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Photos by Jenna Bagcal/QNS
Clockwise from left: John Liu, Senator Tony Avella, Vickie Paladino, Simon Minching

Four candidates are vying for the seat in the 11th State Senate District, including two who were eliminated in the September primaries.

On Oct. 30, the Bayside Hills Civic Association (BHCA) hosted a Meet the Candidates Night featuring Assembly candidates from Districts 25 and 26 and state Senate candidates from District 11. The friendly debate was moderated by BHCA President Michael Feiner at the Colonial Church of Bayside.

John Liu and Vickie Paladino were present as the Democratic and Republican state Senate candidates, while incumbent Senator Tony Avella represented the Independent and Women’s Equality lines and former Republican candidate Simon Minching reentered the race on the Conservative Party line.

“I was ready to walk away until people called me and said, ‘No, we like the job that you’ve done as our state senator, and we want you to continue,'” said Avella at last night’s event. “So why not continue the campaign? And that’s what I’ve done.”

In the weeks following the primary, several of the senator’s constituents formed the grassroots group Families for Tony Avella. One of the group’s organizers Phil Wong told QNS that they were making phone calls, handing out fliers and door knocking to garner voter support before the November elections.

Most recently, the senator has been addressing several quality-of-life issues that befell his constituents, including a potential homeless shelter coming to College Point and the complaints made by residents who live near the Bayside Long Island Rail Road maintenance yard.

Avella added that he was “disappointed” with the results of the primary, often referring to his opponent as “scandal-ridden,” a position that he has relied on since Liu won in September.

Feiner gave Liu the opportunity to address the campaign scandal that had followed him since his 2013 bid for mayor. The Democratic candidate said that he had in fact accepted illegal campaign contributions, but had done so unknowingly.

“The FBI had an undercover operation for me where somebody wanted to support my campaign,” Liu said. “I said, ‘Great.’ We did a background check on him, he cleared [it.] Why? Because he was a non-existent person.”

Liu added that 20 individuals were hired by the FBI agent to “contribute” to his campaign, and when he accepted the checks, he was accused of fraud.

“Why they did the investigation into my campaign? The only clue I have is that years later I found out it was an operation called ‘Operation Red Money’ implying that there was some kind of Chinese influence into my campaign, which obviously there was not.”

The candidate was also asked about his opinion on hot-button issues in District 11, including his opinion on the Specialized High School Admission Test, which he is in support of keeping, and illegal apartment conversions, which he does not support.

On the other side of the political aisle, first-time candidate Paladino was asked what she would do to get city agencies to speed up their repair and revitalization projects.

“If we need to put our hand on a certain person and say ‘Oh, come on,’ how do we find that person?” asked Feiner.

“First of all, you call me up. I’ll help you out,” said Paladino. “What we have to do is cut through the red tape. Why do we have to speak to 17 different people or 20 different people to get a job done? These are not problems that should take 20 years; these are basic, quality-of-life issues.”

Paladino confirmed that she is not in favor of bike lanes in the district, saying that it was “not a rubber stamp issue” and that every community should be able to decide whether or not they wanted bike lanes.

“The small business owner, they have a bike lane in front of them where they park the bikes, then you have a bus lane. We’re talking about congestion on Northern Boulevard. Has anybody in your life ever taken an hour and a half to get to Great Neck from Whitestone or from Douglaston and Little Neck? It does now. Why? Because we have bike lanes,” said Paladino.

Her former opponent Minching agreed that communities should be able to decide what is best for them, including on the issue of bike lanes, and politicians should follow.

“Ultimately I don’t have a strong position on this. I think the people should lead here. If the civics and the community boards want it, we should go through with it. Because obviously there is a space [where] we want people to enjoy recreational activities in their area, but there’s a tradeoff there and there’s obviously been issues on Northern Boulevard near Douglaston Parkway all the way to the Cross Island. ”

Though he lost the Republican primary in September, the senate candidate confirmed that he’s back in the race on third-party lines despite there only being “1,200 registered Conservatives” in the district. He said his purpose was to keep the candidates accountable to focus on the issues and solve problems.

“I was disgusted with the way the primaries were run. On the Democratic side, it was basically a referendum on who was more ideologically pure, it was IDC, the policies were the same. And on the Republican side, it was a referendum on the Queens County GOP that had nothing to do with me whatsoever.”

The general elections are coming up on Tuesday, Nov. 6. and polls will be opened from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Click here to check for your local polling site.

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