Democratic lawyer making a run at indicted Smith’s Senate seat

Munir Avery. Photo courtesy David Jordan
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Soon after state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) was arrested eight months ago in an alleged scheme to rig the mayor’s race, speculation arose as to who would seize the opportunity to run for the southeast Queens seat in 2014, and now there is an answer.

Several weeks ago, Munir Avery, a Democratic election lawyer from Hillcrest with a private practice specializing in elder law, registered a committee with the state Board of Elections to run for the District 14 seat.

But Avery, vice president of the Adlai Stevenson Regular Democratic Club, said he made the decision before Smith’s indictment made him a sitting duck.

“I did not like the way he sided with the [Independent Democratic Conference],” he said, of Smith’s move to join a rogue group of Democrats who chose to caucus with Senate Republicans following the 2012 election.

“I voted for a Democrat who would push progressive issues,” he added.

Smith, an ambitious lawmaker who was rewarded with several powerful appointments after joining the IDC, was booted from the conference and stripped of his leadership positions following his arrest in April on charges he tried to buy the city’s Republican leaders to allow him to run on the GOP ticket for mayor.

“I’m concerned about bringing services back to my community, and I don’t believe he’s in any position to do that anymore,” said Avery, a former prosecutor in the Queens district attorney’s office who said he will wait until the judicial system has its say before passing judgement on Smith’s character.

“I’m worried about the budget process. I’m worried he’s not able to fight for the community,” Avery said. “We need someone who can do that.”

Should Smith decide to seek re-election to an eighth term, he would face Sisyphean odds. The state’s most recent campaign finance records show donations to his election committee ground to a halt following his arrest, and as of July his war chest contained just under $11,000.

With an apparent power vacuum in southeast Queens, term-limited City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) seemed like the odds-on favorite to walk into the District 14 seat if he chose to run.

But earlier this week Borough President-elect Melinda Katz announced the councilman will join her in Borough Hall as her deputy come January, opening the field to potential candidates who would have had a rough go running against Comrie.

Those names include Jason Hilliard, a staffer in U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks’ (D-Jamaica) office, who has been rumored to be eyeing the seat, and Clyde Vanel, an intellectual law attorney from Cambria Heights who has been seeking political office every opportunity he gets.

Vanel lost both his 2009 bid for Council and his 2012 campaign for state Assembly by 27 percentage points or more, but ended up just 3 percentage points shy of victory in his most recent contest for Council.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Posted 12:00 am, December 6, 2013
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Reader feedback

Joe Moretti from Jamaica says:
Time to put this despicable crook and another useless Jamaica politician to jail.

Really, Gregory Meeks is thinking about putting his name in the hat to replace this corrupt Senator. Meeks is more corrupt and more of a do nothing than Smith. It is just a game of corrupt musical chairs in Jamaica politics, while every other community in Queens improves except Jamaica which keeps going down the toilet.

By the way: The Twelve Years of Comrie:
Dec. 6, 2013, 6:46 am
Joe Moretti from Jamaica says:
My bad, it is not Gregory Meeks, but a staffer in his office, Jason Hilliard. I jumped the gun when I saw crooked Meeks's name.
Dec. 6, 2013, 6:56 am

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