The two Democrats looking to unseat Bay Ridge’s Republican state senator went toe-to-toe last week trying to prove who is more battle-tested to take on the political behemoth that is Marty Golden.
Both County-backed candidate Andrew Gounardes and upstart former journalist Ross Barkin claimed they’d been battling the eight-term incumbent for years and were therefore better suited to be the Democrats’ standard bearer in November.
Machine-backed candidate Andrew Gounardes summed up the night’s fight in his closing statement at an Aug. 28 debate at the United Chinese Association of Brooklyn in Gravesend, acknowledging that he and his opponent, former journalist Ross Barkan, share similar policy platforms, and that Democratic voters should choose the candidate they think has a better chance of defeating the beleaguered incumbent in November.
“This campaign is about ideas, and Ross and I probably agree on 90 or 95 percent of all our ideas, so there’s not much of a difference between us,” Gounardes said. “The choice that you have to make in this room is who has the better vision and who has the better campaign to unseat Marty Golden?”
The debate moderator, journalist Kadia Goba of Bklyner — which sponsored the event — asked the candidates a series of questions, some from constituents, during the 90-minute debate. The candidates’ responses mostly highlighted their similarities: both affirmed their support for public financing of state elections, expanding the citywide speed camera program, passing the New York Healthcare Act to provide universal healthcare, banning federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from state courthouses, and increasing senior housing in the district.
Both also strongly condemned Golden’s record, promising that, if elected, they would each bring change to the district, which encompasses Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach, Gravesend, and parts of Sheepshead Bay, Borough Park, and Midwood.
Barkan pointed out that dislike of the incumbent was common among everyone in the room, but said that the race comes down to the candidates’ different ideas about what the district could become. He touted his status as a political outsider who could shake up the neighborhood and emphasized his support for universal healthcare, housing and accessible transportation.
“Everyone here agrees Marty Golden is an abomination — we don’t have to go much further than that, we know why he’s bad. But this is about offering a vision for this district,” Barkan said. “We’ve got to run on ideas, we’ve got to run on a vision, we have to live our values. We cannot do things as they’ve been done before and hope for the same result, that’s not how it works.”
Gounardes — who lost to Golden in 2012 — plugged his many years working in politics, first for former Ridge councilman Vincent Gentile and then for Borough President Adams, and cited his backing from the borough’s Democratic machine as proof of his preparedness for the job.
“We have brought together an army and a machine and a movement that will finally unseat Marty Golden and restore progressive leadership to Southern Brooklyn,” Gounardes said. “Our campaign didn’t just start on Nov. 20, when I announced that I was running. The campaign to improve our communities has been going on for years … I was picketing Marty Golden’s office five years ago.”
But Barkan countered the implication that he was new to the fight against Golden by citing his years working as a journalist for the New York Observer and the Village Voice as time when he held the incumbent accountable to the public through his reporting.
“I knew Marty as a reporter, I reported on his various corruption and excesses … I was writing stories about [the Bay Ridge Manor] years ago,” he said. “I was holding him accountable on his rhetoric, on his lies, I was proud to hold Marty Golden accountable as a state Senator, doing the important work as a journalist.”
And Gounardes fought off an audience members’ question about whether or not he would have returned $225 from Reform party leader and local conservative (and Courier columnist) Bob Capano if Barkan — who charged that the donation amounted to Gounardes endorsing Capano’s anti-immigrant views — had not called him out on it. Gounardes said that he donated the money to the New York Immigration Coalition and insisted that support from the Democratic, Reform, and Working Families parties proved that he was the Democrat best placed to take on the incumbent.
“All three of those parties have decided that I am the strongest candidate with the ability to beat Marty Golden this November,” he said.
The pair will face off in the Sept. 13 primary, and the winner will go up against Golden in the Nov. 6 general election.