Ross Barkan, a journalist-turned-candidate, is part of a wave of newcomers that have stepped forward in communities across the country to run for political office in response to the controversial tenure of President Donald Trump.
“There is great fear out there. But there also great hope,” said Barkan, an award-winning political journalist who is running against Andrew Gounardes in the Democratic primary on Sept. 13 for the state Senate in the 22nd Senate District.
The winner of the primary will be the Democratic Party’s nominee to run against Republican incumbent state Sen. Marty Golden in a district that runs from Bay Ridge to Marine Park and includes parts of Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, and Gravesend.
Barkan isn’t shying away from the fact that this race marks the first time he is running for public office. On the contrary, he is using his newcomer status as his calling card.
“I’m an outsider who knows the system inside and out,” he told this newspaper, adding that as a journalist who has written for publications like the Village Voice, the Guardian, the New York Observer and Gothamist, he has covered city, state and federal government issues and has seen how all levels of government have failed everyday citizens.
“We can’t keep doing politics the same way it has always been done before,” he said. “The status quo is not working.”
Barkan said his Senate campaign is exciting and energized, and is getting help from hundreds of eager volunteers. The salaried workers on the campaign recently unionized.
Barkan filed more than 6.100 petition signatures with the New York City Board of Elections to get on the ballot, far more than the amount needed.
Barkan, who vowed to be a watchdog in Albany, said he has raised more than $150,000 in campaign contributions, mostly from small donors. He does not take money from corporate interests or from real estate developers, he said.
Barkan said he is running because the problems that have hit the city and state have grown too big for lawmakers to stick stubbornly with ideas that don’t work, he said. “Our transportation system is falling apart. Our health care is in crisis. Our quality of life is not getting better. People don’t want to be stuck in the same place forever,” he said.
“We should not have to live in a city where we have to struggle for the basics of life,” he added.
Why does Barkan believe that he would be a better candidate than Gounardes to go up against Golden in November? “Andrew ran before. He did not win,” Barkan said.
Gounardes, who currently serves as chief counsel to Borough President Eric Adams, ran against Golden in 2012 and lost. Gounardes did capture more votes than Golden did in the Bay Ridge portion of the district, a feat that impressed many political observers.
Barkan said he is eager to defeat Golden but added that he is stressing issues, not personalities, on the campaign trail.
“It’s not just a matter of saying ‘I don’t like Marty Golden.’ You have to offer a vision for the district,” he said.
To fix the subway and bus system, Barkan vowed to overhaul the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to ensure that repairs are fully funded.
Barkan, who did some substitute teaching before becoming a journalist, also has ideas on improving the education system.
“I am a former educator. I understand how important it is to prepare students for the future. The state has underfunded our city schools for a long time. I will fight to reclaim those funds,” he said.
Barkan also wants to expand the state’s free tuition program to all students attending SUNY and CUNY schools without stringent qualifications. He argued that the state can afford it.
“The state is wasting a tremendous amount of money. If we cut out the waste, we will find that we have enough funding to provide free tuition,” he said.
Barkan was born and raised in Bay Ridge.
When he was a child, he attended P.S. 185, P.S. 176, the Brooklyn Friends School and Poly Prep Country Day School.
After high school, Barkan attended Stony Brook University, earning a BA degree in English Education.
His favorite parts of campaigning are the visits he makes to subway stops, where he chats with voters on their way to work in the morning.
“I love meeting voters and talking to them. People are very afraid right now. But they are also very hopeful. I love seeing the diversity in this district,” he said.