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Queens Chronicle

A Queens Dem upsets the apple cart — again

Avella defection could keep state Senate power struggle in the news

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Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:33 am, Thu Mar 20, 2014.

Forgive state Senate Democrats if they view their colleagues from Queens with a jaundiced eye.

Depending on whether Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) can win re-election, and just whom he winds up caucusing with, he may become the second Queens Democrat in two election cycles to cost his party working control of the august body in Albany.

Avella (D-Bayside) announced two weeks ago that he was joining the Independent Democratic Conference, which could well benefit him and his district, but could make it difficult for Democrats to assert their numerical advantage in the fall, because the caucus currently shares power with Republican Senate Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau).

Professor Michael Krasner, who has taught political science at Queens College for more than 40 years, said he was a little surprised by Avella’s announcement.

But he also said Avella could well be right about the switch benefitting his district — and his career.

“He’s in a conservative district, so it could benefit him in the long run,” Krasner said. “Plus, he’s been a long-time maverick. He does whatever he wants. Assuming the current balance in the Senate stays more or less the same, he will have more power.”

That, Krasner said, would help him get more things done in Albany, which in turn would help his future re-election prospects.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way this time, at least not for Senate Democrats.

In 2012 they had engineered a takeover of the Senate, gaining a numerical majority.

Then, shortly after the elections, Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) announced that he was joining the Independent Democratic Conference, which shares power with the Republican leadership.

The irony was that it was formed in 2011 by Democrats looking to get out from under the thumb of the man who was Democratic Majority Leader — one Sen. Malcolm Smith.

After Smith was indicted last year on federal corruption charges, the IDC kicked him out and stripped him of his committee assignments.

The conventional wisdom — pre-Avella — was that Queens Democrats would recruit a viable primary challenger and defeat him. With a Democrat virtually assured election in the 14th District in November, the party might be able to mitigate the IDC’s influence.

Deputy Borough President Leroy Comrie, with name recognition and a long record of service in the City Council, is thought to be on the short list of county party honchos, though Comrie told the Chronicle on Monday that he right now is interested only in his duties as deputy borough president.

He also would have to take about a $56,000 per year pay cut from his salary of $130,000.

Queens attorneys Clyde Vanel and Munir Avery already are campaigning and raising money to primary Smith.

But Krasner said the senator might not be going anywhere, particularly if he is acquitted in his trial that is slated to begin in June.

“The history of this country is replete with politicians who have been re-elected after being indicted, and, in at least one case in Massachusetts, while in prison,” Krasner said. “It’s not a slam dunk that Democrats are able to get rid of him in a primary.”

He said this is largely due to the advantages of incumbency, including name recognition and fundraising ability.

“They have all kinds of advantages, especially if there are multiple challengers,” Krasner said. “It is by no means a done deal that they defeat him.”

Smith would have to step down if convicted.

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