By Mark Hallum
As state Assemblyman Brian Barnwell (D-Maspeth) prepares to fend a off a challenge in the Sept. 13 primary, he is working on resolving key issues through legislation.
The Woodside resident describes the growing unaffordability in his district, especially for seniors, as an “over-arching theme” of his policies as well as school overcrowding and immigrant rights.
“I have parts of Long Island City and I have parts of Astoria, so you see [gentrification] starting to creep in, and now the next big area the developers are trying to move into are Sunnyside and Woodside, and it’s my job to fight against that in my opinion,” Barnwell said in an interview with the TimesLedger Newspaper editorial staff.
“We’re at a breaking point, and not just my district, where schools are overcrowded, subways are overcrowded, the buses are overcrowded, and [develoers] are building high luxury condos. Where are these people going to go, where are these kids going to go to school?”
He is facing fellow Democrat Melissa Sklarz in the race for District 30, which covers Maspeth, Middle Village, Woodside and Sunnyside. Many of the bills Barnwell worked to pass during his first term in the state Assembly focus on not only keeping his district affordable, but preventing future displacement.
He hopes to make future affordable housing less costly by adjusting the formula used to calculate area median income, which incorporates income levels throughout the region, as opposed to the zip code of the development as Barnwell sees as a better indicator of financial standing.
This would make inclusionary housing more reflective of the community who will either be forced to pay rent closer to market rates or face displacement.
A family applying for affordable housing in Woodside may now pay rates more in step with Westchester County or the Upper West Side in Manhattan, Barnwell said.
Barwell wants to make life more affordable for seniors on fixed incomes through property tax breaks and rebates for medication costs.
Criticized by his primary challenger Sklarz for voting against the Women’s Reproductive Health Act, Barnwell said he would prefer to vote for Roe v. Wade to be codified into state law exactly as the abortion measure is at the federal level.
As for immigrants’ rights, Barnwell not only offers free legal advice for foreign-born people in his district and advocates in favor of the Dream Act, the DACA equivalent in the state of New York. It would prevent deportation of many undocumented people brought to this country as children.
Barnwell wants to offer state bonds to create more schools and address the overcrowding in Queens.
“The key is that any funds received from those bonds would have to be dedicated to building more schools and hiring more teachers,” Barnwell said. “We see all the time the creation of a funding mechanism and it gets robbed to pay for something else.”
Barnwell’s 2016 victory over former state Assemblywoman Margaret Markey in 2016 was a major upset for the Queens County Democratic Party, often referred to as “the Queens machine” under the leadership of U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), who suffered his own defeat in June to insurgent Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
For now, he is reaching out to voters to prevent any loss in voter turnout with a primary scheduled for a Thursday instead of the traditional Tuesday.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall