All eyes on Barnwell-Nunziato race in western Queens

Voting stations at the ready in Middle Village.
Photo by Michael Shain
By Bill Parry

For the first time in nearly 20 years, Margaret Markey’s name will not appear on the ballot for the State Assembly and now voters in Woodside, Maspeth and Middle Village are choosing between a first time candidate and a longtime civic leader to replace her. Brian Barnwell, a 30-year-old attorney from Woodside who stunned the Democratic party when he upset Markey in the primary, is facing Republican nominee Tony Nunziato, 59, a self-described “man of commitment” and small business owner in Maspeth.

“I feel good, but no one should ever take anything for granted,” Barnwell said of his campaign that has built up an impressive dossier of union endorsements, from the building trade councils to the Uniformed Officers Unions, including the PBA.

“I am proud to have the support of these unions,” he said. “As somebody who comes from a family of union members, the endorsements mean a lot to me personally.”

The endorementsfailed to impress Nunziato, who has been performing a balancing act by juggling his campaign with his duties as chairman of the Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force, which organizes the protests against the city’s homeless shelter policies each night at the Maspeth Holiday Inn Express.

“It sounds crazy but I’ve been so focused on the rallies each night I didn’t have the time to reach out for endorsements,” Nunziata said. “I know that all of the civic leaders of the community are endorsing me and I feel good about that. I don’t need some labor leader from Long Island endorsing me when I have the backing of the local civics.”

In other western Queens races, state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) is running against Republican Marvin Jeffcoat, a U.S. Army veteran and facilities manager from Woodside.

“Western Queens is more than just a neighborhood, it is like a family that comes together to improve each other’s lives and look out for each other’s well-being,” Gianaris said. “I have the honor of representing so many of my neighbors in Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside, Woodside, Ridgewood and Woodhaven, and working alongside them on the important issues about which we care passionately. I hope the people of our community have faith in my record fighting for better schools, improving transit and housing opportunities and achieving historic progress to ensure environmental protection.”

Jeffcoat said he is “sick and tired” of the one party rule in western Queens.

“They haven’t done anything for us. Instead they’re leading us into a welfare state that will bankrupt us all,” he said. “I want to give my kids a chance at the American Dream. These politicians are great at making laws, but they never check to see if they’re working. That’s where my military training with after-action reports will help. We’ll see what worked and what didn’t.”

Jeffcoat would make education his primary focus as a champion of charter schools and private school vouchers.

State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) is running against Republican nominee Jesus Gonzalez, to keep his seat.

“Since my election to the state Senate, we have opened more than 7,000 individual constituent cases on a variety of issues, ranging from quality of life and safety to immigration, housing and transportation,” Peralta said. “I will continue to fight for affordable housing, to build more schools upon the eight new schools we already built, to give our kids a quality education.”

Yet overcrowding continues to plague every school in the district, which includes Jackson Heights, Corona and East Elmhurst, according to Gonzalez. The first-time candidate works at a Jackson Heights travel agency and has lived in each of the neighborhoods in the last eight years since moving from Puerto Rico, where he was a firefighter.

“As a community activist I’ve been talking to the people and learning of the concerns — not enough schools, not enough teachers,” Gonzalez said. “We need more English as Second Language classes for all of the immigrants and we don’t have a lot of parks so the kids are always sitting at home. There is a high crime rate in each of these neighborhoods and the current senator is not doing anything to address that.”

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

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