Why I’m Running for Office

I never liked politics much growing up. I was obsessed with baseball and, later on, literature. I spent a long time wondering why anyone would waste their time thinking too much about politics. I didn’t join a Democratic club in college or canvass for extra cash. Back then, I couldn’t tell you anything about the state legislature. I assumed anyone who ran for office was disturbed, egomaniacal, or just badly needed a hobby.

I jumped into journalism because I loved writing and wanted to make a living off my words. I am writer — first and always. I am a journalist, too. Nothing about me will change after today. I will be writing words and pissing people off. I won’t stop writing columns. Holding this political class — too often milquetoast and spineless — accountable is what I do and will continue to do.

But I’m going to be trying something profoundly new. I will be running for a State Senate seat next year in the Brooklyn district I grew up in, which spans the neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Marine Park, Manhattan Beach, Gerritsen Beach, Bensonhurst, Gravesend, and parts of Midwood. The general election is in November 2018, the primary a couple months before.

I’m not going to tell you I’ve spent a lifetime dreaming of public service, dutifully working on the staffs of elected officials, pining for this day. You aren’t going to hear about how I founded political clubs, earned merit badges, or joined a community board as a teenager.

You will hear about issues. Our healthcare system is predatory and inhumane. Our subway system is crumbling and our buses are inadequate. Our tenant protections are repeatedly gutted. Our political process is horrifically dysfunctional. Our Brooklyn public schools are terribly underfunded. The opioid crisis, which has received far too little attention in southern Brooklyn, must be treated like the medical emergency it is — people with addictions must be treated, not criminalized.

If you’ve read my columns in the Village Voicethe GuardianGothamist or any of the other outlets I’ve written for, you can imagine what this campaign will be about. My values have been laid bare and will guide everything I do. What I’m finding is, you can only try to hold the system accountable for so long from the outside. Sometimes, you have to break in and do it from the inside.

I know how to hold power to account. I understand why politicians do what they do, and why they fail. I know why most of them are cowardly.

I’ve lived in the neighborhood of Bay Ridge just about my entire life, but that’s not the point. This campaign won’t be about me reading my resume off a piece of paper. This campaign will be about telling the truth. I will say what others are afraid to say — or can’t. I will fight for the issues that matter. I will stand up to anyone who tries to screw the people of New York City. Unlike just about everyone else elected to office in this city and state, I don’t peddle bullshit.

I promise you, this will be a very different kind of campaign. Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Republican-controlled State Senate have no answers, only a myopic defense of the status quo. The Independent Democratic Conference must be chased from power. I won’t be afraid to say any of these things.

Obamacare is an imperfect creation that must give way to single-payer, universal healthcare. The State Assembly has repeatedly passed a bill to create a single-payer healthcare system in New York. Not surprisingly, a State Senate run by Republicans and the IDC has failed to bring the bill up for a vote.

Healthcare, like police protection and sanitation, is something any rational and moral government should provide for all its people, regardless of income or well-being. We need to be free from predatory insurance companies. This campaign, above just about everything else, will be about bringing universal healthcare to New York State.

And we need other obvious reforms, like the state government assuming the $5.4 billion in Medicaid costs New York City unfairly pays for. New York is the only state in the nation that forces local governments to pay healthcare costs normally taken care of by the state and federal governments. With these savings, we can lower property taxes or pay for programs we really need.

My state senator, a Donald Trump-loving Republican, has stood idly by as Cuomo’s MTA fails everyone in southwest Brooklyn and across the city. Delays have reached crippling levels. The very future of the city is at stake. Rather than stand up to the governor, my state senator — like most politicians in this city, in both parties — has taken the coward’s way out, doing nothing for straphangers who pay escalating fares for service that is nothing short of catastrophic.

Few politicians are taking our transit emergency seriously. The MTA needs a real lockbox so our misguided governor doesn’t keep raiding its funds. The MTA needs a dedicated revenue stream through a new and permanent tax on millionaires in the regions served by mass transit, as well as cash raised from the closure of the carried interest loophole. Other options should be on the table, too, including Move NY. The MTA needs to invest the lion’s share of its resources in upgrading a signaling network that predates World War II — and our gutless political class needs to hold the MTA to account.

No more stupid, wasteful projects. No more spending on cosmetic upgrades as our trains tumble off the tracks. No more bridge lights. No more toys in front of the tunnels.

Neither the Senate nor Assembly has held a hearing dedicated to the state of our subway system. My senator has been absolutely silent. We need hearings and audits to uncover how the MTA spends far more on construction costs than just about any transportation agency in the world. No new revenue should come without reform to the MTA’s spending practices. That much is obvious.

We need to be thinking about a future built around public transportation and, as much as I like driving my car, away from polluting automobiles. We need to cut down on congestion and protect the lives of pedestrians. After signal upgrades and spending reforms, we must think big. A train line from Bay Ridge to Queens to the Bronx. A train line to Kings Plaza. Significant expansions of bus rapid transit, not streetcar boondoggles.

Going hand-in-hand with our transportation future is resiliency. Brooklyn is woefully under-prepared for the next superstorm, the next hurricane. The shoreline of the 22nd District, particularly in Manhattan Beach, Gerritsen Beach, and Sheepshead Bay, has no serious buffering against future storm surges. The lack of initiative and imagination from my state senator is disturbing, to say the least.

As a lifelong Brooklynite, I will be committed to returning as much power to the city as humanely possible. I will fight for a repeal of the Urstadt Law so we can greatly expand the rent stabilization and rent control programs without the approval of right-wing legislators from Oneonta and Plattsburgh. We must place a hard cap on the rents tenants everywhere can be charged, and strictly regulate how quickly landlords can hike them. We must stop the victimization of tenants.

My state senator could care less about getting rid of political corruption. The epidemic must end, and it will be up to the state legislature to change our awful laws — not just grandstanding prosecutors. State lawmakers must be banned from taking outside income. Donation limits are far too high and the LLC loophole must be closed. We need same-day registration, early voting, and nonpartisan elections to encourage voter participation in New York, which lags behind most states in America. We need full public financing of elections, and a ban on non-campaigncampaign expending.

New York’s retrograde criminal justice system must be fixed on the state level. Our discovery laws punish innocent defendants and cash bail criminalizes poverty. Corrupt, racist parole boards enabled by Senate Republican leadership keep people who shouldn’t be there behind bars.

I’m running, as you can probably guess, as a Democrat, but I’m new to the party and don’t have any particular affinity for its leadership. I don’t revere the people who’ve worked in the establishment for decades and accomplished little other than making nice livings for themselves. I’m an actual progressive — the word itself is too anodyne to me, but I’ll go with it for now — and I’m not beholden to any power brokers. I’m not going to talk in platitudes or feed you tired talking points.

What you’ll find is that the issues I’m talking about in this campaign reflect the arguments I’ve made in my reporting and my columns. I haven’t been shy about telling you what I believe in. You know where I stand. Just because I’m running for office doesn’t mean I’ll stop writing. It’s what I do, and what matters to me. If lawyers and billionaire businessmen get to campaign for what they believe in, why can’t a journalist?

As a journalist who writes about politics, I hope to shine a light on this opaque process for my readers. What the hell is it like to run for office, anyway? What is it that the candidates never tell you? Political journalists write about politics, but can only pretend to understand so much.

And let’s be real — too many politicians are afraid of taking risks or having a shred of personality. I promise I won’t put you to sleep. I can’t say the 22nd Senate District should be the 51st state — maybe I should? — but you have permission to put me out of my misery if I start mumbling about “prosperity and progress” and do that thing where politicians don’t answer your question, just repeat a talking point a little louder.

This next part is never easy — and not something I’ve done before — but if you want to support me, please consider donating to my campaign. It goes without saying that the real estate lobby, insurance companies, dying political machines, and hedge funders won’t be plying me with gobs of cash anytime soon.

I’m not friends with the ultra-rich. I’ll need money from real people. To be honest, I’ll need to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to compete with the Republican incumbent. I know how the game works. I’d also rather not call up that dude I barely knew in high school to shake him down for $500 because LinkedIn says he’s a financial analyst. That’s not a fun way to spend the day.

If you feel so motivated, pitching in $10 or $20 or even more can go a long way. Anyone who wants to get involved, email rossbarkan2018@gmail.com. Or just tweet me.