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Queensborough hosts inauguration of Tony Avella

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State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) held his inauguration ceremony at Queensborough Community College Sunday, where colleagues voiced their high hopes for the freshman’s independent spirit.

“He’s my kind of guy,” said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who spoke at length about Avella before swearing him in on stage. “We are sure ... he will not lose touch with this district.”

Schumer touted Avella’s grassroots rise through politics. Avella began as a staff member for many noted politicians, including former Mayors Ed Koch and David Dinkins, before serving as a city councilman and running for mayor himself.

“No one put a silver spoon in this guy’s mouth,” he said.

As examples, Schumer mentioned a pay raise for Council members that Avella refused to take, giving the money back, and his adherence to term limits even though the law was revised to add a third term.

“We’ve elected one of our best,” he said.

Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) praised Avella for his support of the gay and lesbian community and his support for marriage equality.

In Avella’s inaugural address at the close of the ceremony, he shied away from policy and instead thanked all the people who helped him throughout the campaign. And in an emotional moment reminiscent of U.S. Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), Avella became slightly choked up when he thanked his wife and extended family.

But speaking after the address, Avella made it clear what he wants to accomplish.

“Ethics reform and campaign reform are the first things,” he said.

Avella said he is already working on a measure to install term limits for all state officials.

“It’s important for fresh blood,” he said. “Problems change every day.”

Avella said career politicians can become stagnant and lose touch with the people they are elected to represent.

As far as Queens is concerned, Avella wants to improve transportation options for the borough.

“My district has no subways. We need buses,” he said. “I want to bring back the routes that were eliminated.”

Avella has a reputation for independence and blunt speech and was even depicted in a Washington, D.C., cartoon as riding a motorcycle as part of a gang called “The Wild Bunch.”

Avella said he wants to stay true to his rogue image, but like many politicians who campaign on promises of change, he conceded that a degree of cooperation might be necessary.

“There are opportunities for compromise,” he said. “But the core issue of reform cannot be compromised.”

In between Schumer’s appearance and Avella’s inaugural address, the audience heard a large contingent of Queens politicians sing the praises of the newly elected state senator, including state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone), who once employed Avella as her chief of staff.

“Tony is going to continue to fight for those issues that are important,” she said, citing budget and ethic reforms for which the state senator is known.

The wise-cracking emcee for the event was Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), who referred to state Assemblyman Edward Braunstein (D-Bayside) as the “best dimples in the Democratic Party” and introduced several musical acts that performed throughout the nearly two-hour event.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 10:33 am, October 12, 2011
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