Former NYC Comptroller John Liu challenges incumbent Senator Tony Avella in NY-11 race

This September, two experienced Queens Democrats will face off for the coveted seat in New York’s 11th State Senate District.

Back in July, former New York City Comptroller John Liu announced his candidacy for NY-11 senator, a position which serves a large portion of eastern Queens including College Point, Whitestone, Bay Terrace, Bayside, Little Neck, Glen Oaks, Auburndale, Fresh Meadows, Oakland Gardens and parts of Flushing.

Liu is challenging the eight-year incumbent and former Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) member Senator Tony Avella. This is not the first time that the candidates have campaigned against each other — in 2014, QNS reported that Liu ran for senator against Avella and lost by a margin of fewer than 1,000 votes.

On Aug. 29, the candidates participated in the Bay Terrace Community Alliance’s (BTCA) “Meet the Candidates Night” which featured 18 candidates running in seven different races. Avella and Liu were the first and last to speak, respectively.

Both candidates were asked about the issue of airplane and helicopter noise plaguing Bay Terrace and surrounding areas. Avella touted his level of experience, saying that he was “the first” to hold press conferences addressing the issue five years ago. He added that the areas surrounding LaGuardia Airport did not conduct an environmental impact study or roundtable, which other cities situated near airports have had for years.

“The roundtable is underway. The environmental impact [study] is underway and that’s a huge step forward,” Avella said.

On the issue of helicopter noise, the senator said that it originates from Manhattan residents taking helicopter rides to the Hamptons. In an effort to quell the noise, Avella partnered with We Love Whitestone, Congressional representatives and the Helicopter Association to introduce a bill that would give oversight to the Port Authorities of New York and New Jersey. In addition, they also addressed a letter to the EDC and the Hudson River Park Trust, who run the helipads, to cap the flights at $2 million.

Moderators asked Liu if he would support legal action against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the noise pollution, similarly to the legal action taken in other places across the country.

“I would support it, but I would also be realistic,” Liu said. “Most of those municipalities that have taken legal action against the FAA have not succeeded. Nonetheless, I certainly would support any efforts to curtail airplane and helicopter noise.”

Liu shared that he also experienced the excessive helicopter noise where he lives in northern Flushing and neighboring College Point.

“I’m not in favor of spending a lot of time on things that look like it’s progress, but at the end of the day, it’s just going down a blind alley. I want to find real solutions.”

The candidates were also asked about things that would benefit state legislators, including term limits and pay raises. When asked about his stance on term limits, Avella, who has been the NY-11 senator for the past eight years, said that he was in favor of them.

“I was actually the first member of the state legislature, when I first got there in 2011, to introduce a bill for term limits for state Assembly members and state senators,” he said.

He referenced his predecessor Frank Padavan who was a state senator for 38 years. His bill would limit state senators’ terms to 12 years.

“The power of the incumbency is too strong, and I think there’s always good news when you add fresh blood and new ideas.”

Liu said he was in support of pay raises for state legislators and added that New York state should look at what other states are paying their legislators and pay them comparable wages.

“There hasn’t been a pay raise for 20 years and a lot of it is because of political reasons,” Liu said. “I think a lot of the problems that we have seen over the last decade has been because too many of these legislators have not been able to pay their college kids’ tuitions or pay other expenses that other people in similar types of professions would be able to pay.”

He clarified that he was not “in this for the money,” but as a “matter of public policy,” the state should grant pay raises to their legislators.

The Senate primary is on Thursday, Sept. 13, and the winner of the primary will go on to challenge the Republican Senate candidate in the Nov. 6 general election.