Barnwell shocks incumbent Markey in Assembly upset

Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (c) with supporters as she arrives to vote at IS 73 in Maspeth.
PHoto by Bill Parry
By Bill Parry

The rising tide of anger at the city’s plan for a homeless shelter in Maspeth cost state Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth) her chance for a tenth term in November.

Brian Barnwell, 30, an attorney from Woodside making his first foray into professional politics, stunned the Queens Democratic establishment by defeating Markey with more than 64 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, overwhelming Markey, who first won the seat in 1998.

Asked if she was shocked by the lopsided defeat, Markey said “to be honest with you, yes.”

Barnwell, who attended nightly rallies against the shelter at the Holiday Inn Express on 55th Road, also took part in a march that drew nearly 2,000 people Aug. 27. He said Markey’s reception by residents at an Aug. 31 public meeting about the shelter at the Knockdown Center spoke volumes as Markey was booed incessantly and left in dismay.

“The community wants to know that their representatives are leading the charge on issues,” he said. “The reaction at the Knockdown Center showed that the community had the perception that she was not leading and that annoyed people. They awoke.”

Bob Holden, the president of the powerful Juniper Park Civic Association agreed, saying Markey’s ouster put “all incumbents on warning” that they have to work hard, especially on issues like the shelter. He watched as Barnwell did the hard work during his yearlong campaign, rarely missing a community board of civic association meeting, something Markey never did.

“She had a long record of ‘doing nothing,’ she came to one of our meetings in 18 years,” Holden said. “Brian’s victory has given everyone the hope that we can change the way the Democratic Party operates here in Queens.”

Barnwell will face Republican Tony Nunziato in November’s general election. The Maspeth florist has been a key figure in the shelter protests as well who has run against before.

At Frank Kowalinski Post in Maspeth, where he election party was planned, Markey seemed stunned as she thanked her staff but then grew emotional when speaking of her unfinished business in Albany. For more than a decade she led the fight for the Child Victims Act, which would eliminate the statute of limitations for child sex abuse crimes. It has passed the Assembly four times in various forms since 2006, but has never made it to the floor of the Senate.

“What upsets me is my bill, the Child Victims Act. It’s very important and I don’t know what will happen now,” Markey said. “The victims are very important to me and I will try and stay involved so when we get that passed, I will be there.”

After giving his victory speech to supporters and volunteers at O’Neill’s Pub in Maspeth, Barnwell looked at a margin of victory at nearly 28 percentage points and figured he might have beaten Markeywithout the shelter issue. “It’s very hard to beat an incumbent but hard work by myself and my volunteers got it done, we were all committed to changing things for the better,” Barnwell said after his victory speech at O’Neill’s Pub in Maspeth. “I went the extra mile every single day. I’d show up and talk to people. I gave my cell phone number to thousands of individuals. People want to be able to talk to their representatives. In the end, I think if people didn’t want change, I would have lost.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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