The final leg of the campaign between state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) and former City Councilman Tony Avella for a northeast Queens seat that could tilt control of the Senate was dominated by attacks as the candidates struggled to draw attention not only to their own platforms but also to perceived missteps by their opponents.
The two candidates have been at odds for years over how best to serve the district and their accusations came with increased stakes in recent days.
Avella questioned in recent mailings his opponent’s record on supporting women’s health initiatives, citing his 2002 vote against the Health and Wellness Act, which required insurance providers to cover a range of services for women.
Padavan countered, saying he has co-sponsored numerous pieces of legislation to improve access to health care for women throughout his long career.
“The first bill that became law to mandate that mammograms be covered by insurance was in 1987, and I not only voted for it, I co-sponsored it,” he said. “In subsequent years it was expanded in bills I not only voted for, but co-sponsored.”
Padavan implored Avella Friday to return $230,000 in campaign funds he received from the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee this year, saying the funds are tainted because of Democrat Senate leaders’ roles in the deepening scandal surrounding the initial choice of Aqueduct Entertainment Group to build and operate a racino at Aqueduct Race Track. The selection process and those involved have been under investigation by the state inspector general’s office.
Avella ?said he would not return the money because he did not directly receive money from the officials named in the investigation, and accused Padavan of also accepting questionable contributions.
Padavan, meanwhile, targeted Avella’s handling of the cleanup of what is now the College Point Fields a decade ago, saying his bungling of the operation, which ended in illegal dumping, showed that he is unfit to lead the district.
Avella also hit Padavan on a variety of other issues, including his role in the 2009 Senate coup after then-Bronx Sen. Pedro Espada temporarily switched to the GOP side of the aisle.
The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee Tuesday staged a protest of Padavan’s acceptance of legislators’ bonuses and pay raises at his campaign headquarters in Bayside.?
Padavan countered by saying that despite any raises he may have received, he is still paid less than Avella was when he was on the Council.
“At one of the candidates’ nights, I pulled out my W-2 form and had the moderator read it and it’s $20,000 less than Mr. Avella’s salary as a city councilman,” Padavan said. “They’re up to $112,500, which is 40 percent higher than the state Legislature — senators or assemblymen. So for him to bring that up, yeah, I voted for that a long time ago, but it was not excessive. By the way, unlike in the City Council, we don’t vote ourselves a raise — you can only vote for the next Legislature.”
The claims came as the end neared in one of the most contentious Queens races, which featured a veritable yelling match during a cable news debate and a spat over stolen election signs.
The election will not only decide the future of the district — which includes Bayside, Douglaston, Bay Terrace Queens Village, Bellerose, Flushing, Whitestone, Little Neck, College Point, Hollis, Jamaica Estates, Glen Oaks and Floral Park — but is one of several contested races in the state that could tilt majority rule in the Senate, which Democrats currently control by a 31-30 margin.
The dueling politicians have taken time to collect endorsements and praise as Election Day approached.
Avella emphasized that he has been endorsed by the United Federation of Teachers and the 1199 SEIU health workers union, two groups who previously supported Padavan.
“Both of the unions have strong membership in the district and two of the biggest issues in the campaign are health and education and it just shows that the more people look at Frank Padavan on the issues, the more they shift over to our side,” Fleming said.
That same day, Padavan picked up the endorsement of the New York League of Conservation Voters — a group that typically supports many Democrats — at the Alley Pond Environmental Center in Little Neck and was presented with the Legislator of the Year Award for 2010 by the Cerebral Palsy Associations of New York in Albany.
“In Albany, we can always rely on him as a champion. Over the past year he has been someone who has supported us on environmental funding, on hydrofracking and he has supported us on smart growth initiatives,” NYLCV President Marcia Bystryn said. “We pick individuals that support environmental issues. He’s been a leader and I think that’s what makes him a real model. He delivers for his constituents in a real way.”