BAY RIDGE – About 25 people gathered Monday night at The Owl’s Head bar in Bay Ridge for a Q&A session with NY Senate Democratic candidate Ross Barkan. It was an opportunity for members of the 22nd Senate District to get to know a possible usurper to Senator Martin Golden, who is running for re-election this year.
Those in attendance were mostly keen on not seeing Golden win another four years.
“First and foremost Golden needs to get gone,” said Jeannie May. “He’s been around for too damn long. I don’t know Ross as well as I do Andrew [Gournades], so I’d like to get to know him.”
Danielle D’Alessandro, another constituent, wanted to get an idea of the differences between Barkan and fellow Democratic candidate, Andrew Gournades. She also believes District 22 needs someone other than Golden. “We need someone who is more inclusive,” she said. “This is a more diverse neighborhood.”
Just before 8 pm, Ross Barkan started speaking to those gathered. Barkan talked about his background as a political journalist at a Queens newspaper and at the New York Observer. “I got the sense of this city, and what makes it tick,” he said. “I’m someone who knows the political scene very well. I’m willing to stand up to the powers that be.”
Jeannie May was the first to speak. “Where did you transition into a run for the Senate?”
Barkan explained that he was “extremely frustrated” to see Golden run opposed through the years. “He’s been unopposed four times since 2002,” he said.
May then asked him about the district being gerrymandered, which she said it was done for Golden. “He drew it for himself,” Barkan responded. Barkan went on to explain that he was excited by the response his campaign has gotten, making him apparently optimistic for his campaign run.
“We have structural advantages,” he said. “Close to 50 people have come forward to volunteer. People who Golden ignores, people of color. I’m very excited.”
Risa Novikoff, age 74, was the next to speak. She said she was a former poll worker and said some people are “too easily seduced by a handshake and a smile.”
“Golden has seduced a lot with that technique,” she added.
Novikoff went on to voice her thoughts on the need for senior housing in the area.
“I plan to spend a lot of time engaging with seniors,” Barkan said. “I plan to be seductive in my own way.”
A woman named Nicole spoke up on how the district was more diverse and gerrymandered. “How do you plan to get people engaged?” she asked. “I’m a white man, a Jew,” Barkan said. “But I will try to understand people with a different background than me.”
Another woman, named Rachel, asked him about how he awoke to racial injustice. Barkan answered that he had progressive parents. He also mentioned attending the Quaker Friends School which gave him “really good exposure” at an early age.
The next question was about how Barkan plans to get people to vote Democratic in an area that receives little attention by the Democratic party. The woman who asked referred to City Councilman Justin Brannan’s narrow win in 2017.
Barkan called the DNC “dysfunctional” and also said he didn’t want to critique Brannan. Instead, he announced he was not going to wait “until May or June” to start campaigning, and will soon start knocking on doors.
The next question was about ethics reform in New York State. “I believe in full-time legislature,” Barkan responded. “Golden is a roadblock to reform. He does not give a sh*t. Never has, never will.”
When asked about transportation in the Bay Ridge area, which only has the R train and a few express buses, Barkan said there needs to be new revenue and he would legislate a lockbox, while also aiming to bring down the toll for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and bring on more select bus services.
The woman who anonymously asked the question told him that her father was a high-ranking worker for the MTA. “I challenge you to learn more about it.”
More questions came in, ranging from the arts, and women’s health to climate change. Even education was brought up, which allowed Barkan to tout Finland’s school system that encourages trusting teachers, as a model. Questions on lowering the voting age and commercial rent also come up.
While those present engaged and listened, not everyone was persuaded.
“I thought he was young,” David Topete said, who’s been living in Bay Ridge since 2012. “I wish he drew more of a distinction between him and Andrew [Gournades].”
Andrew Gournades will have his chance to meet the residents of Bay Ridge and the rest of District 22 in two weeks, on Monday, February 12th at the same Owl’s Head Bar. Owner John Avelluto said he is holding these open forums as a “public service”.
“It’s a way for the neighborhood to learn before the election hits,” he said.
Avelluto insisted he was not endorsing a candidate or a political party, and if another Republican candidate arises to challenge Golden, he would have them both at his bar as well.
“Hey, come on by!” He said.