Avella announces mayoral bid, slams de Blasio on homelessness

State Sen. Tony Avella launched his campaign for mayor Sunday, choosing the site of a Maspeth hotel used to house the homeless to kick off his challenge to Mayor de Blasio.

“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,” said Avella (D-Queens). “It is time to eliminate the corruption at City Hall, where campaign consultants [and] lobbyists sit at the table.”

Avella is a member of the Independent Democratic Conference, the group of breakaway Democrats that has allied with Republicans in Albany, and he previously ran for mayor in 2009. He’s taken up the cause of protesters who have fiercely opposed plans to turn the Maspeth Holiday Inn into a homeless shelter.

Since the opposition prompted the owner to nix plans for a full conversion, the city has rented individual rooms to house homeless men there. City Hall has shot back at the protesters, sending releases that portray mostly black shelter residents as being under siege from mostly white protesters. The material also shows at least one person at a demonstration chanting “white lives matter.”

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Avella said he’d campaign on the message that locals should have more control over what goes on in their neighborhoods, including the placement of homeless shelters.

“You cannot dictate from the top,” he said. “That's my theme. What's going to happen in their community — they have a say. They should be determining what's happening.”

Avella also said neighborhoods should have the “ability to approve” traffic changes like the addition of bike lanes and pedestrian plazas, which he called “the de Blasio administration’s narrow-minded anti-motorist policies.”

He later said he only meant there should be “neighborhood involvement,” not an outright approval requirement for city policies.

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“My favorite expression is nobody knows their block better than the people that live there, and we should start paying attention to them,” he said.

Avella was a city councilman when he lost his 2009 bid for the Democratic nomination for mayor by a large margin to Bill Thompson, the city controller at the time. Then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg staved off Thompson’s challenge.

This time around, Avella said he thinks he has a better chance because of a widespread frustration with all levels of government.

“I think people are fed up with government, and I think that goes across the board,” he said. “People are ready for a change.”

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The Queens senator said he would support imposing a 2% cap on property tax increases, which applies in the rest of the state, to New York City. De Blasio has not raised tax rates, but homeowners complain about paying more as assessments of their property values go up.

Avella also backed free tuition at CUNY for city residents and took a shot at de Blasio’s plan for a street car along the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront, which he called a “billion-dollar boondoggle.”

“It’s called a bus. Why don’t we put a bus there?” he said.

Avella did not spell out where he would house the growing homeless population despite repeated questions, but said the city should focus on preventing homelessness by offering rental subsidies and assistance preventing evictions.

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Those are the same policies de Blasio has pursued. But Avella said he doesn’t believe that the mayor is acting on his promises.

“I don’t believe anything that comes out of the mayor’s office anymore,” he said. “The mayor seems to be more interested in politics than actually running the city. When you’re the mayor of the city of New York, you’re the city manager. You run all the agencies. He’s not going that. The city’s out of control.”

A De Blasio campaign spokesman pointed to the mayor’s record when asked for comment.

 

“Under Mayor de Blasio, crime just hit another all-time low, jobs are at record highs, the City is building and preserving affordable housing at a record pace, while graduation rates and test scores continue to improve. We are happy to match that record against anyone,” Dan Levitan said.

 

Avella joined the Independent Democratic Conference in 2014, after the group had made the controversial move of helping Republicans form a majority in the state Senate.

IDC leader Sen. Jeff Klein praised Avella, but stopped short of saying he'd back his candidacy.

"As a member of the Independent Democratic Conference, Senator Tony Avella champions issues no matter how big or small and is a valued member of the IDC. We wish him the best of luck as he starts his campaign and we look forward to working with him this upcoming session," he said. "Consistent with years past, we put governing before politics and there will be a time for that once the legislative session is complete."

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