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Cooke vies for Avella seat

Flushing’s Tom Cooke said his military background, nonprofit work and longtime residency in northeast Queens provide him with the experience necessary to replace City Councilman Tony Avella (D−Bayside) as the next councilman for northeast Queens.

Cooke, a disabled veteran who currently serves as board chairman of the nonprofit United Spinal Association, said serving in the Army during his youth set the stage for his interest in politics and community service.

“When you have many people from one profession, such as being an attorney, you often get an echo chamber effect,” he said, referring to the fact that several of his competitors in the race are lawyers. “I think my military background and having to live with a disability would give me a different perspective in the City Council. I’m the only one in this race who pursued public service by enlisting in the military. I think it shows where my motivation lies and people can see that as a measure of trust.”

The Democrat, who lives in Flushing near the Bayside border, will face off this fall against Democrats Jerry Iannece, Paul Vallone, Steve Behar, Debra Markell and Kevin Kim as well as Republican Dan Halloran. The seat covers Bayside, Auburndale, Little Neck, Douglaston, Whitestone, Oakland Gardens, College Point, Malba and East Flushing.

Avella, who was first elected in 2001, is currently running in this year’s mayoral race rather than seeking a third term in the Council.

Cooke, who was paralyzed when a drunk driver struck his vehicle during a military stint in Berlin in 1990, said his top priorities for the district would be to fight overdevelopment, make improvements to district schools, retain police officers in northeast Queens amid city budget cuts and disband unnecessary city agencies.

Cooke, who has lived in the same house since childhood, said improving the economy is the most important issue citywide. But he said overdevelopment runs a close second in his district.

“One−family homes create a family suburban lifestyle,” he said. “It’s why residents move here. But there has been a move during the past 10 to 15 years to change the neighborhood. It may not be the motivation, but it is the outcome. It’s an issue that every civic group is fighting. We don’t want to change the characters of our neighborhoods.”

Cooke said he believes the city should increase financial penalties against developers who build out of code and use the revenue to pay building inspectors.

“Let’s treat businesses the same way we treat citizens,” he said. “Why should they have a pass? If you are 10 minutes late on the meter, a parking agent won’t give you a chance to pay it. You’ll get a ticket.”

Cooke, who ran against state Sen. Frank Padavan (R−Bellerose) in 2006 before dropping out to support fellow Democrat Nora Marino’s candidacy, said the creation of charter schools in the community could be a temporary response to its overcrowded schools since constructing new schools might not be possible under the current economic climate.

Another key issue in his campaign would be to cut city agencies that are duplicated on the state level.

“The city is not bringing in revenue like it used to and we have to balance the budget,” he said.

“No one wants higher taxes or to see services cut, but I understand we have to make tough decisions. I don’t want to see a smaller police academy, cuts to the education budget or firehouses closing while money is going to nonessential services.”

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e−mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 156.

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