Queens Democrats were practically gleeful on Sunday during the inauguration of one of their own as state senator for the 11th District.
Their reaction is understandable. It’s the first time in 38 years that a Democrat —Tony Avella — has won the northeastern Queens seat.
Avella, of Whitestone, a former city councilman representing part of the same area as the Senate district, is considered a maverick and not particularly a party man. But all is forgiven now that he beat longtime Republican incumbent Frank Padavan in the November election.
Sunday’s inauguration ceremony, held at Queensborough Community College in Bayside, attracted most Queens Democratic elected officials and the star attraction, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, who swore in Avella. He asked for the privilege.
Schumer, who attended the inauguration of new Bayside Assemblyman Ed Braunstein last week but did not officiate, called Avella “a grassroots guy” who is “a man of his word.” Schumer added that the new state senator always puts people first and will be a fighter for the area he represents.
In short remarks from other elected officials, Avella was cited for his strong commitment to his constituents and doing things his way. State Sen. Toby Stavisky of Flushing recalled how he once served as top aide to her late husband, Sen. Leonard Stavisky, and later herself, said she couldn’t have been prouder of him. “He’ll fight for the important issues,” she said.
Assemblywoman Grace Meng of Flushing called Avella “a man of integrity,” while Assemblyman Rory Lancman of Fresh Meadows said Avella showed “courage and conviction.”
Braunstein pointed to Avella’s character and dedication, while Assemblyman David Weprin of Hollis, who served with Avella in the City Council, said he was the conscience of the council and “always did what was right.”
It was noted that Avella voted against overturning council term limits and refused to take a pay raise.
Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn of Flushing summed up what many there expressed. “I’m so pleased he won what many thought was impossible,” Mayersohn said.
City Councilman Mark Weprin of Oakland Gardens, who served as master of ceremonies, provided additional insight into Avella’s persona. “He’s not afraid to step on toes. He’s an unusual politician,” Weprin said. “He’s honest; what you see is what you get.”
Avella gave a short speech, thanking his wife, Judith for her support over the years and then told the large audience: “I’m still going to be that same voice. The battle continues and we’re in this together, both with big and small issues.”