By Mark Hallum
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) endorsed City Council candidate Paul Graziano last week at the new Korean Community Services building in Bayside, formerly the Jewish Community Center.
Granziano is challenging Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) again on the Democratic line, a the seat they battled for in 2013.
Graziano, a northeast Queens native, land use expert and civic activist, is known for fighting against over-development by working with elected officials such as Avella to adjust zoning laws. Graziano is also responsible for having the Broadway Flushing neighborhood — 1,330 buildings in total — added to the National Register of Historic Places.
“He has been so helpful to me on so many issues in terms of zoning,” Avella said, explaining how Graziano’s expertise went a long way during his own time in City Council. “He was crucial in helping me come up with the new [zoning] category, R2A. … He’s been a wonderful asset to every single organization, not only in northeast Queens, but beyond. He has the true community spirit and he has the knowledge to go with it. It’s so important in today’s City Council that we have someone who actually knows what’s going on, especially when it comes to zoning and development.”
Avella accused Vallone of being unwilling to take part in issues within his district, which spans from Little Neck and Douglaston in the east to College Point in the west, and even passing constituent complaints off to the senator in what he described as a “dereliction of duty.”
“I can’t tell you how many battles I’ve had to fight alone because the current councilman doesn’t do his job in representing the community,” Avella said, expressing the need for an ally within the city government.
Graziano said he has been involved in building civic organizations in the district for over 25 years.
“Over-development is the driver for a lot of the issues that we have: infrastructure, school over-crowding, lack of services, traffic,” Graziano said. “I’ve actually been contacted often about issues because people know I’m a community activist and that I work on these issues, particularly with illegal conversions of homes.”
Graziano cited an event in which he and Avella had blown the whistle on a home in a single-family zone which had been converted into a 17-unit rental building with a better than $7,000 rent-roll.
“I want to do that job, I want to make that clear,” Graziano said. “I want to be elected so I can be the person to take care of these issues, or work in concert with the senator to take care of these issues, because that’s what a city representative is supposed to do.”
Vallone responded to these accusations by firing back at Avella criticizing his membership in the Independent Democratic Committee. The IDC is a rogue band of state senators who have split from the mainline left to negotiate with Republicans in order to pass legislation. The GOP formerly held the majority until a special election in late May. IDC officials have become the object of scorn and include state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst).
“Avella’s endorsement speaks for itself as the IDC senator has once again turned his back on the entire Democratic Party, our community leaders, elected officials, unions and organizations that all stand united with us,” Vallone said.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall