State Senator Tony Avella met a handful of protesters outside a local school in Queens today, where the lawmaker took flack for his decision to join a breakaway faction of Democrats in Albany.
Mr. Avella, now the fifth member of the Independent Democratic Conference, arrived in Douglaston to give a citation to an elementary school. But four protesters, unfurling signs like “Tony the Traitor,” stood outside the school in the numbing cold to denounce Mr. Avella’s defection from the Democratic caucus.
“As somebody who voted for Tony and as somebody who even showed up to his post-election night party [in 2010], I thought it was a fantastic turnaround for the senate district to actually have Democratic representation for the first time in a very long time,” said Matthew Stein, a 25 year-old student from Floral Park, referring to when Mr. Avella toppled a Republican to win the eastern Queens seat more than three years ago. “And for Tony to join the IDC, it definitely feels as though he’s attempting to splinter the Democratic party rather than the proposed argument of bipartisanship.”
Mr. Stein argued that Senate Democratic priorities like passing the DREAM Act and raising the minimum wage would be stifled by the current governing structure of the senate, where the IDC rules with the Republican Party. Like his allies, Mr. Stein was evasive about whether he worked with any local Democratic organizations–he claimed the protest was an independent effort, not spurred by angry Democrats already exploring primary challenges for Mr. Avella.
Matthew Costello, a 26-year-old organizer with the Fair Elections Coalition, railed against Mr. Avella’s caucus-switch because he feared the breakaway conference would not be able to pass a law to allow a public-financed matching funds system for elections in the state legislature. While the IDC and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have expressed support for publicly-financed elections, the GOP caucus is firmly against them.
“We got all the Democrats on board, we worked so hard to flip the IDC and maybe a couple of extra Republicans and now that we just get enough votes after our huge campaign, we just lost one Democratic vote which means that everything can go down the drain,” Mr. Costello said. “We just want to make sure that if someone is elected a Democrat, they stay a Democrat and not mislead the people of his district.”
Mr. Avella, who said the protesters were “ridiculous” and “shameful,” nevertheless appeared amused as he strode out of the school. The grinning lawmaker suggested the Senate Democrats engineered the protest and said his constituents were not upset with him for making the move.
“You know, if it wasn’t an organized effort, I’d be a little more sympathetic,” Mr. Avella said as he walked out to meet the protesters and the reporters who matched them in number.
“I’m a bipartisan person. I always have been. I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, you got a good idea, I’m gonna support it,” Mr. Avella told Politicker. “I have not sacrificed one iota of principal to do this. I didn’t ask for a committee assignment … it’s about being in a position to get things done.”
“It is funny though how people have been mentioning to me almost since day one that, ‘You’re an independent guy, how come you didn’t join the IDC?'” he continued. “It’s not like people haven’t suggested this to me for a long time. It’s just that: It is working.”