Democrats Ross Barkan and Andrew Gounardes sparred over campaign financing and other issues at a Bensonhurst debate as each man sought to portray himself as the candidate with the strongest grassroots support heading into the Sept. 13 primary that will determine which of the two will be the party’s standard bearer against Republican incumbent Marty Golden in the 22nd State Senate District in November.
Barkan, a political journalist making his first run at public office, charged that Gounardes has accepted campaign contributions from fat cats, something that Barkan said he has refused to do.
“You take money from the kind of people who profit from a broken system,” he told Gounardes during the debate, which took place at the United Chinese Association of Brooklyn at 1787 Stillwell Ave. on Aug. 28.
Gounardes, a lawyer who serves as chief counsel to Borough President Eric Adams, shot back that a sizeable number of his donors, 41 percent, live in the 22nd District and said that the vast majority of his donations were $100 or less. By contrast, Gounardes said, Barkan has raised money from donors in Manhattan.
“My opponent is the Park Avenue candidate. I’m the Bay Parkway candidate,” Gounardes said.
The winner of the primary will be the Democratic Party’s nominee and will run against Golden in the Nov. 6 general election. The 22nd District runs from Bay Ridge to Marine Park and includes parts of Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, and Gravesend. Golden, a retired cop, won the Senate seat in November of 2002, took office in January of 2003, and is running for re-election.
The debate, which was moderated by Kadia Goba, senior political reporter for BKLYNER, drew a large crowd comprised largely of partisans from the Barkan and Gounardes camps.
On major issues facing the district, including speed cameras in school zones, senior housing, mass transit and immigration, Barkan and Gounardes were in agreement.
Both men support reactivating speed cameras, building more senior housing units, overhauling the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and combating hateful rhetoric aimed at immigrants.
The debate came down to contrasting styles.
Throughout the evening, Barkan tried to paint Gounardes as the establishment, big money candidate hopelessly out of touch with grassroots Southwest Brooklyn politics. Gounardes has raised more money than Barkan and enjoys the lion’s share of endorsements from citywide and local elected officials.
At the same time, Barkan sought to present himself as the true grassroots candidate un-tethered to the political establishment and said that he will be able to act independently in Albany.
Barkan also pointed out that Gounardes ran against Golden in 2012 and lost to the Republican incumbent in a year in which Barack Obama was at the top of the Democratic ticket. “We can’t keep doing what we have been doing before and expect a different result,” Barkan said.
Gounardes fought back by pointing to his history of grassroots activism in Bay Ridge.
Gounardes is a co-founder of Bay Ridge Cares, an organization that helped victims of Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and holds fundraising events for cancer patients. He also founded Bay Ridge Advocates for Keeping Everyone Safe, or BRAKES, a group that pushes for pedestrian safety measures on streets.
In addition, Gounardes is a former member of Community Board 10 and is a past president of the Bay Ridge Historical Society.
“Judge me on my record,” he said.
Gounardes vowed that if elected to the state Senate, he would work to come up with solutions for problems like health care, student debt, overcrowded schools, mass transit and traffic safety. He proposed a G.I. Bill for senior citizens to enable older adults to return to college and said he would push for tax credits for caregivers of senior citizens and disabled people.
Barkan said he would also work to solve issues like health care, overcrowded schools and the deteriorating subway system. He vowed to help clean up corruption in the state capital by sponsoring legislation to ban lawmakers from earning outside income while in office and banning corporate campaign donations.
“There’s a lot we can do to get money out of politics,” he said, adding that big bucks can have a corrupting influence.
Gounardes boasted that he has built a strong coalition of support, not just from elected officials and unions, but from everyday citizens of the 22nd District and predicted that he can topple Golden.
“After 15 years of the status quo, enough is enough. We demand new leadership. It’s time to take our community back,” he said.
Golden figured prominently in Barkan’s remarks, too. He recalled that he made his decision to run for state Senate on Election Day, 2016. “On the same day Donald Trump was elected president, Marty Golden had no opponent. It got me thinking something is wrong here,” he said.