The already packed field for Queens borough president could be getting even more crowded. So far the diverse array of candidates includes Councilmen Leroy Comrie and Peter Vallone, Jr., former Councilwoman Melinda Katz, and state Sen. Jose Peralta, with Deputy Borough President Barry Grodenchik also rumored to enter the race.
Now it appears that state Sen. Tony Avella might jump into the fray. Asked about the possibility, Avella insisted that his focus at the moment was on his current re-election bid, though he hardly denied having seriously considered the job.
“My basic philosophy has always been to do the most good for the most number of people and if I can be effective as borough president helping the borough of Queens, which I think needs somebody to fight for [it], then I probably will do it,” explained Avella, before adding, “I’m going to give it some thought after the election and I’ll probably come to a quick decision.”
Avella said that whether the Democrats regain the majority in the Senate would figure into his considerations, though it would not be a deciding factor.
“Even if I ran for borough president I’d still be [in Albany] for a year to try to get accomplished a lot of things I want to do up there,” Avella said. “At the same time, you still have the issues in Queens where, in my opinion, Queens doesn’t get its fair share of city services. There are a lot of things the city should be doing differently, and the borough president does get to allocate five percent of the capital budget.”
Avella, who made a long-shot bid for the Democratic nomination for mayor in 2009 against former City Comptroller Bill Thompson, would bring to the race for the borough presidency a record and reputation as an iconoclast willing to embrace reform-minded stances from which his colleagues tend to shrink—even when those positions put him at direct odds with his fellow elected officials.
When he was in the City Council, Avella earned the ire of his colleagues for publicly criticizing his fellow members for voting themselves a pay increase, and later for extending term limits. Recently, Avella became the only sitting Democrat in the state Legislature to call on Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to step down from his post over his handling of the allegations of sexual harassment against Assemblyman Vito Lopez.
Yesterday Avella filed a piece of legislation in the state Senate aiming to bring about a sweeping restructuring of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics. Among the changes Avella proposes is to eliminate the Legislative Ethics Commission and transfer its power to JCOPE, reduce the number of JCOPE’s members from 14 to 5, give JCOPE greater authority to conduct investigations and issue fines, and to have the body’s members appointed by the governor, nominated from an independent panel.
“Clearly we haven’t rooted out all of the corruption,” Avella said, referring to the most recent outbreak of scandals swirling against several of his colleagues in Albany.
As to whether he believes that the Legislature is ready to pass another round of ethics reform, Sen. Avella expressed hope that additional action would be taken, though he admitted to being skeptical.
“The governor has to get on board with some of this stuff, because the Legislature, unfortunately, is not going to take action against itself,” Avella said. “There just aren’t enough people… willing to step forward. They’re so afraid of the political retribution if they say anything that remotely reflects reform.”
Asked why he didn’t fear retribution, Avella responded, “I’ve gotten it for every year that I’ve been in political office. When I spoke out against [former City Council Speaker Gifford] Miller, I was punished. When I spoke out against [Council Speaker Christine] Quinn, I was even more punished. [Laughs] So, you know, I’m still here. I’m still fighting for those causes. I think elected officials have to realize, all right, so you don’t get as much money for your district… maybe you have a harder time getting legislation passed, but there’s only so much they can do against you. They can’t silence you. If more of us spoke up we’d put an end to this corruption and this political nonsense immediately. More people have to have the guts to stand up and say what’s wrong with Albany.”
Tags: 2013, Barry Grodenchik, Christine Quinn, Gifford Miller, JCOPE, Joint Commission on Public Ethics, José Peralta, Leroy Comrie, Melinda Katz, Peter Vallone Jr., Queens Borough President, Sheldon Silver, Tony Avella, Vito Lopez