Longtime Democratic official seeks Assembly seat
by Benjamin Fang
Mar 14, 2018 | 4114 views | 0 0 comments | 123 123 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Woodside resident Melissa Sklarz made history in 1999 when she became the first trans person elected to office in New York.

She won a judicial delegate seat in Manhattan, and has since served in a variety of roles for the Democratic Party. Nearly two decades later, Sklarz is seeking another seat, this time in Albany representing Queens.

Sklarz is running for the 30th Assembly District, which includes Woodside, Maspeth and Middle Village. She will challenge incumbent Brian Barnwell in the Democratic Primary, currently set for September 13.

“I have vast experience in many different issues,” Sklarz said in a March 7th interview. “I would like to use that experience to do service for our neighborhoods.”

Though she grew up in Hicksville, Sklarz lived on the lower West Side of Manhattan, where she was on the local community board. She has served as board chair of prominent LGBT organizations, including National Stonewall Democrats and Empire State Pride Agenda.

In addition to being a judicial delegate for the Democratic Party, Sklarz was appointed to the credentials and rules committees for the Democratic National Convention dating back to 2004. Last year, she was a Hillary Clinton delegate and member of the Electoral College.

Eleven years ago, Sklarz became a homeowner when she moved to Boulevard Gardens in Woodside. She became involved with the local Democratic club in the area as well.

Sklarz said she strongly considered running for the Assembly seat in 2016 against then-Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, but decided against it. Markey eventually lost to Barnwell, a political newcomer.

Now, Sklarz is throwing her hat in the ring because she believes she can better represent the district.

“I have relationships in the Senate and the Assembly, with the last three governors, with both Democratic Party, the Republican Party and now the IDC,” she said. “It’s important to be able to use all that.

“The key to a good, effective legislator is bringing money back from Albany to neighborhoods to make people’s lives better,” Sklarz added. “I think I can do that better.”

The Woodside resident is running on a platform of improving the district’s public transportation infrastructure, securing women’s reproductive health rights, and defending immigrants. Sklarz said she also wants to focus on keeping the economy strong and ensuring homeowners have the accurate designation for their property taxes.

“We want people to be safe and secure,” she said. “We want people to stay, raise their families and build a strong community for the future.”

Sklarz is no stranger to fundraising either. As a former political candidate and fundraiser for a nonprofit organization, she has experience raising the necessary funds for her Assembly bid.

“It’s like any job,” she said. “I’ve got to work long and hard, and connect with as many people as possible.”

The first-time candidate said she wants to outraise what Barnwell reached in 2016, which was $70,000.

“I want to raise more than Brian did in 2016,” she said, “and I want to do it faster and louder.”

She also hopes to win the support of Congressman Joseph Crowley, who leads the Queens Democratic Party. She said she has spoken to Crowley about her candidacy, and has already carried his petitions in his own re-election efforts for Congress.

Sklarz added that the county typically protects incumbents, so she sees her job as to “work really hard” and win them over.

“I’m having as many conversations as possible. I’m hoping to get support before September and certainly after,” she said. “Joe knows me, he knows my work. Certainly, when the time is right, I’ll have his support.”

To compete, Sklarz will have to contend in Maspeth and Middle Village, two neighborhoods that supported Barnwell overwhelmingly in the last election. In 2016, Barnwell defeated Markey by a 778-275 margin in those areas.

A top campaign issue then was the fight against the proposed homeless shelter at the Maspeth Holiday Inn Express. Maspeth and Middle Village residents mobilized against that plan, hosting nightly rallies. Barnwell was a regular at those protests, earning support among those constituents.

Sklarz said she thought the campaign against the Maspeth shelter was “unfortunate for everyone.” She also called Barnwell’s political campaign, which she felt was built “upon fear of poor people,” was also unfortunate.

“I wish the mayor and his people had worked much harder with the people of Maspeth, so there would be much less misunderstanding and a mutual decision,” she said. “I think when neighbors are that concerned about something new and different, I think it’s important to have a say and a voice for what happens next.

“I’m not going to run a campaign against poor people,” she added.

In a statement, Barnwell said “nobody” ran a campaign against poor people. The assemblyman also knocked his opponent for not showing up at any events he has hosted to help feed the needy and the poor.

“One of those events has taken place down the block from where we both live for the last seven year,” said Barnwell, who also lives in Boulevard Gardens. “Melissa argues against playing politics, but she is clearly the one doing such now.

“She wasn’t involved in the community until recently, because while she was busy calling Middle Village, Maspeth and Woodside residents all racists, she wasn’t out there making sure that sex offenders wouldn’t be placed down the block from a kid's park,” Barnwell added.

In news reports, the assemblyman contended that Sklarz called the district “racist” for their shelter protests, while the candidate’s camp argued that she called Barnwell’s “political posturing” racist.

As for the more conservative voters in the 30th Assembly District, Sklarz said she has experience speaking to people who agree with her and don’t agree with her, in both parties.

“I spent three years trying to lobby and work with the Republicans in the State Senate. I got to the point where I got to know some of them pretty well,” she said. “I can speak the language of Democrats and Republicans.”

Sklarz has made history again in 2018 by becoming the first trans person to run for office in the 30th Assembly District. But that milestone isn’t as important to the candidate as being the best representative she can be for the neighborhood.

“If you’re looking for someone with the politics of today and looking for the future, then I’m your girl,” Sklarz said. “This is a lifelong passion. My time is now.”
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