It was an impressive victory in a district – the 30th – that had been in Republican hands since it was created back in 1991.
One can’t even point to a significant coattails effect. About 8,000 of the 40,000 who voted in the presidential election didn’t continue on down to the level of city council.
The 31-year-old Crowley put her 4,400-vote, or 13-percent, margin of victory down to the fact that she’d spent a year running for office. She lost to Republican Anthony Como by just 38 votes on a small turnout in the July special election to replace Dennis Gallagher, who last year pled guilty to sexual assault charges.
“I ran hard. I worked very hard and knocked on a lot of doors,” she said of her campaign in the district that comprises the Queens neighborhoods of Middle Village, Maspeth and Glendale, as well as parts of Ridgewood, Woodhaven and Richmond Hill. “I was up early at train stops and to bed late at night.”
She attributed her November victory partly, too, to the marker she’d put down when she ran as a 23-year-old in 2001. “I got a taste for it,” she said. “I liked it.”
Though Crowley comes from a well-known political family in Queens, it was her membership of D.C. 9 International Union of Painters and Allied Trades that provided the important spark for her seeking office.
She subscribes to the labor movement philosophy that putting food on the table and maintaining a standard of living are more important to ordinary people than social issues such as gay marriage and abortion – “issues,” she said, “that aren’t going to make or break a family.”
Her passion at high school, however, was for the arts, not economics or politics. She studied restoration/preservation at the Fashion Institute of Technology, SUNY, from which she graduated magna cum laude. She then got a Masters degree in city and regional planning from Pratt Institute’s graduate school of architecture.
Her career took her to construction sites at historic landmarks such as Radio City Music Hall, Central Synagogue and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. But that world of work also led to contact with the labor movement and her new passion for politics. She sought union support for that first run in the 30th District and got it.
It was as important to her personally to have the members of her large extended family – including her 11 sisters and three brothers – in her corner. Most of them lived (and still live) in the 30th District, and they were realistic about how difficult it would be to successfully challenge the GOP’s hegemony there. But they backed her fully nonetheless.
That Elizabeth Crowley stayed active in the community and eventually prevailed in November 2008 is especially pleasing to her mother.
Mary Crowley, who served out her husband Walter’s council term after his death in September 1985 and remained very active at a local level, had always hoped the next generation would follow their parents into public life. In the end, it was the 14th of her 15 children who did so.
Walter Crowley was selected in January 1985 to represent the district (now the 26th) that included Woodside after Tom Manton went to Congress. It was his law partner and brother’s son Joseph Crowley who would be the first to seek elective office in the next generation, winning a seat in the New York State Assembly in 1986, and eventually succeeding Manton in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Joe had a natural fondness for it,” Crowley said of her cousin. Her older siblings balked at the time commitment as they built careers and had families.
She was under no illusions herself about the commitment involved. “I knew what I signing up for,” she said.
Crowley, who grew up in Middle Village, lives with her 11-year-old and 10-year-old sons in Glendale.
“I’m lucky. They’re good kids. They do well at school,” she said. Her ex-husband, who lives nearby, spends time with his sons every day. It also helps, she said, that the boys are the only grandchildren on their father’s side.
They are, however, just two of 45 grandchildren on the Crowley side – the fourth generation of the family to live in Queens. The council member said that her father’s parents, who were from Counties Cavan and Louth, lived in Maspeth and were very active in the church and the community. (Her mother’s Irish roots date back to the Famine.)
As for her parents’ large family, she said: “I’m not sure why they had 15 but any time I asked, I was told ‘Just be happy you’re here.'”
She’s certainly happy to have that readymade army of support at election time. Its foot soldiers will be called up again as she battles to win a four-year term this coming November.
For now, Crowley is working with her staff from her offices at Dry Harbor Road in residential Middle Village and in Manhattan.
She’s had to deal with a controversial plan to open a high school in Maspeth. “It was a tough issue to take on,” she said.
And the novice politician has led on another following the death of 16-year-old Robert Ogle and a friend in Middle Village in early February. The young men were struck by a stolen car whose owner had left it unattended while he went into a deli.
Crowley, working closely with Robert’s parents, has introduced legislation to raise the penalty for anybody who leaves their vehicle running and unattended from $5 to $250.
Another Irish-American politician is learning in practice what she knew in theory: all politics is local.