Days before City Councilmember Tony Avella (D-Queens) officially declared his candidacy for mayor on Sunday, he released a video in which he compared his position to that of Howard Beale in the 1976 film, Network. The character, a ratings-challenged news anchor turned anti-corporate crusader portrayed by Peter Finch, famously exhorted his audience to put their heads outside their windows and scream about the state of affairs, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
Cynical media executives became happy to keep Beale on the air so long as he attracted viewers, provided that his outbursts posed no real harm to the corporation.
Similarly, while an Avella candidacy could inject some welcome alternative perspectives into the mayoral race in 2009, the question remains whether he can deliver more than token opposition to presumed top-tier Democratic candidates like Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr., Congressman Anthony Weiner and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
Fueled by the slogan, “The revolution starts … now!” Avella summarizes his underdog candidacy with three prongs. He wants to lower taxes for all New Yorkers, reform the Department of Education and stop the overdevelopment that is damaging the unique character of the city’s neighborhoods.
Regarding one major example among the last platform, Avella explained his opposition to the $ 4 billion Atlantic Yards project for Brooklyn within a voicemail he left in response to a call for comment on Monday.
“I am totally against the Ratner Project,” Avella said. “I think it is a perfect example of the overdevelopment that is going on in this city, of putting ten thousand potatoes in a five-pound bag. The traffic, the overburdening of the subway system and the transit system in that area would just be enormous. Plus the fact of the misuse of eminent domain – that is something that absolutely has to stop in this city, of taking somebody’s private property and giving it to a private individual, in this case Ratner, so that they can make money from it. That is the most undemocratic situation and process that I’ve ever heard of,” he concluded before he hung up.
Characteristically, his opinion stands out in the potential field of leading Democratic mayoral candidates who support the project.
Avella, 56, seems to have carefully cultivated a maverick reputation as the representative for the 19th District in Northeast Queens including Bayside, Whitestone and College Point since 2002. During his tenure, he has burnished his good government credentials through his refusal to vote for a pay raise for Council members, and for his rejection of the $8,000 “lulu” to which he is entitled as chair of the Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee.
Recently, Avella garnered attention when he called for buildings commissioner Patricia Lancaster to resign in the wake of the East Side crane collapse on March 15 that killed seven people. He also introduced legislation in December that would ban horse-drawn carriages in the city on the grounds of cruelty and risk to the animals posed by traffic.
Although his stances may have endeared him to animal lovers and preservationists, those positions could lead Avella to face an uphill battle in raising campaign cash from the city’s powerful interests like the real estate lobby. Fundraising reports filed in late January show him with a total of $180,000 raised, far behind Thompson ($4.2 million), Weiner ($3.7 million) and Quinn ($2.4 million).
Not that a little thing like money should deter a prophet.