Tony Avella Makes an Unconventional Endorsement in a Queens Council Race

State Senator Tony Avella. (Photo: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)

State Senator Tony Avella. (Photo: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images) Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

State Senator Tony Avella, a Queens Democrat, has always marched to the beat of his own drummer.

He defied the Democratic establishment to run for mayor against their chosen candidate, Bill Thompson. He broke away from the mainline Senate Democrats to join the Independent Democratic Conference, a bloc that helped keep Republicans in the majority. His railed against a pedestrian plaza located in an adjacent Senate district–and supported by the Democratic senator representing that neighborhood.

So maybe it’s not such a surprise that Mr. Avella did not endorse the Queens Democratic Party’s candidate for an open City Council seat vacated by Mark Weprin. He also did not back the insurgent supported by the city’s leading labor unions. He even passed on another Democrat endorsed by the woman who tried to defeat Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year, Zephyr Teachout.

At a Richmond Hill banquet located beyond the boundaries of the eastern Queens district, Mr. Avella instead chose to back Satnam Singh Parhar, a businessman and civic leader viewed as more of a long-shot candidate. He said he was endorsing Mr. Parhar because he has a strong record of “getting results.”

“It is time this district elects a candidate who reflects its great diversity, who understands the issues it faces, and who will tirelessly fight to secure it’s fair share of city funding and services,” Mr. Avella, a former city councilman from a neighboring district, said in a statement. “Satnam Singh Parhar has demonstrated his value as a community advocate, and as a successful businessman.”

Satnam Singh Parhar. (Photo: Parhar Campaign)

Satnam Singh Parhar. (Photo: Parhar Campaign)

Mr. Parhar has hosted fundraisers for Mr. Avella before and is no slouch when it comes to raising cash for himself. A leader in the burgeoning Sikh community, he has pulled in about $45,000 so far and has more than $100,000 in the bank after receiving public matching funds. His donors are primarily Sikh.

The district, roping in the neighborhoods of Bayside, Oakland Gardens, Fresh Meadows, Bellerose, Floral Park, Queens Village, and Glen Oaks, is one of the most diverse in the city, despite the fact that only white men have represented it in recent decades. South Asians are a growing demographic in the area and will be able to choose among several Democrats that look like them, including Mr. Parhar. (Two of the front-runners in the race, Barry Grodenchik and Rebecca Lynch, are white.)

Mr. Avella has had an occasionally uneasy relationship with the growing Asian community in his own district, which includes much of the turf Mr. Parhar is trying to represent. Last year, Mr. Avella fended off a furious challenge from John Liu, the former comptroller and first Asian-American elected to city office. He also angered Asian voters when he introduced a bill that would have required all city businesses with foreign-language signage to post signs of equal size in English.

What Mr. Avella’s endorsement will mean for the six-way race is not clear. Most of the politicians in the area are behind Mr. Grodenchik, but Mr. Avella is a long-serving elected official with a clear core of supporters, particularly in the white, home-owning portions of the district. He has won tough elections in eastern Queens.

The Democratic primary will be held September 10.

Tony Avella Makes an Unconventional Endorsement in a Queens Council Race