By Anna Gustafson
Former City Councilman Tony Avella announced Sunday amid a sea of supporters that he will challenge state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) for his seat in this fall’s election.
At his campaign kick-off event at Avella’s Whitestone home this week, the Democratic candidate cited his desire to change what he called one of the most dysfunctional state legislative bodies in the country as a catalyst for his run for the Albany office.
“I’ve established a reputation as being a reformer,” Avella told the dozens of individuals who gathered in his house. “It’s about time we change the philosophy of the state Legislature.”
Avella was first elected to the Council in 2001 and was defeated in the Democratic primary for mayor last fall by former city Comptroller William Thompson. The 11th Senate District seat for which Avella is vying covers Bellerose, Bayside, Little Neck, Douglaston, Jamaica Estates, New Hyde Park, Floral Park, Whitestone, College Point and Hollis.
The former councilman and a number of heavy Democratic hitters criticized Padavan at Sunday’s event, with state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) saying the current senator is “part of the problem, not the solution.”
“I’m running against the Republican incumbent who’s been in office for 38 years,” Avella said. “He’s been part of that Albany establishment.”
Padavan was first elected to the Senate in 1972 and narrowly defeated Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) in the 2008 election. He fired back at Avella’s accusations, saying “it is not a question of how long you’ve been in office but what you’ve done.”
“My record of achievement is unparalleled,” Padavan said.
At Avella’s kick-off, Padavan drew criticism from other politicians, including Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights).
“Tony Avella is honest, upfront and independent,” Dromm said. “He has worked hard for this community. If anybody can beat Frank Padavan, that’s Tony Avella.”
Bellerose resident Anthony Lemma, a Republican, said he hopes to start a Republicans for Tony Avella group, and he also said he wanted to see Padavan ousted.
“It’s time for a change,” Lemma said. “Tony Avella’s very independent. In the Council, he always looked out for his constituents.”
Padavan disagreed, saying he has worked with politicians on both sides of the aisle to fight hard for all his constituents, regardless of party, to support issues like education and health care.
“I’m continuing to focus on economic development, jobs, lower taxes — including property taxes, and ensuring we have the resources to support education and health care,” Padavan said.
Avella will have a group of Republicans supporting him, while Padavan has secured support from Democrats and a Democrats for Padavan group was formed during his race against Gennaro.
Avella said if elected he would first focus on closing the state’s approximate $9 billion budget gap.
“We have to start looking outside the box for solutions so we don’t tax people to death,” Avella said.
The candidate suggested one possibility to increase state revenue would be to legalize sports betting.
“New York City alone could get $2 billion in revenue if we did this,” Avella said. “The money that goes to sports betting now just goes to organized crime.”
Padavan, too, stressed the need to close the budget without raising taxes.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.