By Anna Gustafson and Connor Adams Sheets
In a major upset Democratic challenger Tony Avella had a significant lead early Wednesday morning over longtime state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) in one of New York’s most closely watched races in the battle for control of the state Senate.
Avella had won about 53 percent, or 25,045 votes, against Padavan’s 47 percent, or 22,036 votes, with 94 percent of the precincts counted, according to unofficial results from NY1.
State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) retained her seat, netting 18,899 votes, or 87.86 percent of the vote, compared to her Conservative challenger Robert Schwartz’s 2,612 votes, or 12.14 percent of the vote, with 172 of the 234 precincts reporting, according to unofficial results from NY1.
Despite the two wins for the northeast Queens Democrats and the party’s other senators in the borough, it appeared the Republicans may have wrested control of the state Senate chamber back from Democrats.
Avella, who served in the Council from 2001 to 2009, had declared victory early Wednesday morning while celebrating at Sullivan’s on Bell Boulevard in Bayside.
“I’m truly humbled by what you’ve all done here tonight. It’s not my victory, it’s your victory. It’s a victory for diversity and for all the new face of Queens,” Avella said, his voice hoarse from campaigning, during his victory speech. “During this campaign we really have put together a coalition that will continue beyond this. You’re all here and this is, I believe, going to change the face of Queens politics forever … We not only beat a 38-year incumbent, we beat a popular 38-year incumbent. But we made it happen, incredibly.”
Padavan said it could be some time before the race’s outcome is known.
“In a couple days we’ll have a final answer,” Padavan said. “Don’t lose any sleep over it. I’m not.”
The Republican, who has represented the 11th Senate District for 38 years, attributed the close race to being in an area that has about three-to-one Democrats to Republicans.
“It’s hard to know what will happen when you have that kind of a disadvantage,” Padavan said.The 11th Senate District covers much of northeast Queens and part of Queens Village.
Avella raised more than Padavan in the last campaign finance period, which ran from the end of September until mid-October. The challenger obtained a little more than $118,345 — about $80,000 of which came from the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. Padavan raised just over $23,100 in the same time period. The senator’s largest donation during that time was the $4,000 that came from Friends for the Election of Dean Skelos, the Senate Republican minority leader.
Whitestone resident Mike Solieri said he voted for Avella.
“I went with Avella but not with the Democratic Party,” Solieri said. “I think these people showed us they don’t listen to us anymore in Washington or in Albany.”
Tom Sindoni, of Whitestone, said he backed Padavan.
“I had a brother born with a disability and Frank did everything he could for him,” Sindoni said. “Any problem you have, you go to Frank Padavan and he’ll do everything he can for you.”
The Republican incumbent billed himself as a candidate with a record of getting things done in Albany, while Avella repeatedly called himself a reformer who would change Albany’s political landscape because of the Democrats’ slim 32-30 majority in the Senate. During the campaign, the candidates often sparred through mailings and lobbed numerous accusations at each other.
Last week, Padavan asked Avella to return $230,000 in campaign funds he received from the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee this year, saying the funds are tainted because of Democratic Senate leaders’ roles in the scandal surrounding the initial choice of the Aqueduct Entertainment Group to build and operate a racino at Aqueduct Race Track. The selection process and those involved have been under investigation by the state inspector general’s office.
In response to Padavan’s accusations, Avella said he would not return the funds because he did not directly receive money from officials named in the investigation.
Avella launched his own attacks against Padavan and questioned in recent mailings his opponent’s record on supporting women’s health initiatives. Avella emphasized Padavan’s 2002 vote against the Health and Wellness Act, which required insurance providers to cover a range of services for women.
The senator said he has co-sponsored a variety of laws that have improved access to health care for women throughout his career.