What Avella's departure means for the Queens BP race
Aug 21, 2013 | 11455 views | 0 0 comments | 189 189 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Who would have thought when the campaign to replace Helen Marshall as Queens borough president initially got underway that we would be left with a head-to-head race between just two candidates?

If we recall correctly, there were at least six highly qualified political movers-and-shakers who were eyeing the post, including former assemblyman Barry Grodenchik, State Senator Jose Peralta and Councilman Leroy Comrie, who have all since dropped out of the race.

Now another candidate has dropped out of the race, leaving only Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr. and former councilwoman Melinda Katz on the ballot. State Senator Tony Avella issued a statement last Wednesday announcing his decision to leave the race.

He cited his desire to bring real reform to Albany as a big factor in stepping out of the race. Here's part of his statement:

“When I first ran for the State Senate, I ran on a platform of reforming Albany. It has become clear that there is still a lot of work left to be done. From protecting against the threat of hydrofracking to preserving women’s rights, there is a lot of unfinished business in Albany and I hope to take more of a leadership role in helping address these important issues, which reverberate beyond Queens and affect people across the entire state. That is why I believe I can be more effective for the people at this time in my role as a State Senator.”

Throughout his political career, which included eight years in the City Council, Avella has been an outspoken advocate for good government and transparency. He has regularly refused to accept “perks” that his colleagues willingly accept, such as stipends for chairing committees and parking placards.

Still, there's something about his sudden decision that just doesn't quite make sense. For example, of all of the people we would have placed bets on dropping out of this race, we would have had Avella as a long shot; he's just not the type of person to give up on a campaign.

It's true that Avella was far behind his opponents in both fundraising and endorsements – Katz has the party's backing and Vallone picked up the nod of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association this week – but let's look at the last mayoral race, in which Avella was a candidate in the Democratic Primary.

That was a far more Quixotic endeavor than running for Queens borough president, and in that race he was also lagging in fundraising and endorsements as compared to his competitors. But he stayed with the campaign until the very end, only conceding on Primary Day when it became clear that Bill Thompson was going to be the choice for Democratic voters.

So while we can't say we don't necessary believe Avella, it was a surprising decision given that we are less than four weeks away from Primary Day and that he had just received approximately $300,000 in matching funds from the city that he will now have to return.

As one political insider we talked with told us, if it were anybody other than Avella they would have immediately assumed there was a damning indictment about to be made public. Which, first, says a lot about Avella's reputation for doing everything above board and, second, the sad reputation of Queens politics and its penchant for sending its elected officials off to the slammer.

But whatever the reason, Avella is out, so what does this do for the race? Well, the first inclination would be to assume this helps Vallone, as many poll watchers agreed that he and Avella were going after a lot of the same voters. However, the unfortunate thing for Vallone is Avella waited so long to drop out of the race that his name is still going to be on the ballot.

And we've talked to several voters in Avella's northeast Queens district that are still going to vote for Avella when they go to the polls, whether he is officially in the race or not. While Vallone will surely pick up some votes, it might not be the windfall that would easily push him past Katz.

That said, there will no excuse for whoever loses of a third candidate splitting a voting demographic now that Katz and Vallone are squaring off against each other. Now it comes down to who connects with the voters and who the people of Queens want to see in the top job at Borough Hall.

May the best man – or woman – win.

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