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Photo courtesy of Melissa Sklarz
Photo courtesy of Melissa Sklarz

With 15 years of experience serving the Democratic party in a number of roles, Melissa Sklarz is making history by running against Assemblyman Brian Barnwell in the 2018 primary.

Sklarz officially announced her candidacy on Feb. 20, becoming the first transgender person to run for the District 30 seat, which covers parts of Woodside, Maspeth, Middle Village, Astoria, Long Island City and Sunnyside. At 67 years old, Sklarz said she had been thinking about running for office for a long time, but the 2016 presidential election was a “call to arms” for her and many progressives, she said.

“I realized this is no time to be on the sidelines,” Sklarz said in a press release. “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 first started on her political journey in 1999 when she was elected as a delegate to the Democratic Party’s Manhattan Judicial Convention, becoming the first transgender person to be elected to any position in the city. From there, she went on to be appointed to the Democratic National Convention Credentials Committee in 2004, the Rules Committee in 2008, the Credentials Committee again in 2012 and then served as a delegate to the Convention in 2016. Sklarz is also a member of the U.S Electoral College.

In an interview with QNS on Feb. 26, the longtime transgender activist said she believes the time is right for her Assembly campaign because she has good relationships throughout the Democratic party, and her life experiences help her to better represent the people of the district than her opponent.

My story really shows someone who has struggled and won and lost and bounced back from difficulties and problems, and I’m able to stand now as a homeowner,” Sklarz said.

That wasn’t always the case, as Sklarz was homeless at one point during her life; she also worked as a truck driver. She has a degree in political science from SUNY Buffalo and has worked as an office manager and an accountant. She has owned a home now for more than 11 years in Woodside and draws on those past experiences when thinking of ways to address transportation and homelessness in the district.

Sklarz hopes to have a significant impact on transportation within the Assembly by making sure the taxpayers’ money gets put back into resources that directly benefit the taxpayers, she said. When it comes to homelessness, she is a supporter of permanent affordable housing and strengthening rental protections, and she also believes that it’s important to stay connected with the community because “people that live there may have better ideas.”

Originally scheduled to take place on Sept. 11, there is a push to change the primary election date to Sept. 13 in observance of Rosh Hashanah and the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

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