There’s a lot at stake in next week’s Democratic primary in Queens with two races for state Senate drawing attention beyond the borough.
In northeast Queens, former city Comptroller John Liu was drafted by the Queens Democratic machine to challenge Sen. Tony Avella, who left the mainstream party in February to join the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference.
The IDC has been sharing power with the Senate Republicans but has pledged to rejoin the regular party once the November elections are over.
The Avella/Liu race could be viewed as a referendum on party loyalty, but it’s not clear how many voters are even aware of the IDC and the role it plays in Albany. Liu has cast Avella as a traitor to the party, while Avella has accused Liu of ethical lapses, particularly fines he has refused to pay from his 2009 run for comptroller.
Their positions on issues are similar, but the outcome of the race could determine who controls the Senate in the next session if the IDC decides to renege on its promise to regroup with the Democrats. Avella maintains he signed up with the IDC to get bills passed in the Republican-controlled Senate, but Liu contends the GOP still ignored key measures — women’s equality, the minimum wage and the Dream Act — that are top priorities in Queens.
In southeast Queens, Sen. Malcolm Smith has been running a quiet re-election campaign as he awaits his retrial on federal corruption charges. He is facing an old friend, former City Councilman Leroy Comrie, and newcomer Munir Avery, who is courting the Muslim vote.
Ethics is at the heart of this contest, fanned by a recent rash of indictments of southeast Queens lawmakers. Comrie said he resigned himself to run because Smith had lost credibility and respect in Albany. The former deputy borough president said Queens must have a solid lawmaker in the seat, with rent regulations and mayoral control on the agenda next year.
But Smith’s decision to align himself with the IDC in 2012 is also a factor in this closely watched match.
Avery, who is pressing for campaign finance reform and term limits, said he decided to enter politics after Smith joined the IDC. Smith’s pursuit of an alliance with Republicans in Albany and the city did not end well when he was charged with allegedly bribing officials in a bid to win the GOP line in last year’s mayoral race.
These are interesting times in Queens politics, and you owe it to the county to get to the polls. This is a year when your vote could make a difference.