The hottest and most contested race in Queens this election season is going to be for a state senate seat in northeast Queens, where former councilman and city comptroller John Liu has announced he will challenge Tony Avella, who currently holds the seat.
Both men are political bigwigs in northeast Queens. Prior to be elected to the State Senate, Avella was a popular Bayside councilman before term limits forced him out. Both men failed in their campaigns for mayor; Avella back in 2009 and Liu just last year.
Avella has always had the reputation for being a maverick, but his relationship with the Democratic Party has always been a cordial working one; they threw their support behind Avella four years ago when he first ran for the Albany post.
It's rare for the Queens Democratic Party to go after one of their own, but Avella apparently crossed a line recently when he joined the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a renegade group of five Democrats that caucuses with the Republican Party in Albany. That means that even though Democrats technically control the State Senate, they don't have the necessary votes to easily push legislation and other agenda items important to the party.
It also probably didn't help that Avella has made a point recently of pointing out any chance he gets just how beneficial ditching his Democratic colleagues and joining the IDC has been to his political career, whether it's getting money for the district or simply getting political movement on bills that he champions.
So with their back against the wall, the Queens Democratic Party turned to the big guns. Liu is well known and liked in NE Queens, and he is sure to be popular with the growing Asian population in the district.
We here at Pol Position don't like to brag about being right (actually we do, it just never happens!), but we told you months ago when Liu endorsed Congresswoman Grace Meng - effectively ending the scuttlebutt that he had his eyes on that congressional seat - to not be surprised if you still see Liu campaigning later this year, but for the state senate job.
With the primary this year moved up to June 24, Liu doesn't have a lot of time. That said, he already has the name recognition and he is a prodigious fundraiser, so we don't think money is going to be a problem.
Despite all the strengths of Liu, Avella has been a very popular legislator in the district for well over a decade, and a challenge from within the party is sure to solidify his strongest supporters to mobilize for his re-election.
And Liu has a bit of a political cloud hanging over his head that Avella is sure to exploit. Liu's bid for mayor was effectively killed when the Campaign Finance Board refused to release money through the city's generous 6-to-1 matching funds program over questions of fundraising impropriety.
Liu himself was never accused of any wrongdoing, but a top fundraiser and a donor were convicted, and the hole the bank account certainly didn't help the campaign. However, there are those that feel Liu got a raw deal from the Campaign Finance Board, so dredging up the accusations is unlikely to sway any voters already in Liu's camp.
Either way, this is going to be a knock-down, drag-out campaign between two seasoned professionals. We're getting excited already.