Former Queens senator confirms City Council run and protests against city’s community-based jails plan

Tony Avella. (Photo by Mark Hallum)

Former state Senator Tony Avella marched in protest against Mayor de Blasio’s borough-based jail plan in Chinatown Sunday and he confirmed that he is running for his old seat on the City Council in 2021 when Councilman Paul Vallone is term limited out of office.

“I miss it. I only got into politics to help people and I miss that,” Avella said. “I’m jogging around the neighborhood and I see all the problems and I have no power to do anything about it. People come up to me all the time and say, ‘We miss you. We want you back. We want you to run for something,’ and I thought it was appropriate to run for my old council seat since Vallone is term limited.”

Avella has kept a low profile since losing the Democratic primary to current state Senator John Liu last September. Avella was a councilman from 2002 to 2009 and he joined the protest against de Blasio’s plan after seeing Community Board 9 ignored during the public review process after it voted against the proposal unanimously.

The City Council will vote on the plan in mid-October that would green-light a new jail in Kew Gardens where the old Queens Detention Complex is located 126-02 82nd Ave. Avella says putting jails in neighborhoods makes no sense.

“I’ve always been a proponent that people need to have more of a say about what happens in their own community,” Avella said. “They’re the people who invest in their neighborhoods. They’re the people who make neighborhoods thrive. It’s going to cost more money and you’re going to devalue those neighborhoods by building jails in the middle of them. It makes no sense.”

Avella said he would rather see Rikers Island upgraded. Councilman Robert Holden sponsored legislation that would create a commission to study the cost of renovating Rikers Island so that price could be compared with the estimated $11 billion it would cost to build four community-based jails.

Councilman Robert Holden supports an alternative plan for Rikers Island rather than community-based jails. (Courtesy of Holden’s office)

Holden attended a recent press conference hosted by the Lin Sing Association in which architects presented a play to revitalize Rikers Island. The alternative plan would transform Rikers Island into a state-of-the-art rehabilitation and detention center that includes a hospital and mental health and wellness facility, multiple athletic fields and gyms, a family center, and modern jails that promote positive physical and mental health.

“This is exactly the type of proposal the city should be considering for the future of criminal justice reform,” said Holden, a member of the Committee on Criminal Justice. “We have to consider all options to address the state of Rikers Island rather than pushing forward with a plan that will significantly impact several communities and is hugely unpopular within those communities.”

The Lin Sing Association plan calls for ferry access to the island as well as other expanded transportation options which would greatly reduce travel times for family members. According to the architects, this plan would cost half as much, and take half the time to build, than the current community-based jail plan.

“When this much money is at stake, we owe it to the taxpayers of New York City to be meticulous and give them a complete picture of how their money can be spent,” Holden said. “Political agendas should not get in the way of responsibility.”

Mark Hallum contributed to this report.