By Bill Parry
Woodside resident Melissa Sklarz announced Tuesday she will mount a primary challenge against state Assemblyman Brian Barnwell (D-Maspeth) in September.
Sklarz, a longtime Democratic party insider, is the first transgender person to run in the 30th Assembly District, which includes Woodside and Maspeth, as well as parts of Middle Village, Astoria, Long Island City and Sunnyside.
“I have been advocating for New Yorkers my entire life,” Sklarz said. “After the 2016 election, I realized this is no time to be on the sidelines. With our transportation network in crisis, the assault on New Yorkers with the Trump budget that slashes billions in federal assistance to vital programs, and women still lacking proper representation, I am determined to make sure all voices are heard in Albany.”
Sklarz is a progressive Democrat who has served the party in a number of roles during the past 15 years. In 1999, she was the first trans person elected to any office in New York State when she won a post as a judicial delegate in Manhattan’s 66th Assembly District, and served as a delegate in the 2016 Democratic National Convention after being appointed to the Credentials Committee in 2004 and 2012, and the Rules Committee in 2008.
She bought her first home at Boulevard Gardens in Woodside more than 11 years ago, becoming a neighbor of Barnwell, who stunned the borough’s political class in 2016 when he upset nine-term incumbent Margaret Markey in the Democratic primary before defeating Republican nominee Tony Nunziato convincingly in the general election, 63 percent to 23 percent.
The two candidates are at opposites on at least one issue already. Sklarz was previously homeless herself and says she is painfully aware of the city’s homelessness epidemic. She says she’s committed to strengthening rental protections, as well as moving people from the streets and shelter system into permanent affordable housing. Barnwell took part in the nightly protests outside the Holiday Inn Express in Maspeth, which the city tried unsuccessfully to convert into a homeless shelter.
“I find it odd Ms. Sklarz wants to run for office in this district, considering I heard her personally call the sections of Middle Village, Maspeth, and Woodside all racists who are living in the past,” Barnwell said.
Sklarz’s campaign explained her comment was made during a Democratic club meeting at the Boulevard Gardens complex and the topic of the Mayor forcing shelters onto communities without any public dialogue came up.
“In truth, she called Brian’s political posturing regarding the homeless shelter racist and she finds it odd that he continues to draw attention to his stance on not wanting to provide shelter for the most vulnerable in her district,” Sklarz Campaign Strategist Michael Czaczkes said. “Melissa is running to ensure that city officials can’t force solutions on neighborhoods without input of those who live in the community.”
“That’s not true at all. She flat out said the people in this district were racist and live in the past,” Barnwell said. “It’s not political posturing, it’s the truth. I don’t need a campaign strategist like she does to change her wording around. This is the second news article she addressed my comments, and now she is changing her response.”
Sklarz is also running to protect women’s reproductive health, to fix the city’s transit system, and to continue the long-held neighborhood values in the 30th Assembly District.
“Throughout history, New Yorkers have led the nation when it comes to progressive values and policy,” Sklarz said. “From women’s suffrage, to the Stonewall riots, to most recently leading the nation on raising the minimum wage. However, there is much more to do, as evidenced when our current Assemblymember voted against the Reproductive Health Act, which aims to protect women’s health.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr