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Photo courtesy of Brian Barnwell
Photo courtesy of Brian Barnwell

His first term in office may be winding down, but Queens Assemblyman Brian Barnwell is doing anything but that.

In one of the most shocking local upsets in recent political history, Barnwell ousted nine-term incumbent Margaret Markey in the 2016 Democratic primary before comfortably winning the general election.

As re-election season quickly approaches, however, Barnwell said his campaign strategy is to let his work speak for itself.

“I’m just working hard. I don’t have time to get involved in the politics of it,” Barnwell said. “I’m just too busy doing my job.”

Barnwell spoke with QNS at his district office on 69th Street in Maspeth on May 24, where he reflected on his first political experience and the most pressing needs of District 30, covering parts of Maspeth, Middle Village, Woodside, Sunnyside, Astoria and Long Island City.

Sitting outside on a patio alongside the building, Barnwell referenced the scene that plays out inside his office as the accomplishment of which he has been the most proud.

The office is filled with desks, tables, chairs and more than a dozen staff members at the time, with three potential interns waiting in chairs near the front door for an interview. Barnwell is constantly looking for more interns and volunteers to join his team to help him get closer to the community and expose more people to government, he said.

In total, the team can speak more than 30 different languages and has allowed Barnwell to directly connect with his constituents.

“We never stopped doing outreach. We never stopped doing tabling at different locations. We never stopped knocking on doors and we never stopped doing phone calls,” Barnwell said. “I think it’s important to be giving people access to government and helping them solve their issues.”

The most pressing of those issues and the overarching theme of most of his current bills, Barnwell said, is affordability. Specifically, the bill he is most focused on involves reforming the city’s system of using area median income (AMI) to determine who qualifies for affordable housing.

According to Barnwell, the formula for calculating AMI is flawed because it takes into account the income levels in large regions rather than individual neighborhoods, causing the the baseline value for affordable housing to be higher. In some cases the AMI formula even pulls income data from Westchester, Putnam and Rockland counties, Barnwell said.

Barnwell’s affordable housing reform bill would mandate that for any affordable housing projects being built, only the income levels of those who live in that particular ZIP code will be used to calculate what is considered affordable.

High property taxes are also on Barnwell’s radar, and his other main bills involve giving more tax exemptions to senior citizens who own homes so their property taxes will decrease as they get older. Barnwell has also joined other Assembly members in setting up a commission to study ways of decreasing property taxes citywide.

“It’s all about affordability,” Barnwell said. “Nobody should be pushed out of their homes.”

Barnwell has called Woodside home for most of his life, and his opponent in the Democratic primary this September, Melissa Sklarz, lives in the same housing complex, he noted. When it comes to his advantages over his neighbor, who is also a newcomer to politics, Barnwell said his attention to detail and willingness to thoroughly read every bill that he votes on gives him an edge.

While Sklarz has accused Barnwell of voting the wrong way on certain bills, he said, there are often stipulations buried deep within bills that change their real purpose.

“When I read these bills, while it’s good for talking points for opponents, I don’t play that game. I just read the bill,” Barnwell said. “So I fully expect for that slander to continue, but I’m not going to engage in that kind of stuff. I’m just going to continue to do my job. But that’s the ultimate problem in politics nowadays.”

The primary elections, originally scheduled for Sept. 11, will now take place on Sept. 13 after legislation passed that changed the date so it wouldn’t conflict with the observance of Rosh Hashanah and the 17th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

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