A week after a crushing poll showed state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) with a 24-point lead over former City Councilman Tony Avella, the pendulum in the contentious race swung toward the Avella campaign after he received the endorsement Monday of the powerful United Federation of Teachers on the steps of Borough Hall.
The UFT, which has 7,000 members in the 11th Senate District, had backed Padavan in every campaign the senator has waged since 1972.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew said the teachers’ union is supporting Avella for his “strong independent voice.”
“We think that’s now what we need more than ever before,” he said.
Avella said he would ensure “the education system is the best in the country” and said he would take steps to include parents in education policy.
“I can’t tell you what this means for this election,” Avella said of the endorsement.
U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), the Queens Democratic Party chairman, said the endorsement marks the first time the UFT has switched its endorsement from an incumbent to a challenger.
“This is a critical, critical endorsement as we lead up to Election Day,” Crowley said.
Padavan, who announced this week he received the backing of the Building and Construction Trades Council and Teamsters Joined Council 16, said the UFT endorsement left him scratching his head.
“I don’t understand it because my record on behalf of the teachers and children has been outstanding after many years,” he said, noting he has the backing of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, which represents school principals and administrators.
He said the unions’ rationale for backing Avella was a mystery to him, saying, “There’s nobody more independent than I am.”
While Avella stayed away from criticizing Padavan, the scores of Democratic elected officials who stood by his side on the steps of Borough Hall pulled no punches.
“Unfortunately, Tony’s opponent has stood shoulder to shoulder with Joel Klein, as they try to destroy that district,” said City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), in reference to Padavan, the city schools chancellor and the local school district.
Weprin said he was referring to Padavan being the prime sponsor of the school governance bill.
Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) said Avella worked for her husband and predecessor, Leonard Stavisky, and that Avella “brings a perspective of understanding the issues. Nobody understands the issues as well as Tony.”
Stavisky said Avella is needed in the Senate to boost the Democrats’ slim two-seat majority in the body.
“His opponent has a secret he doesn’t want people to know and I’m going to make an announcement: He’s a Republican,” she said. “We need a majority so that we can advance the progressive issues that we care about.”
State Assemblyman and Senate candidate Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said Avella “is not a blank slate” while Padavan “is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” accusing the senator of siding with upstate and Long Island Republicans on issues that hurt the district.
Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) said Avella is “an independent advocate for his district” while Padavan “is a lackey for the Long Island Republicans or upstate Republicans.”
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz
©2010 Community News Group
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