that had the same heights as the fallen tree, but without the deep disruptive roots. “We’ve gotten results,” Crowley said.
Relishing her victory, Crowley dismisses the possibility of outside factors influencing her victory. “It wasn’t about the Obama wave hitting. In Middle Village and Glendale, I won a higher percentage of the vote than Barack Obama did,” said Crowley. “Conservatives that thought I did a better job.”