Ross Barkan talks about his political future
Can he make the leap from scribe to senator?
Ross Barkan is looking to change jobs and go from writing newspaper articles to writing legislation.
Barkan, an award-winning political journalist who has held lawmakers’ feet to the fire in such publications as the Village Voice, The Guardian, The New York Observer and Gothamist, announced this week in an article on Medium that he is running for the state Senate in the 22nd Senate District in 2018.
In a phone interview with the Brooklyn Eagle, Barkan, 27, who was born and raised in Bay Ridge and still calls it home, discussed his life and the issues he will be talking about on the campaign trail.
The district he seeks to represent cuts a wide swath through Southwest Brooklyn, taking in all or parts of neighborhoods like Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Marine Park and Gerritsen Beach.
It will likely be an uphill battle for Barkan, a Democrat who is going up against political heavyweight Republican state Sen. Marty Golden.
Golden has held the seat since 2003 and usually has an easy time of it when he runs for re-election every two years, attracting token opposition.
But Barkan is undaunted.
The first-time candidate said he believes that by speaking truth to power, he can win over voters.
Barkan is running a grass-roots campaign and is seeking small contributions. “I’m not going to be supported by the fat cats. I’m proud of that,” he said.
Running for the Senate might seem like a big gamble, but Barkan has taken chances before.
In April 2016, Barkan famously resigned from his job at The Observer after learning that the executive editor had advised then-candidate Donald Trump on a campaign speech. Barkan said he made the decision out of principle and out of a belief that a newspaper should not be helping any candidate.
Known in political circles for his hard-hitting, take-no-prisoners style, Barkan received the Distinguished Newspaper Commentary Award from the New York Press Club this year.
His decision to run for state Senate came gradually over the course of months. He started thinking about politics and how he wanted to change it.
“I have written about how state politics intersects with city politics and how actions taken by the governor impact residents of New York City. The political system in Albany has failed Bay Ridge,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle.
The transit system gets a failing grade from him. “Our subway system is crumbling before our eyes. We need upgrades, new signal systems and track repairs. We need upgrades for buses. We are in a transportation emergency. Marty Golden has done nothing. If the transportation system does not work, New York does not work,” Barkan said.
Barkan is dismissive of MTA’s much-publicized efforts to renovate the subway system and install cellphone service and Wi-Fi because, he said, those efforts are not coupled with service improvements. “We don’t need the trains to look good. We need them to run on time,” he said.
Barkan said he is deeply concerned about the opioid crisis in the New York. “It’s a major, major problem. We need comprehensive solutions. We can’t treat addicts like criminals. We need community programs to keep kids involved and keep them away from drugs. We can’t just criminalize the problem,” he said.
Once a reporter, always a reporter. Barkan said one of his top priorities as a senator will be to educate the public on how politics affects their everyday lives.
For one thing, he remains incensed and thinks other people should be too, that the city’s education system is not under the mayor’s purview. “The mayor has to go up to Albany and ask permission to run city schools,” he said.
Bread and butter issues like education, taxes, housing and health care all come under the state’s jurisdiction, not the city’s, and Barkan said he’s not sure if many New Yorkers are aware of that fact.
The lack of affordable housing is another concern. Barkan said. He vowed that if elected, he would work to strengthen rent stabilization laws. “I will work to make sure that tenants are not kicked out by greedy landlords,” he said.
It’s an important issue, he said, because affordable housing is scarce.
While he applauds Mayor Bill de Blasio’s efforts to build more housing units, Barkan said it’s not enough. “We can’t just build a giant tower. We have to protect the units that are already here,” he said.
Among his ideas: Placing a cap on rents.
Barkan is a Bay Ridge resident with deep roots in the neighborhood.
He attended P.S. 185, P.S. 176, the Brooklyn Friends School and Poly Prep Country Day School. He played baseball for the 68th Precinct Youth Council, where he was a member of the Gold Team and a star pitcher.
After high school, Barkan left Bay Ridge to attend Stony Brook University. He returned to the community and worked as a substitute teacher at Fort Hamilton High School before going into journalism.
“I have seen Bay Ridge from the perspective of a resident for a large chunk of my life. And I’ve seen it as a reporter,” he said. “I’m proud of being a Bay Ridge resident. It’s one of the best neighborhoods in the city.”
One of his favorite leisurely activities is to stroll along the Shore Road Promenade and take in the breathtaking view of the waterfront.