Avella And Liu Clash On Campaign Practices

Staff Writer

With a month before Primary Day, the race for State Senate District 11 has reached a fever pitch.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) called out his primary opponent, John Liu, for still owing the City more than $500,000 in fines and said he plans to introduce legislation next year to make it easier for the City to enforce such penalties. In response, Liu said he is going to file a complaint with the State’s public ethics commission, arguing that Avella is using his office to affect the election.

This latest clash between the two candidates started on Aug. 6, when Avella called on the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York to enforce the payment of more than $500,000 in fines owed by Liu. To do so, Avella said the Counsel should place a lien on all of Liu’s City and State political campaign accounts.

The fines came from Liu’s 2009 Comptroller campaign, where he illegally placed more than 7,000 campaign posters. The penalty was dropped, but reestablished as a required payment in 2012. While Liu has said that the legal proceedings ongoing, Avella argued that he has failed to take any steps for more than a year to move the case forward.

Avella added that if the Counsel fails to enforce this judgment, he plans to introduce legislation in the State Senate to give the Counsel the power to recoup taxpayer money directly from candidates and their campaign committees.

“The people in this district are hardworking, middle-class families. If they get a $10 fine, they pay it,” Avella said. “He wants to represent this neighborhood, meanwhile he refuses to pay half a million dollars in fines? I think the voters will respond to that on Primary Day.”

In response, Liu charged that Avella is misusing taxpayer resources by introducing legislation involving his campaign opponent. Liu is filing a complaint today with the State’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics, arguing that Avella has violated the Public Officers Law, which forbids a member of the legislature from using his position to secure unwarranted privileges or exemptions for himself or others. He added that Avella also broke the Civil Services Law, which prohibits using official authority to interfere with any election.

“It’s deeply disappointing that Senator Avella would use his governmental office and taxpayer-funded staff to launch a political attack. This flagrant misuse of government resources should be fully investigated by the appropriate authorities to expose any and all ethical violations,” Liu said. “Senator Avella should release all internal official and campaign correspondence relating to this matter so the people of our district can see how he is spending their hard-earned tax dollars for his own politically motivated reasons.”

Avella countered that the legislation cannot be introduced until the next State Legislature session starts, after the election. He called Liu’s complaint “laughable” and “camouflage” against the money that the former Comptroller owes.

“In other words, I introduce a piece of good government legislation that unfortunately affects him as well as other deadbeat politicians. Hey, you decided to run,” Avella said.

Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125,, or @JoeMarvilli.