By Juan Soto
Queens Village attorney Munir Avery is a newcomer to politics, but he is not a stranger to government.
He wants to unseat indicted state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis), contending the incumbent will focus on his own legal battles and not on the state Legislature.
A former counsel to state Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing)), Avery decided to run when he saw Smith caucusing with a break-away faction of Democrats, known as the Independent Democratic Conference, which entered a power-sharing agreement in the Senate with the Republicans.
“I wanted a Democrat in office,” said Avery, who if elected would become the first Muslim senator in New York. “I felt it was time to run.”
Smith faces a federal retrial in January 2015 on bribery charges for allegedly trying to find his way onto the Republican line as the GOP contender in the mayoral 2013 race.
He has maintained his innocence.
“Malcolm [Smith] is going to be an ineffective whether he wins or loses into the future,” said the Senate hopeful, an expert on elder law.
He found his way into politics because of family pressure. He pointed out that his father and uncle converted to Islam in the 1960s, and since then “they have been trying to get more Muslims involved in the political process.”
Avery said: “That’s why my father asked me to run and I said yes.”
He enjoys being on the campaign trail.
“I am having more fun that I thought I would,” he said during a meeting with TimesLedger Newspapers. “It’s fantastic.”
Avery said his campaign is a grassroots operation with his organization going block by block in the district to “get the vote out.” The candidate said that in the northern part of the 14th District, which stretches from Queens Village to Jamaica and Forest Hills volunteers went to 20 mosques “for voter registration drives and voter education.”
He said as the Sept. 9 Democratic primary gets closer, “more people are paying attention to the campaign.”
Avery, who was also the director of constituent affairs for former City Councilwoman Diana Reyna, expects a big voter turnout.
“I think we are going to have the highest voter turnout for an off-year election,” he said.
His top priority, if elected, will be to build and fully fund senior centers.
“We need places for our seniors to stay active,” he said.
He will also promote plans to provide free legal aid to low-income families.
“There are seniors losing their homes because of high water bills and taxes,” said Avery, who was an assistant district attorney in Queens. “And they need help.”
He has won the backing of the Unite Here!Local 100, a food service and restaurant workers union; the Muslim Democratic Club, a New York City-based organization “dedicated to helping to elect responsible Democrats to local office;” and the Alliance of South Asian American Labor, an organization made up of members from local unions affiliated with national and international unions.
Avery said that two of the main differences with his opponents are his support for term limits and for campaign finance reform.
“Term limits is the only way to make sure new people are able to get into the system,” he said. “A lot of people get complacent …. The longer you are in a position, you become sort of a bubble.”
Reach reporter Juan Soto by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.