By Joe Anuta
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) is hoping voters will spring for his no-nonsense approach to government and plans to run a more inclusive office should he be elected as the next borough president.
Avella has represented portions of northeast Queens in the state Senate since 2009 and served in the City Council beforehand beginning in 2001.
“I know the system from the bottom up,” he said during an interview with TimesLedger Newspapers last week.
Avella is running in a Democratic primary against former Councilwoman Melinda Katz and Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria). Astoria businessman Tony Arcabascio is running on the Republican line.
The Whitestone resident believes Borough President Helen Marshall’s successor needs to do a better job of bringing more groups to the table.
“There are a lot of people out there who feel disaffected and they are not part of the process,” he said. “I think that is one of the major issues the borough president has to address.”
As a public safety example, Avella noted that he has worked with a large swath of groups across Queens, often outside his Senate district, and could act as a liaison between the Muslim and Sikh communities and the NYPD over controversial policies like stop-and-frisk, which he is not a fan of.
Another public safety policy he would push is the division of two sprawling Queens police precincts — the 105th and 109th — which he said are so large the officers there are stretched too thinly. The 105th is headquartered in Queens Village and the 109th is based in Flushing.
Avella has a reputation for taking on developers, but indicated he supports denser development as long as it does not adversely affect the community. As chairman of the Committee on Zoning and Franchises in the Council, he signed off on a multitude of such projects, he said.
“There are communities in the borough crying out for jobs and affordable housing,” he said.
Development in Flushing Meadows Corona Park has become a key issue in the campaign. Avella has pushed to landmark the greenspace, which would bring it in line with other major parks in the city. He does not believe the New York Mets should build a 1.4-million-square-foot mall on leased parkland in the parking lot of Citi Field and thinks a soccer stadium proposed for Flushing Meadows by Major League Soccer might be better suited elsewhere in the borough.
The Rockaways might be a better venue, he suggested, which would allow residents there to advocate for a more robust public transportation system.
On education, Avella believes the mayor needs to have input in the system, but power should be more evenly distributed between the community and parents.
“I don’t like this co-location issue, and I don’t like the fact that parents have no real involvement,” he said. “There are so many things that need to be changed that I think the borough president can take a big role with working with all the stakeholders in making some new recommendations.”
Co-location is when additional schools are moved into buildings where public schools already exist and take space away.
The lawmaker said the school system should not be run like a business — which he indicated also applies to the borough’s health care facilities.
Avella said he has a provider in mind to expand more primary care into the area that desperately need it. Residents of many neighborhoods currently overburden their emergency rooms for ailments that could be treated elsewhere.
The other Democratic contenders have been running much more visible campaigns. Avella’s staff is mostly volunteer, and he has often missed candidate forums due to his schedule in Albany.
Things should be heating up as the September primary draws closer, he said, although his campaign coffers pale in comparison to some of his competitors.
Instead, Avella touts his endorsement by more than 60 community leaders across the borough and promises to speak with a louder voice than the one currently coming from Borough Hall.
“Helen Marshall is a nice person, but I think she’s been an absentee landlord for the last eight years,” he said.
Avella paints himself as an independent force in government, which is something money cannot buy.
“I think Queens needs a strong voice and someone that is not the typical politician,” he said. “I know all my opponents very well, and this is not about them personally, but they are the typical politicians.”
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.