Melissa Sklarz made history in 1999 by becoming the first transgender person elected to an office in New York State. This year, she is determined to become the first trans woman elected to the state assembly.
The Woodside resident announced last month her run for the 30th Assembly District seat held by State Assemblymember Brian Barnwell (D-Sunnyside, Woodside, Long Island City, Maspeth). Barnwell is serving his first term as assemblyman after an upset win against the longtime elected representative Margaret Markey.
Sklarz is experienced in working with political officials in and out of the state. She is a member of the Electoral College, led the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York, and, while living in Manhattan, oversaw the creation of Gansevoort Market Historic District.
“After the election of Donald Trump, it overturned our political system and the concept of American democracy. I’ve always felt that doing my part was good enough,” she said. “But now, in this environment, I need to do more.”
Sklarz explained she knew the ins and outs of Albany. Moreover, she cited her relationships with current officials including Governor Andrew Cuomo and Speaker of the Assembly Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) as examples of her political clout in upstate. She worked with the Governor, whom she considered a friend, on expanding legal protections for transgender residents in New Yorker.
Issues Sklarz wants to address if elected include preventing elder care abuse, expanded and maintained transportation throughout the district, fair distribution of property taxes, and more funding for schools. She also favors the Home Stability Support plan, previously covered by QCP, that provides federal and state aid for families nearing homelessness.
Homelessness is an issue in Maspeth that attracted media attention since 2016. When Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration planned to convert a Holiday Inn Express hotel to a homeless shelter, dozens of residents, in addition to Barnwell, demonstrated against the idea. Because of opposition, public officials rented out rooms to house homeless men in the hotel.
Sklarz felt this was a “missed opportunity” for de Blasio and his team to explain their plan to Maspeth residents. She added that opposition found in Maspeth is also present elsewhere in the city.
“It’s basic and essential to governance to discuss and converse when decisions are made,” she said. “On the other hand, poor New Yorkers are New Yorkers. I’m not going to lead the war against poor people.”
She distinguished herself of the incumbent as someone with more political experience. She also took issue with Barnwell’s record such as his no votes to bills relating to women’s reproductive health and designating New York as a sanctuary state.
“I think as the federal government encroaches on the rights of Americans, support of immigration is very important here in New York State. More importantly, the support of women, their choices, and their bodies is one of the most important issues in the 21st century,” said Sklarz.
With the Democratic primary set for September 11, Sklarz is eager to meet and talk with residents throughout the district.
“I had a day job that I stopped so I can focus on doing this. I want to learn to learn as much as I can. To not put all experiences to work for the neighborhood and the community would be selfish. I want to do my best,” she said.