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Senator calls for term limits amid Huntley scandal

State Sen. Tony Avella casts his vote in Whitestone in 2010, presumably for himself.
TimesLedger Newspapers

Following two high-profile ethics cases in Albany, a northeast Queens lawmaker has renewed his push for tougher laws and term limits.

In fulfilling a campaign promise to reform Albany, Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) introduced legislation in early 2011 that would implement term limits for senators and state Assembly members. The bill, Avella said, would institute a maximum of 16 years service for state legislators.

“Unfortunately, when it comes to Albany, the more things change, the more they stay the same,” Avella said.

In a statement, Avella said he would refresh his public push for tougher ethics laws and term limits on the heels of what he called unethical and possibly criminal behavior by state lawmakers. Although he did not single out any Albany officials, Avella renewed campaign for term limits came just days after Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) was charged last month with interfering in a state probe into an alleged scam to swindle nearly $30,000 in taxpayer dollars.

Huntley pleaded not guilty to tampering with physical evidence, falsifying business records and conspiracy and could be automatically removed from office with a maximum sentence of four years in jail if convicted. The senator was also removed from her leadership role as chairwoman of the Senate Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee.

Within the same week, powerful state Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) was censured after a bipartisan Assembly ethics committee concluded that there was strong evidence that he had sexually harassed two employees. He is the target of two investigations and several lawmakers have called on him to resign.

Even though he does not sit on the Senate Ethics Committee, Avella said the legislative body has taken steps to require more ethical behavior in Albany.

“While we passed a series of ethics reforms this past legislative session, it is clear that more needs to be done, including instituting term limits,” Avella said.

In June, the Senate passed ethics reform legislation, which created the Joint Commission on Public Ethics to monitor both legislative and executive branches of government and require greater disclosure of outside income.

Sen. Timothy Kennedy (D-Buffalo) announced the reform, adding it would empower state citizens to take back their government.

“Over the last 10 years, Albany politicians were more likely to be indicted or resign amid scandal than to lose in a general election,” Kennedy said. “Following the long parade of public officials who have left office in handcuffs, our persistent call for change is starting to steer New York in a new direction.”

In a statement, Avella said entrenched senior legislators tend to become less concerned with addressing controversial issues instead of gaining leadership positions. In his bill, he wrote that term limits would be necessary to strike a balance in the democratic process.

“Politicians who serve for countless years tend to become stagnant, arrogant and reluctant to adopt new ideas,” Avella said. “This creates an arrogance that eventually leads to the dysfunction and corruption that has become synonymous with Albany. The road to reforming Albany is long and unfinished, but creating term limits is a significant step in the right direction.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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