State senators in NE Queens face challengers

Voting with Mom in Briarwood.
Photo by Michael Shain
By Mark Hallum

The state Senate races in northeast Queens have candidates from both parties competing for control over long-held Democratic territory. On the ballot is Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and his opponent, Republican Mark Cipolla, as well as Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) and her GOP challenger and Woodside resident, Carlos Giron.

Avella’s district stretches from College Point to Little Neck and south as far as Oakland Gardens, while Stavisky’s territory runs from Flushing up to Glen Oaks in the east over to Forest Hills, Woodside and Elmhurst.

Avella’s top issues in his re-election campaign are the escalating homeless crisis, ethics reform in government and improving the quality of life for his constituents. He has led the discussion on airplane noise, an invasive bioswale program and zombie homes in his district, but has stepped beyond to confront the ironies of de Blasio’s full shelter plan.

“You have to be in the shelter to get the program. So if you’re on the street, you’re not eligible. But, meanwhile, they don’t want to go to the shelter because it’s not safe,” Avella said.

Progress has been seen at two hotel conversions in Bellerose. where the homeless inhabitants are expected to be out by December.

Avella estimated there are about 200 abandoned properties in his district and he has led a crusade against the “zombie house” epidemic, which poses health and safety hazards for neighboring homeowners who have spoken out about mosquitoes and other vermin attracted to unattended properties.

Cipolla is a former prosecutor for the Brooklyn district attorney’s office and one of about 20 candidates put forward by the Queens Republican Party to challenge Democratic incumbent in a Democrat-controlled borough. He said he had never considered running for office before two years ago when he was first approached by party leaders but declined that time. He said he believes it is important for citizens to have a choice when election time comes and that “getting new blood in is good for the system.”

While many ethics reform advocates argue that pensions must be forfeited on top of the prison time and fines which are standard fare for officials convicted of corruption, that is not enough for Cipolla, He thinks heavier penalties are in order to discourage shady practice.

“Last I looked, Sen. Avella’s proposal was that you lose your pension from the act that you’re convicted for from that time forward. I don’t think that’s severe enough,” Cipolla said. “You should lose that entire pension from the time you were elected.

Seven-term incumbent Stavisky defeated her Democratic opponent S.J. Jung in September’s acrimonious primary and is looking to make affordable housing more accessible, bring campaign ethics reform to the state, make higher education more attainable and alleviate congestion along the No. 7 train.

The affordable housing shortage is an issue Stavisky believes will see action soon. Gov. Andrew Cuomo put $2 billion in the state budget for affordable housing and the Senate approved the motion, Stavisky said.

“I think there’s enough pressure now with the homeless to decide what they’re going to do with the money,” she said.

Stavisky is teaming up with state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to clean up Albany by closing the LLC loophole, a gray area which regards LLCs as individuals, allowing contributors to set up multiple business entities to channel funds from the same source to a candidate.

She is also determined to pass the DREAM Act to allow undocumented immigrants to get financial aid through New York State Tuition Assistance Program.

A former sports journalist, Giron decided to pursue public affairs and run for office, which he said is as much his obligation to the community as voting.

Giron is running for the first time to advocate for small business owners; give young immigrants access to education by passing the DREAM Act; electoral reform, such as term limits and providing public financing to candidates for office at the state level; and support charter and Catholic schools in the district to give parents education options while taking the pressure off overcrowded schools.

“I am not any anti-government Republican. I highly value and respect all of the government services that are provided by New York state and New York City, and the federal government as well. The government provides essential services that New Yorkers need. From infrastructure to government assistance for the elderly, to funding for students,” Giron said, “I am identical to the Democrats in that regard.”

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhallum@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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