BY NATALIA KOZIKOWSKA
Forest Hills attorney and Queens Village native Munir Avery announced that he has thrown his hat in the race to replace embattled State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis), who is still awaiting trial on corruption charges.
Avery joins challenger Clyde Vanel, a Cambria Heights attorney who finished second to Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) in last year’s race to replace a term-limited Leroy Comrie.
Despite facing up to 25 years in prison on charges that he tried to rig the mayoral election, Smith also announced that he will be running for reelection.
As a long-time Southeast Queens resident, Avery, a Democrat, said he always knew he wanted to run for office, representing the district he calls home.
“I’m running because I was born and raised in the district. I love Southeast Queens and the people here,” he said. “When I visit the churches, the mosques, the synagogues and the temples, they all tell me we need a person with integrity who will provide honest, respectful representation. I am that person.”
Though this is the first time Avery is running for office, he is no stranger to the political landscape. He currently serves as counsel to Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing) and is vice president of the Adlai Stevenson Regular Democratic Club.
Avery has also worked as director of constituent affairs for former councilwoman Diana Reyna and served as a representative for the 103rd Precinct under Queens DA Richard Brown – experiences he said he believes make him qualified to fill the seat.
“I have worked in legislative offices doing constituent services for quite some time and know how to help our constituents navigate the system to make sure they get the services they need,” he said.
In running for the District 14 Senate seat, Avery said he hopes that Democrats will regain control of the chamber. Although he did not mention the Senator by name, in August, Smith joined forces with the Independent Democratic Conference – a coalition designed to prevent the Senate Democratic caucus from taking power, even after winning the majority of Senate seats in last year’s elections.
“I would love to see the Democrats take over the chamber,” Avery said. “I would love to see the Democrats have their chairmanships and have their seats so we can start pushing a progressive agenda.”
When asked about his thoughts on Smith’s decision to run for reelection in light of his scandal, Avery refrained from criticism.
“I believe that all people are innocent until proven guilty. He is still a public servant,” he said. “He has served for many years and all Americans should get involved and run and be a part of the system. That’s what makes America great and that’s what makes our democracy strong.”
If elected, Avery said that he will be primarily focused on bringing more resources into his community – especially for the youth.
“We need to make sure our schools are getting their fair share of funding. We need to end co-locations and the focus on testing. We need to start focusing on creating well-rounded, productive members of society and empowering young men and women to achieve their dream,” he said. “We need our children to have universal pre-k education. Our young people need jobs. We need more services for our young people and we need to get them involved.”
Citing his experience as an elder law attorney, Avery said he also believes there are not enough resources available for senior citizens in the district.
“There are many seniors who are being abused and neglected, so I would like to see more funding for case workers, social workers and home health aides so that we could be more proactive about going out and finding the seniors that need assistance,” he said.
Reach Natalia Kozikowska at (718)357-7400 Ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org or @nkozikowska.