The crushing defeat of state Assemblywoman Margaret Markey by a 30-year-old neophyte in the Democratic primary sent a red alert through the ranks of Queens lawmakers. Elected officials who have been in office for years are not immune to being ousted.
Markey, who was seeking her tenth term in office, lost the race because she miscalculated the depth of her electorate’s anger at a proposed homeless shelter in Maspeth. Even though Albany has no say over the city’s shelter policy, her constituents expected the assemblywoman to stand with them against the plan to convert a Holiday Inn Express.
She was AWOL on the issue until about two weeks before the primary when she showed up at a raucous community board hearing on the shelter. It was too little, too late and she was booed out of the meeting where more than 1,000 people had gathered.
Her opponent, Brian Barnwell, had been at nightly rallies against the shelter outside the Holiday Inn and joined 2,000 residents in a protest march. For a full year he did his homework, showing up at community board and civic meetings.
Markey also was vulnerable because she made few public appearances at events or meetings in the communities she represented. She was viewed as an absentee lawmaker, elected year after year on the strength of name recognition and voter apathy.
In the Nov. 8 election Barnwell will face Republican Tony Nunziato, who had run against Markey before, in what could be a tight race.
The electorate is restless these days as a lot of the sacred principles of politics fall by the wayside with the unorthodox presidential campaign waged by Queens native Donald Trump. Voters want change and are becoming impatient.
Unlike Markey, state Sens. Toby Stavisky and James Sanders fended off tough challengers.
S.J. Jung, in his second run against Stavisky, unfairly targeted her as a poster child for what he called a rigged election system. He also tried to have her thrown off the ballot in a series of unsuccessful court actions. She won nearly 60 percent of the vote.
Sanders, who antagonized the Queens Dem machine by backing Bernie Sanders and weighing a race against U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, defeated the very able CB 12 Chairwoman Adrienne Adams, getting 57 percent of the vote even though many Democratic pols shunned him.
Their secret? Both incumbents are very visible as legislators in their districts and listen to the people who elected them. This is the best insurance policy against being drummed out of office.