BY JAMES FARRELL
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) officially announced on Sunday, Dec. 18, that he would be running for mayor. In a speech that accused current Mayor Bill de Blasio of fostering a lower quality of life in New York City, the longtime state senator and former councilman outlined a number of issues that he felt needed to be addressed, including education, affordability, high property taxes on the middle class and homelessness.
“I believe we have reached a crossroad in the direction our city should be taking,” he said in a prepared speech. “Under Mayor de Blasio, we have more homeless than ever, our taxes continue to rise and it is more expensive to live here than ever before, all of this while our quality of life fades away.”
His choice of venue for the announcement made a strong political statement. Avella held his press conference just across the street from the Holiday Inn Express on 55th Road in Maspeth, where protestors have railed against de Blasio’s policy of housing homeless individuals and families in hotels. Back in August, plans to convert the Maspeth Holiday Inn into a homeless shelter first ignited the protests, which still continue as the hotel currently has 42 rooms devoted to homeless individuals, according to the Department of Homeless Services. Avella has been a vocal opponent of the mayor’s policy and has claimed that the decision was made unfairly and without community input. He reasserted his opposition to the plan on Sunday.
“It is time to stop dumping homeless families and individuals in hotels and motels throughout the city without support services and the prospect of stable long-term housing and without community notification or involvement,” he said.
Avella vowed to eliminate corruption in City Hall; protect small businesses by enacting the Small Business Survival Act; institute a 2 percent property tax cap; restore NYCHA housing stock; cap water and sewer bills; and give communities more authority over local traffic controls.
During his announcement, Avella was surrounded by a sea of supporters holding blue signs with his name.
When asked if he would build more homeless shelters as a solution to the homelessness problem, Avella responded by saying that there needed to be a conversation, and that problems couldn’t be solved until the mayor’s office took protestors more seriously. (In previous reports, protestors have said that the mayor’s office has painted them as vicious and uncaring about the homeless.)
“That’s a discussion that we all have to have. What do we do in these neighborhoods?” he asked when presented with the question about more shelters. “People in this neighborhood have a right to say what goes on in their own community, and for the mayor to come out and criticize community leaders and residents because they care about their own community is absolutely disgraceful.”
Leszek Wiszowaty, 52, of Maspeth, is a Republican who has been protesting regularly outside the Maspeth hotel. He hasn’t decided whom he would vote for, but said that if the Republicans didn’t put forward a better candidate, he would vote for Avella. He said that Avella’s support for the Maspeth protestors was an important factor.
“I’m actually not a Democrat, but I support everything that he talks about, which is communities and communities having input in what goes on,” said Wiszowaty. “I believe he represents hope for us.”
Robert Holden is president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, a group that has been a major voice in the fight against the Maspeth shelter. Sen. Avella does not represent Maspeth, but received praise from Holden.
“He was the first elected official here,” said Holden. “Even our own elected officials didn’t come for weeks when we were protesting every night.”
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.