Saffran, Avella debate issues

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With only a week of campaigning left until the Nov. 6 election, little blood was spilled Tuesday night as the two candidates hoping to succeed northeast Queens City Councilman Mike Abel (R-Bayside) squared off at a Bayside candidates’ night.

Bayside civic leader Frank Skala presided over the event as Republican Dennis Saffran and Democrat Tony Avella gave presentations about their campaigns and answered questions from Skala and the audience.

The forum was hosted by the East Bayside Homeowners Association, headed by Skala, at the All Saints Church in Bayside, where between 40 and 50 people attended. Afterwards Saffran and Avella traveled to the Douglaston Civic Association for a second candidates event.

Avella beat four other Democrats in the Sept. 25 primary to run in the general election next week, while Saffran is the only Republican striving for Abel’s seat.

Saffran, a Douglaston lawyer who is running for office as a Republican, spoke first. He outlined his goal of making safety and security a priority and reiterated his campaign pledge “to fight to preserve and build on the Giuliani reforms of the last eight years.”

Avella, a longtime College Point civic activist who is making his third attempt to win the seat on the Democrat line, emphasized his record of community service. He said the job of a city council person — the delivery of city services — should not be politicized.

Both denounced illegal zoning and touted the need to preserve the residential character of the district’s northeast Queens neighborhoods. While Saffran and Avella agreed that public education must be reformed, Saffran said he favored abolishing the city Board of Education. Avella said he approved of higher pay for city teachers and said more consideration should be given to the question of the Board of Ed’s fate.

The 19th Council District covers most of northeast Queens and includes the communities of Bayside, Bay Terrace, Whitestone, College Point, Malba, Douglas Manor, Beechurst, and parts of Douglaston, Little Neck, Auburndale, Linden Hill, and Murray Hill.

The only sparks that flew during the roughly 30-minute candidate event came when an audience member questioned Avella’s tenure as president of the College Point Sports Association and the resulting contamination of the group’s 22-acre ballfield complex by a contractor who dumped debris there. The land was eventually taken over by the city.

In September, at the first EBHA candidates’ night prior to the originally scheduled Sept. 11 primary, Avella responded to similar questions about the College Point ballfields.

According to a 1997 tax return filed by the College Point Sports Association and signed by Avella, the group lost roughly $84,000 that year, just as it was slated to renovate the ballfields.

In response to an audience member’s question about the ballfields, Avella said Tuesday night newspaper reports that the seizure of the ballfields had cost the taxpayer’s $10 million were “not correct.”

Avella said “bad things happen to good people all the time” and contended the city mishandled the ballfields by not forcing the contractor to remove the debris.

Saffran chimed in and said Avella had hired the contractor who eventually contaminated the fields with “hazardous materials 22-feet high.”

Avella said that assessment was “exaggerated beyond all reality.”

Abel, one of three Queens Republicans in the City Council, has been in office for nearly 10 years and is prohibited from seeking a third term under the city’s 1993 term limits law. Abel announced his candidacy in the borough president’s race in November 1999 but dropped out earlier this year due to a lack of funds.

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

Posted 7:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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