City Councilman Tony Avella used to be “deathly afraid” of speaking in front of a public audience. But those days seem to be gone as the Queens native and mayoral hopeful confidently steps onto the 2009 campaign trail.
As for his strategy, Avella insists that “If you just be honest with people and tell them how you feel, there is no need to be afraid.”
In late April, he was fighting to save a SoHo post office from closure, telling the residents protesting outside that postal service is something every community must have.
At every public outing, Avella says he is committed to community and to preserving original neighborhoods. He was also one of two lawmakers who rejected hefty pay hikes for themselves last year.
Earlier in the month he made New York University a stop on his campaign trail. During the conversation, NYU Government and Community Affairs Director Gary Parker asked questions that honed in on humanizing Avella so voters could better understand the council member for the 19th district in Queens.
The candidate, who is fond of familiarity and is referenced as “Tony” rather than Anthony, rejects the title of politician.
“I am not in it for the politics, I am in it for public service,” said Avella, who won the New York State Community Service Award in 1997.
Avella has worked with former Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr., and former mayors Ed Koch and David Dinkins. His extensive political career and his own experience having a father who was a disabled veteran makes Avella committed to localizing rather than centralizing.
“I’ve always been a community activist. It’s in my blood,” he added, reminding listeners that he has served on his community board for the past nine years.
Many attendees of the NYU event were attracted to Avella’s concentration on community, and a symbiotic relationship between community activity and government policy.
Katherine Wolpe, 69, the ex-President of Village Independent Democrats, has lived in the East Village since 1971 and noted that “there have been a lot of changes in the neighborhood, and how the government responds is very important. “
Others came with a plethora of questions rooted in their dislike and feelings of neglect by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s policies.
Kirk Desoto, 31, said after listening to Avella, “Being a person who doesn’t like Bloomberg and what he has brought, I wanted to see what a newer candidate wants to bring.”
The councilman said as mayor he’d go in a different direction, “giving more power to the community … using clean money and clean elections.”
He has spent $68,792 on campaigning, compared to the mayor’s roughly $3 million. He will have to face City Comptroller Bill Thompson in a Democratic primary before being on the ballot with Bloomberg.