BY ANTHONY GIUDICE AND ROBERT POZARYCKI
Groups of protesters marched outside state Senator Tony Avella’s Bayside office on Friday afternoon over the legislator’s affiliation with a breakaway group of Senate Democrats working with Republican colleagues.
More than 50 people began marching at about 1 p.m. on Feb. 24 near Avella’s office at the corner of Bell Boulevard and 39th Avenue condemning Avella’s membership with the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) and Republican policies which they claimed the IDC has helped to advance in Albany.
Meanwhile, about a dozen of Avella’s supporters gathered across the street from the anti-Avella demonstration, with many of them criticizing public corruption and calling the demonstrators “snowflakes.”
Avella was the first Queens state senator to join the IDC in 2014. Currently, 31 of the 63 state senators are Democrats; there are 31 Republicans, and one seat is now vacant with the recent resignation of Bill Perkins of Manhattan, who stepped down after being elected to the City Council. Republicans control the chamber because the eight IDC members caucus on their own, and another registered Democrat, Brooklyn state Senator Simcha Felder, caucuses with the Republicans.
IDC members have faced increased backlash from voters in recent weeks. They included state Senator Jose Peralta of Jackson Heights, who joined the IDC last month and was publicly blasted for his decision days later by scores of people at a town hall meeting.
Rebeca Rodriguez, who is part of the Indivisible Group fighting against President Donald Trump and his policies, is worried that Democrats joining the IDC are voting in line with Republicans and against their constituents.
“We have a very dysfunctional state government in Albany,” Rodriguez said. “So now the IDC says [that] because Albany is so ineffectual in doing things that in order for them to be able to work out things they have to move into the IDC, not to follow Democratic partners and work with the Republicans. So you’re actually giving up what many people put them in office for if you’re a Democrat.”
Rodriguez said that Avella has done a lot of good things for his constituents, but believes this fight is bigger than his record of accomplishments.
“We have to be cohesive. We have to work as a coalition. You can’t ignore your neighbor; you have to actually work with your neighbor,” she said. “So if you’re thinking I don’t care because everything is great in Whitestone, Bayside, College Point and Flushing, and ignore everybody else, that’s not acceptable. We need to work together.”
Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA) made the trip from Middle Village to support Avella in Bayside.
Avella stood with the Maspeth community last year during their battle against Mayor de Blasio and the Human Resources Administration and the hotel they wanted to convert into a homeless shelter. The senator even asked U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara to investigate de Blasio’s dealings with Harshad Patel, owner of the hotel.
“There is no more honest elected official than Tony Avella,” Holden said. “He has done what is right by his constituents over the years. I go way back with him when he worked with Ed Koch, and he’s always made the right decisions, always for the people. He’s not for the political bosses.”
Paul Graziano, who is running against Bayside-based Councilman Paul Vallone, also came out in support of Bayside’s senator.
“I’m a Democrat and I consider myself to be a very progressive Democrat, and I support Tony Avella,” Graziano said. “Tony’s always been a progressive voice both on the City Council and in the state Senate. But we are independent people.”
Avella met with some of the protesters in his Bell Boulevard office; the meeting was broadcast via Periscope. Avella explained that he was upset with what he called a “McCarthyist witch hunt” that doesn’t help the Democrats advance their agenda.
“All we’re doing is having a circular firing squad instead of going after Republicans,” he remarked.
Avella explained that he joined the IDC because he believed the Democratic conference was too dysfunctional to lead, and didn’t give him an active role in representing his district. He sought to clear up confusion about the IDC’s relationship with Senate Republicans, explaining that the IDC does not caucus with the GOP, nor did it support the election of Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.
The Republican leadership does support some IDC-proposed legislation and funding for districts represented by an IDC member, he noted.
“My voting pattern hasn’t changed one iota,” he said, later adding, “I wasn’t elected by any of you to sit there and do nothing. That’s the difference” between the IDC and the regular Democratic conference.
Facebook live video of the Bell Boulevard protest can be viewed below.
Editor’s note: An earlier version incorrectly stated that 32 registered Democrats currently hold state Senate seats. The article has been updated to reflect the correct information.