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Queens Chronicle

Democrats react to Avella defection

He could face a primary challenge for joining Independent Conference

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Posted: Thursday, March 6, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:37 am, Thu Mar 13, 2014.

Democratic reaction to state Sen. Tony Avella’s decision to jump ship and join the Independent Democratic Conference in Albany is officially “disappointment,” but beneath the surface there appears to be anger and a desire for retribution.

Avella, of Bayside, last week joined the now-five-person IDC, which was organized in 2011 and runs the Senate with the Republicans in an unlikely coalition. He indicated he joined in an attempt to pass more legislation and that “at the end of the day, it will be helpful to my district and the Borough of Queens.”

Avella’s switch, however, makes it more difficult for mainstream Democrats to try to reclaim control of the Senate. Queens Democratic leaders, such as Rep. Joe Crowley, who heads the borough Democrats, Rep. Grace Meng of Flushing and former city Comptroller John Liu of Flushing all called Avella’s switch, “disappointing.”

Crowley, who represents part of Western Queens and the Bronx, added: “It is my hope he won’t abandon the Democratic principles that are so important to our county.”

Insiders say the county party is angry with Avella and that he will face a primary challenge supported by them.

Several names have been mentioned but none who were contacted has made a decision. A source in Albany said that it’s still early days.

“All options are on the table,” he said. “As to Avella, people make decisions and there are consequences.”

Matthew Silverstein of Bay Terrace, a state committee member, is one name being mentioned. He ran last year for Councilman Dan Halloran’s 19th District seat and also for the state Assembly in 2010 to succeed Ann-Margaret Carrozza. But in both cases he exited the race early.

“We supported him in the past,” Silverstein said of Avella. “It’s kind of disgraceful. I hope he does have a primary because he is not a true Democrat.”

Silverstein, who is employed by America Works NY, said he is not prepared to talk about the possibility of running.

Indications are that another name being bandied about, Austin Shafran of Bayside, is not interested in running for Avella’s seat. Last year he came in second out of five Democrats in the race for Halloran’s seat.

Shafran, who now works as New York legislative director of the Working Families Party, said Monday he is very happy at his job, but would not comment further on running again.

Chrissy Voskerichian of Flushing, who also ran in the District 19 race, said she was not surprised by Avella’s decision, but had no other comment about running.

State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) noted he was friends with Avella from their days as city councilmen. “I welcomed him when he came to Albany,” Addabbo said. “Time will tell if there’s a primary, but the rumor mill has begun.

“I hope what he did is right for his people,” he added.

Mike Murphy, communications director for the Senate Democratic Conference and former staff member for state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria), offered the following statement:

“It is unfortunate that Sen. Avella has chosen to empower a Republican Conference who are blocking important legislation like raising the minimum wage, standing up for women’s health and equality and protecting the environment. Serving in the Senate should be about serving all New Yorkers, not about being self-serving.”

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