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Avella stands his ground at civic’s council debate

Civic activist Tony Avella, a Democrat, defended himself and his bid for City Councilman Mike Abel’s (R-Bayside) seat Tuesday night against criticism about the College Point Sports Association’s financial activities while he was president in 1997.

The six candidates seeking to replace Abel got their chance to be heard and grilled by longtime Bayside activist Frank Skala in the first of three northeast Queens forums before the primary election on Sept. 11.

Two other candidates night’s were slated for the area before the primary — Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the Community Church of Little Neck and Friday at 7 p.m. at MS 158 in Bayside. The district covers Bayside, Little Neck, Douglaston, College Point and Whitestone.

About 50 people attended Skala’s East Bayside Homeowner’s Association candidates night at All Saints Church in Bayside, where Avella responded to questions about the finances of the College Point Sports Association.

According to a 1997 tax return filed by the College Point Sports Association, the group lost roughly $84,000 that year, just as the group was slated to renovate a complex of ballfields in College Point. The land was eventually taken from the civic group and returned to the city.

Avella, who has lost two previous bids for the 19th Council District seat, arrived an hour late but answered Skala’s questions at length.

The financial loss was the result of a “risky investment account” established by the association to pay for the ballfields project “long before I got there,” said Avella, who was endorsed by the Queens Democratic Party in May.

“When I came on the board, I did not like the fact they had that account, but I was outvoted,” he said. “The person in charge ran that account into the ground. It was wrong and showed a serious lack of judgment.”

The other candidates running for the seat include Democrats Arthur Cheliotes, a labor leader; John Frank, an activist; Jerry Iannece, a civic leader; and Joyce Shepard, an activist. Republican Dennis Saffran is also vying for Abel’s seat and spoke at the candidates night but is not facing a primary next week.

All of the council candidates except for Shepard agreed with the civic group’s four provisions — a ban on election signs or stickers on public property, rejection of street fairs on Bell Boulevard, opposition to the expansion of St. Mary’s Hospital for Children in Bayside and the enforcement of building codes to prevent illegal occupancy.

Shepard questioned St. Mary’s expansion but backed the civic on the other issues.

“I will not bow down to anyone,” she said. Shepard said she favored allowing block parties, not street fairs, and had to familiarize herself with the St. Mary’s issue before committing to a position. “I would have to look at the plan and how it will impact the community,” she said.

Shepard, who is often criticized as uncontrolled or rude, said she knew how to get along with people and would work with others if elected to the City Council.

Cheliotes, who moved to Bay Terrace two years ago and has been criticized by some as being a carpetbagger, started off with the same speech he gave at the Bay Terrace Community Alliance’s candidate’s night Aug. 28.

“I am a native, born and raised here in Queens,” he said. “My time has been spent here in this borough, living the issues of this borough.”

Cheliotes said his decision to retain his post as president of the CWA 1180 municipal employees union if elected was not a potential conflict of interest because the mayor’s office handles contract negotiations, not the legislative branch.

John Frank, a political newcomer who said he has knocked on 13,000 doors in the community and who recently sent a videotape about his campaign to voters, also faced criticism.

“I am dedicated to being accessible to you,” he said. “I’m dedicated to being accountable to you.”

Responding to a question from the audience, Frank said he had never attended a city council meeting but had watched them on public television.

Iannece, the only civic leader in the race, lost a bid for Abel’s seat in 1997. The defense attorney and Little League coach responded to questions about his political alliances.

Iannece, who described himself as someone “independent of special interests and political bosses,” said he was sought after by Republicans and Conservatives for their respective party nominations.

“They approached me three times,” said Iannece, who said he refused to switch his party affiliation for the nominations. “I’m a lifelong Democrat.”

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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