Saturday, February 02, 2008


UP FRONT News January 29, 2008
Published by Tom Weiss
Editorial Advisor: Willard Whittingham
"The paper that can't be bought and can't be sold."


Some months ago, at meetings of the hopefully still surviving Union of New York Tenants
(UNYTE) as we were planning a large public meeting (which hasn't happened - yet), the UNYTE "core group" was discussing which elected officials to invite as speakers. I suggested City Councilman Tony Avella, a politician that others in the group were marginally aware of at the time.

Since I have been acquainted with Mr. Avella for some time, I was in a position to describe him as perhaps the most outspoken advocate for tenant rights in the City Council. I had first met Mr. Avella last year when I came to City Hall to testify at a City Council hearing against Intro. 458, a bill introduced by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. That bill, which not at all surprisingly passed overwhelmingly, permitted the City Council to substantially raise its own salaries and those of a bunch of already overpaid Bloomberg aides. In keeping with Ms. Quinn's practice of government by secrecy, there was almost no advance publicity about the hearing, which I learned about on the Staten Island Ferry from an inner page story in the Daily News.

It was my opinion that, in a poverty-riddled city, with thousdands of people homeless for lack of money, and with some City workers so poorly paid that they have to rely in Food Stamps and food pantries, a raise for already very well paid City Councilmembers, most with major outside incomes, not to speak of extra taxpayer-financed cash in the form of "lulus", a salary increase for the Council was ethically indefensible.

It is not hard to recall Speaker Quinn in her elevated throne-like seat overlooking the Council fixing me with her increasingly trademark icy stare as I got up to testify.

Although he was not on the committee holding the hearing, City Councilman Avella came to testify against Intro. 458. His reasons for opposing this self-congratulatory ripoff of New Yorkers were similar to mine. At the end of the hearing I went over to Mr. Avella and introduced myself and that was, evoking "Casablanca", the beginning of what may become, a beautiful friendship - in the political sense.

I have since spent a considerable amount of time with Mr. Avella and did what seems to be the first in depth interview with him in connection with his seriously under-reported candidacy for Mayor of New York City. That interiview took place several months ago in a pizza place a short distance from his district office in Bayside Queens. there are several articles about Mr. Avella in UP FRONT News at

When I learned that Mr. Avella is the Chairman of the City Council Committee on Zoning & Franchises, the Lower East Side immediately came to mind. Mr. Avella, being from Queens, has some familiarity with the zoning related anti-gentrification, anti-bar prolilferation, anti-over-development struggles in the LES but was unaware of many of the details and person-alities involved. I told him of the efforts of people like Monte Schapiro, beleaguered by a landlord named Shaoul, and musician-activist Rebecca Moore, founder of the Ludlow-Orchard Community Organization (LOCO), among others. I of course also told him that my neighborhood of Stapleton, Staten Island, still working class in character, is very much in the crosshairs of the real estare predators who see a goldmine of profiteering oppotunities in for example the acreage at the Homeport naval base a very short distance from my home.

Stapleton is a low rise community and intends to sta that way. I for one will do what is necessary to see to it that Bay Street does not evolve like Houston Street in Manhattan. And while Bay Street is nothing like the bar and nightclub-saturated Ludlow Street, it is becoming increasingly easy to get bar-intoxicated along this thoroughfare. The Mayor and his ally Quinn have let it be known that they want to Manhattanize especially the increasingly '"hot" north shore of Staten Island, which includes Stapleton.

When I first met at length with Mr. Avella he immediately made it clear to me that he was ready to meet with gentrification and proliferation-threatened Lower East Siders; I com- municated that information accordingly in various ways, including in UNYTE. The UNYTE group, beset with various organizational problems, never did get around to the big meeting and so the recommended invitation never happened. I am glad, however, that LES activist Rob Hollander, a UNYTE original, who somewhat selectively publicized the January 28 meeting of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors at the JASA residence on East 5th Street with Mr. Avella as guest speaker, had the chance to experience this councilman.

At the BAN meeting Mr. Avella spoke about his bill, Intro. 6, which has as its purpose the amending of the building code in order " prohibit the issuance of permits for construction which is not in compliance with a pending rezoning proposal once the Department of City Planning has formally voted and approved of such proposal." In effect the bill would impose a moratorium on such construction until the full City Council has voted on the related rezoning proposal.

Mr. Avella released a copy of his November 1, 2007 letter on the rezoning problems, especially those involving the euphemism known as "community facilties", sent to Mayor Bloomberg, Speaker Quinn and Amanda Burden, the Commissioner of the Department of City Planning. Ms. Burden's reply was described by Mr. Avella as evasive. He said that he was not at all surprised to get no response from Bloomberg and Quinn. As Mr. Avella knows, I have had the same experience with both of these (s)elected officials. Ms. Quinn has a Marie Antoinette concept of government. "Let them eat cake"- or perhaps something less tasty.

Mr. Avella said that overdevelopment is a major threat to the viability of New York City's communities and that it must be stopped. He states openly that Michael Bloomberg and Christine Quinn, and some City Councilmembers, are allies of the real estate industry. That is a major reason why he is running for mayor.

He talked only briefly about his candidacy, stating that other likely candidates, including City Comptroller Richard Thompson, Ms. Quinn and U.S. Congressman Anthony D. Weiner (D.-Queens/Bklyn.) have already raised seven figure amounts in campaign contributions, which, when it comes to cash from the real estate indusry, is a form of legalized bribery. Quinn is cleaning up. Avella is bringing up the rear cash-wise and at the end of the meeting handed out his Tony Avella 2009 campaign contribution form.

Mr. Avella stressed the importance of organizing "from the bottom up." With that language he sounded like a pre-Green Party Ralph Nader.

Unlike the scripted and tightly controlled public sessions employed by the machine politicians Mr. Avella took questions from all as room use time permitted. In response to a question asked by me, Mr. Avella said he would look into possible strengthening the tenant protections in the anti-harassment bill Intro. 627 introduced by City Councilman Daniel Garodnick (D.-Manh.) That bill was the subject of a December 17, 2007 City Council hearing that, among many others, Mr. Schapiro and I testified at, urging significant strengtening amendments.

Mr. Avella describes the City Council under the rule of Speaker Quinn as a "dictatorship." He made it clear that Ms. Quinn sees herself as having the right to determine what the Council may and may not vote on - and the public be damned.

Some months ago Mr. Avella and I met on another major human rights issue that, while international in character, is a tenants rights issue. It was in a tenants rights internet newsletter some months ago that I learned that over 2 million people have been displaced in Beijing, China in preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games. The tsunami of mega-corporate development in totalitarian "Communist" China exceeds even New York City's excesses.

During my discussion with Mr. Avella I told him that development-crazy Chinese regime is also a perpetrator of Genocide, with the most prolonged case being the now over 1/2 century old occupation of Tibet, an issue that I have been involved with for years. All poliitical leaders would do well to not only be polite to the Dalai Lama (as Bush has been) but to follow his urgings that poverty and homelessness are "unfair" and that war is obsolete.

I told Mr. Avella that in 2001, after I did a lot of lobbying, City Councilmember Quinn took the credit for introducing Intro. 802, which denounced Communist China for its actions in Tibet. That resolution, which passed unanimously, however, had no effect. Why? Because it made no mention of the money issue which is the cash cow known as the Olympic Games.

Ms. Quinn has since ignored repeated requests by me, including a January 30, 2006 e-mail to her via her Chief of Staff Chuck Meara, to introduce another Tibet resolution including a call for the removal of the 2008 Olympic Games from China. (The Chinese regime is also being exposed for aiding and abetting the Genocide in Darfur in its pursuit of Sudanese oil.)

Tony Avella, quickly realizing what is at stake here, soon informed me that he is ready to act. He has since met with me and several members of the Board of Directors of the U.S. Tibet Committee. At Mr. Avella's request, we have submitted a proposed draft resolution.
Mr. Avella made a few minor language changes and on December 20, 2007 submitted his proposed resolution to the Council's draft committee. According to the Council's rules, the resolution should be ready for Council consideration within 60 days of submission.

Mr. Avella anticipates the possibility of obstructionism from Quinn. Quinn is a close political ally of Hillary Clinton, who is in fact an economic ally of the government of China, where the Clintons and people like Rupert Murdoch and the real esate titans make gazillions. Tony Avella has assured me that he doesn't care what Quinn tries to do to his Tibet resolution because he is ready for a fight.

Tony Avella has shown that he is ready to take on entrenched interests in his defense of very oppressed horses in Central Park.

I think he can be counted on to take on the big boys and girls of real estate and their friends in politics.
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