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Avella, Jennings stripped of council committee posts

The two Democratic city councilmen from Queens who voted against Mayor Michael Bloomberg's property tax hike in November were stripped of their posts on council committees last week in apparent retribution from Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan) for opposing the tax increase.

Allan Jennings (D-Jamaica) was removed from his seat on the prominent Finance Committee and Tony Avella (D-Bayside) was taken out of his spot on the Rules, Privileges and Elections Committee in a council vote Feb. 12.

Neither councilman was moved from a committee chairmanship.

The committee membership changes came days after Jennings and Avella learned that their citywide parking permits, which are issued by the mayor's office, were being withheld.

The two met with Miller before the committee changes were announced and were told they were being moved from the committees because they voted against the 18.5 percent property tax increase in November, a compromise on the 25 percent hike Republican Bloomberg wanted, Jennings said.

"He told me what he was going to do," Jennings said of Miller's closed-door meeting. "He said I had to be a team player and do what they said."

Jennings, who voted against the committee changes, said he was disappointed and angered by the changes. During the full council meeting where the vote was held, Jennings compared himself to Jesus Christ.

"Two thousand years ago, there was a man from Galilee who did not agree with Caesar and he, too, was sacrificed and punished," Jennings told the full council meeting Feb. 12.

Avella voted for the committee changes in hopes of putting the controversial property tax vote behind him.

"It's just time to move on," he said. "We've got a lot of other major issues we have to deal with, so let's just move on."

It was unclear if Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village), who also opposed the property tax hike, was similarly punished. He was in the hospital last week for minor heart surgery.

Some Queens politicians saw the decision as necessary to preserve discipline among the council members.

"I respect the decision Gifford Miller made," said state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans). "I'm surprised it took so long, but I was glad to see he didn't take the chairmanships from them."

But Jennings maintained he was merely voting the way his constituents wanted him to.

"I thought I was living in America, and for my understanding I was elected to represent my district," he said. "The people in my district called me on the phone and told me that they wanted me to vote against the tax increase."

Jennings also said he and Avella were being attacked for their votes on the property tax through the redistricting process, he said. Under proposed changes, Jennings would lose a heavily commercial section of downtown Jamaica, which includes his district office, he said.

Avella's district would not lose any communities under the redistricting plan, but he would gain Linden Hill.

- Reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda contributed to this story.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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