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Removing a controversial piece of land from his redrawn 11th District won’t silence state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who called for an investigation over what he suspects might be foul play.
In the redistricting plan as it stands, Avella’s district loses the roughly 4.5 acres of land on the Creedmoor psychiatric hospital campus in what the senator said could be a deliberate attempt to muzzle him from sounding off over a disputed land deal.
Last year, he called on the attorney general and inspector general to investigate the state Dormitory Authority’s sale of the land to the Indian Cultural and Community Center for $1.8 million, a fraction of its assessed value of $7.3 million, in a no-bid deal. The center wants to put up two nine-story towers of senior housing and a community center.
“When I look at the proposed new district lines, it is blatantly obvious that some inappropriate and possibly unlawful conduct was involved,” Avella said. “It appears that somebody involved in the redistricting process had to have been influenced by interested parties for there to have been such a flagrant attempt to remove the loudest voice of opposition to this shady land grab.”
After the land was sold, Avella went on record to repeatedly question the transaction and said he was shocked to learn the property had been “inexplicably and surgically carved” from his proposed new district.
Leaders of more than a half dozen civic organizations joined the senator at the Sunday news conference outside Creedmoor on Winchester Boulevard and area residents to protest what he called a murky redistricting process.
“There is no legitimate reason why this area, which has nearly no voters at all, would be removed from Sen. Avella’s district,” said Richard Hellenbrecht, chairman of the Bellerose Commonwealth Civic. “It is absolutely outrageous that the state Legislature would do this. Sen. Avella has been at the forefront of this issue and has been actively ensuring that this curious land sale continues to get investigated.”
Bob Friedrich, a civic leader who organized Eastern Queens United to fight unfair redistricting, said there was apparent malpractice getting in the way, echoing Hellenbrecht’s sentiments.
“This is a manifestation of the corruption of redistricting,” Friedrich said. “What happens on this Creedmoor campus directly affects the communities in the senator’s district. There is no reason this area should be singled out and removed.”
Friedrich said although Gov. Andrew Cuomo had celebrated state redistricting reform as a victory, the changes were a “sham masquerading as reform.”
Avella said it was important that the Creedmoor property remained in his district because it might end up in the wrong hands, making it difficult for him to continue to look into the land deal.
“Having to overcome another senator’s opinion might give us a significant disadvantage in this discussion,” Avella said. “But it’s not going to work. It just gives us more cause to fight.”
Nonetheless, the senator said he would still run in the district the way it stands.
“We have no choice but to run,” Avella said.
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4573.
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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