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Avella gets jump-start on his new role as state senator

State Sen.-elect Tony Avella has hit the ground running.

The Democrat who ousted Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) from the seat he held for nearly four decades, Avella has unofficially begun his stint as an Albany legislator. Almost immediately after the election, Avella said he has been fielding phone calls from soon-to-be constituents, has decided his office will be at his former City Council site at 38-50 Bell Blvd. and has selected a number of his employees, including his chief of staff, Seth Urbinder.

Urbinder worked for him during his campaign and previously worked for Councilman Jim Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows).

“I just kept the campaign operation going in effect, and some of the campaign staff who worked for me in the Council will be employees in the state Senate, so I’m ready to conduct business,” Avella said. “We’re already getting constituent complaints because Padavan has basically shut his office.”

Padavan said Avella was wrong and that he is working with constituents on a daily basis.

“Anyone who has been in contact with my office has received any guidance we can provide,” Padavan said. “Our office is open and we are taking calls.”

Avella, who received 53.17 percent of the turnout, or 25,864 votes, said he has not heard from Padavan, who got 22,781 votes, since the election, which Avella said he won in part because of support from the United Federation of Teachers as well as an effective campaign operation that included knocking on 7,000 doors.

Padavan did not directly address whether or not he would speak with Avella, although he did say he had “nothing more to say” other than what he said in a concession statement released by his office in which he thanked constituents.

This week Avella traveled to Albany for a “new senator orientation” to bring him and others up to speed on budget, staff and other relevant issues. A number of things he plans to do as senator are still up in the air, dependent upon which party will be the majority in the Senate. Currently, incumbent Sens. Craig Johnson (D-Garden City Park) and Antoine Thompson (D-Buffalo) are falling behind as absentee ballots are counted. Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer (D-Port Chester) has held onto her narrow lead.

“Finding out who has the majority, that’ll determine a lot,” Avella said. “Will I be able to get a second office in the southern end of the district? If I’m not in the majority, that’s out of the question. What committees will I be on? Will I be the chairman of one? That depends on the majority. In the majority, you have access to more funding than if you’re in the minority.”

Despite what has been a whirlwind of events during election season and even after, Avella did say he plans to take a vacation for the first time in a decade next week, when he will travel upstate with his wife.

Once he returns, however, Avella said he will begin meeting with police precinct commanders and school principals and start setting up town hall-style meetings. In addition, he said he will begin focusing on the legislation he hopes to craft or support when he goes up to Albany, including term limits and campaign finance bills, as well as ethics reform and creating an independent redistricting commission that would be tasked with redrawing legislative districts.

“If Republicans do take control, it’ll be interesting to see if they support an independent redistricting commission,” Avella said.

Whatever the issue, Avella said he plans to play the part he did in the Council — an independent voice who does not cater to either side.

“Some of the reason people voted for me, even Republicans, is I’m a bipartisan person,” Avella said. “If I believe my own party’s doing something wrong, I say so. I want people to say that was the best vote they ever cast.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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