By Mark Hallum
City and state elected officials spoke out at a forum in Fresh Meadows last week against the Independent Democratic Committee, claiming the breakaway Democrats had no interest in actually forming a coalition with the mainline party.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer joined Public Advocate Letitia James, state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillside) at the Dec. 7 event organized by anti-IDC group Empire State Indivisible with most speakers calling for the replacement of members of the breakaway group.
In late November, Democratic Party leaders sent IDC members an ultimatum calling for reunification of the party through a coalition to claim two seats up for special elections outside of Queens or face primary challenges, which would affect state Sens. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) and Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and six other members of the committee.
Comrie claimed a Democratic coalition was unrealistic considering his dealings with Avella, who he said has never tried to work with other Democrats in the state Senate, despite his own efforts to maintain a working relationship.
“I’ve tried to work with him over the years, but he is not interested in working with us in any way, shape or form,” Comrie said. “He is the singular most selfish person that I have ever met… This is beyond his desire to work collectively because I don’t think he’s interested in working collectively with anybody. He sees himself as an independent warrior, as his own soldier to go and rally against the things he feels are unjust and he will do whatever he can to step on whoever he wants to make that happen.”
The Hillcrest Jewish Center where the forum was held is in Avella’s district. Most of the criticism was directed against him.
But Avella struck back in a later statement at the accusations from IDC detractors, saying Empire State Indivisible and similar groups perpetuate the same “distortion” of facts they claim to oppose from the Trump administration.
“Obviously I like to work with people. Otherwise how would I get 49 bills past the Senate?” Avella said. “What I have a problem with are politicians who are working against the public good… If [Comrie] follows the political adage ‘going along to get along’… If he believes in that adage, well then shame on him. I don’t.”
Avella said Comrie had ignited conflict by introducing a bill to allow a Sephardic temple in Fresh Meadows with safety violations, and owned by Avi Dishi who was once on the 100 worst landords list, to file for a tax exemption. Avella declined to back the bill because the people conducting worship did not own the property and there were safety concerns.
Stringer said a changing of the guard is on the way for the state Senate and that it is up to the Democrats to inform voters about who is representing them in order to get new officials in the seats currently held by IDC members. Stringer also accused the IDC of caucusing with the Republicans, which Avella and Peralta have repeatedly denied. They claim to only caucus within their committee.
“Here’s something that has hampered us and has made us truly enraged: we actually go to the voting booth and vote for Democratic candidates for state Senate who then caucus with the Republicans. When has this ever happened? And because of that, what’s happened is our city has been impacted in the worst way,” Stringer said. “Legislation that would have passed on tenant rights and affordable housing… have been dead on arrival. Incredibly important city bills that go to Albany die in the state Senate when they don’t have to because these Democrats are making side deals with the real estate industry and the powerful people. It is happening every second and every day and it has to end.”
Peralta contended he amount of contributions he receives from real estate interests is eclipsed by his other donors who represent a wide variety of affiliations.
“For years, I have been receiving support from constituents, the labor movement and businesses owners, or people that represent them, which make up the bulk of my donations. And I also have received donations from real estate (interests) which are located in my district, like every elected official in that room. In fact, about three in every $4 I received come from constituents, local business owners and unions. Sadly, people continue to twist the truth just to their (political) advantage.”
Peralta said he would be unveiling legislation this week that will offer tax relief to tenants by increasing the maximum household income, the property value, and the overall credit amount in the current real property tax circuit breaker.
“I heard about this reunification deal and I was concerned it was nothing more than a sham,” James said.
The event was moderated by former City Comptroller John Liu, who unsuccessfully challenged Avella in 2014.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall