Margaret Markey was expected two years ago to retain her position as Assemblymember of the 30th Assembly District. However, she lost in an upset in the Democratic primary to her successor in the State Assembly—a 30-year-old Brian Barnwell.
Today, the philosophy of State Assemblymember Brian Barnwell (D-Sunnyside, Woodside, Long Island City, Maspeth) is the same as it was two years ago: being accessible to constituents whenever and wherever possible.
“I take this job very seriously. I dedicate my life to it,” he said. “I don’t have a social life because of it.”
Barnwell, a Woodside resident, is gearing for his first re-election campaign with Melissa Sklarz, another Woodside resident, challenging him for the Democratic nomination. Barnwell is prepared to serve constituents rather than focus all his attention on Sklarz.
“I wish Melissa all the best. I’ve known her for 10 years. She’s also been nice to me, and I’ve always been nice to her. We just have different opinions on different topics,” he said.
While reviewing his first term, Barnwell noted key issues he wants to continue for the next session. At the top of the list is affordability. He noted that residents often leave New York because of the high expenses and high taxes.
He suggested reforming the idea of affordable housing through a bill introduced last year with State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside and parts of Woodside, Maspeth, Ridgewood and Woodhaven).
The legislation would reform the city’s use of the area median income formula, determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), for affordable housing. Barnwell criticized this measure as unrealistic as it grouped working class and well-off neighborhoods together. In fact, the AMI measure for 2017 was $95,400 for a family of four
“Let’s say, for the sake of argument, you’re going to build in Woodside, where I live. You would think they would use the average income level of people in Woodside. However, NYC has a ridiculous formula that mandates, when it builds in NYC, use for affordable housing. They have to use the regional New York City AMI, which is Woodside, Staten Island, Upper East Side, all neighborhoods which are more affluent than Woodside,” Barnwell said.
Furthermore, Barnwell wants to ensure more protections for seniors. A member of the Committee on Aging, he advocates for special tax breaks for seniors that increase based on age.
“My theory is, as you age, you’ll have less money in your pocket saved,” said Barnwell. “Someone who is 65 has more money for retirement than someone who is 90.”
Connected with this affordability issue is homelessness that is growing across the city. City proposals to this problem often irritate residents who feel excluded. For instance, two years ago, Maspeth residents opposed the city’s plans to covert a Holiday Inn Express into a homeless shelter. Officials backed down and purchased several hotel rooms as an alternative.
Barnwell suggested passage of both his affordability bill and the Home Stability Support plan from State Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills, Rego Park, Richmond Hill, Glendale, Kew Gardens, Ridgewood, Middle Village) as a solution. Hevesi’s idea, reported by QCP, provides federal and state aid for families nearing homelessness.
“Unfortunately, the Governor has not been a fan of this, which is a shame because it has bipartisan support, keeps people in their homes, and helps free up other services. It’s a no-brainer. It will save the state millions of dollars,” Barnwell said.
Beyond the issues, Barnwell is determined to continue working for residents in the district regardless of what happens during the primary. He highlighted how he offers his cell phone number to residents and speaks with them late in the morning, up to 2 AM one time.
“People ask me, ‘Brian, do you like the job?’” he said. “I love the job, [but] I hate the politics.”