By Bill Parry
Brian Barnwell, the Woodside attorney who stunned the Queens Democratic Party with a 28-point primary victory over longtime Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth), said last Friday that his campaign was endorsed by several building trade unions, including the New York City & Vicinity District Council of Carpenters, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3, Metallic Lathers Reinforcing Iron Workers Local 46, and International Union of Elevator Constructors Local One.
“I grew up with a family of union members and I know firsthand that all working men and women deserve a job with which they can support their families,” Barnwell said. “As an Assembly member, I will advocate for fair and safe working conditions for all working families.”
Standing in Barnwell’s path to Albany representing the 30th District, which includes Maspeth, Woodside and Middle Village, is Republican candidate Tony Nunziato, a small business owner from Maspeth. The two became friends during more than two months of protesting each weeknight outside the Holiday Inn Express, which the city had planned to convert into a homeless shelter.
“It’s an important issue. The community is concerned, so I have to be there,” Barnwell said. “I don’t think we went too far because it brought a lot of attention to the issue throughout Queens. Now it’s a bigger political issue.”
Barnwell, 30, grew up in the Boulevard Gardens Apartments in Woodside dreaming of a career in the military until he was diagnosed with scoliosis, or curvature of the spine. Three back surgeries and metal rods stabilizing his spine ended thoughts of serving in the armed forces.
“When I realized I couldn’t serve in the military because of my back, I said I’m going to be a lawyer and go into politics because that’s the best way I can serve the public,” Barnwell said. “As an attorney, I’ll be able to solve problems non-attorneys don’t know how to solve. I’ll be able to understand legislation and not need someone to explain it to me.”
As an example, he cited the state’s right-to-shelter law, which he would like to challenge in court, and the federal government’s area median income formula that Barnwell calls a root cause of the affordable housing crisis and by extension, the homeless epidemic.
“Affordable housing should be affordable and AMI is a federal formula so to determine what’s affordable in Astoria or Woodside, it takes into account what’s affordable in Westchester and Long Island,” Barnwell said. “My plan is to draft legislation to make it a state formula based on zip code, make it local.”
His other key issue that he will fight for in the Assembly is ethics reform. Barnwell is a newcomer on the political scene, but he spent two years on the staff of City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria).
He believes it is a misnomer to say he defeated Markey because of the shelter issue. Barnwell believes her mistake was not attending community meetings and missing votes in Albany.
“She was not showing up to work, she missed 36 percent of the vote total last year,” he said. “And when it comes to civic meetings, you should always be at those if you’re in the district. That’s your job. That’s how politics should be.”
Meanwhile, Barnwell impressed many observers by going to every civic association and community board meeting across the district. He said he inherited his mother’s hard work ethic while growing up in Woodside, and he proved that hard work pays off.
“We were campaigning for a year making thousands of contacts before that issue came up,” he said. “I made thousands of contacts by knocking on doors and making phone calls. In fact, I gave my cell phone number to 10,000 people and as long as I don’t get death threats I’m keeping the number because if you’re going to represent people, they should be able to call you. You can publish it if you like.”
It is 917-363-7081.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr