De Blasio's rivals: Tony Avella weighs in on the mayor

De Blasio's rivals: Tony Avella weighs in on the mayor

De Blasio's rivals: Tony Avella weighs in on the mayor
January 23, 2017

While making his way around a holiday party at a senior center in College Point, Queens, state Sen. Tony Avella – who prides himself on being a hands-on official – placed his cell phone in the hands of one elderly attendee who was complaining about parking problems and urged her to provide details to a staff member back in his office. 

Avella told the nearly 100 revelers that he had heard a nonprofit leader complain about insufficient funding for senior centers and wanted to help the community – and other communities across the city – as the next mayor. Some attendees cheered on his candidacy, many took selfies with him, and one woman even vowed to send lots of campaign cash his way through her more than 40 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The state senator offered a similar but slightly more formal message in Flushing at The Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York’s senior center later that day. “I’m very happy to give you a $25,000 grant to help run the programs for this organization,” said Avella, who also represents several suburban communities in northwest Queens. “But I want to be able to do more for you because this week I announced I am running for mayor of the city of New York.”

Asked why he was running, Avella described a near complete breakdown of city services under de Blasio. “It’s worse than ever,” he said. “There’s no communication, there’s no delivery, there’s no community involvement. … The damage to the city of New York in another four years under his administration, I think, will be catastrophic.”

By contrast, Avella said he would give New Yorkers a greater say in city planning by empowering community boards. He also vowed to send out a checklist of common problems to every registered voter and task agencies with addressing the issues listed on each returned form. Avella said he began mailing out a similar form letter as a “civic activist” in Whitestone and continued doing so in elected office. 

“It would be a monumental undertaking in terms of all the responses we would get, but not only would it help identify systemic problems across agencies – and maybe across neighborhoods and boroughs – but it would get a lot of things done locally,” he said.

This attitude has fueled Avella’s reputation for enabling a “not in my backyard” response to city projects. He announced his candidacy outside the Holiday Inn Express in Maspeth, where Avella sided with the mostly white protesters who vehemently opposed plans to book rooms for the homeless there in what City Hall depicted as a racially fraught battle. Avella also spoke against the administration’s plans to shelter homeless people in two hotels near the Nassau County border, saying they were too far from public transportation. When asked how he would ensure the homeless have a roof over their heads, Avella said he was confident that if residents were involved in the process, “They’ll want to do the right thing.”

The senator also hit de Blasio for the overcrowded mass transit system and the infrastructure needs at schools. Avella contended that he could improve on de Blasio’s record on transportation and education because he enjoys a better relationship with the governor.

Avella has run for mayor before, winning 21 percent of the vote in the 2009 Democratic primary. At the time, he was a city councilman known for his animal rights and environmental legislation, as well as his ethical stands, including ripping up his government parking placard because it could be a corrupting influence. But that reputation took a hit in 2015, when the state Senate Ethics Committee he chaired did not hold a hearing even as two state legislative leaders were indicted on corruption charges. 

Looking forward, Avella said his state role has given him greater exposure and improved his odds of making it to City Hall.

“This is a winnable race,” he said.

Sarina Trangle