The 27-year-old has a law degree from George Washington University; he's non-practicing but has passed the bar in New York and New Jersey. He worked for Senator Bob Menendez for four years, first on his campaign in New Jersey and then at his office in D.C. "I started answering phones," he said, "and worked my way up the ladder to doing policy work."
He and I met at Pegasus diner on Third Avenue on October 12; he ordered a cup of cream of turkey and a Greek salad with chicken. We talked for an hour about Golden's record, state politics, fair pay, mass transit, and the ways Bay Ridge has changed and is changing—including its growing LGBT community. (The order of some questions-and-answers has been changed.) This is part one of that conversation. Part two—in which I ask him about the neighborhood's hot-button issues (hipsters, bike lanes,Brooklyn 11223, the food truck wars) as well as whether he's avoiding Bagel Boy because they have a Marty Golden poster in the window—will appear tomorrow.
When did you first decide to run against Marty Golden?
Last year I was looking around and I thought, no one's gone after Golden because he's been there for so long. You know, there was that candidate who ran against him less than two years ago, but he really didn't have much behind him: no money, no support, no volunteers, no anything. And I just think Marty's taken so many bad votes. Increasingly bad votes, year after year after year, and no one calls him out on it, no one holds him accountable. And if no one else is gonna run, well, I'll do it.
What "bad votes" in particular?
There was his vote against fair pay last year, which I thought was and still is completely ridiculous. And his excuse for it I find to be very offensive, frankly: "we can't afford to pay men and women the same." His vote against marriage equality. And not only his vote against it but his opposition... he took the lead in opposing marriage equality. He introduced DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law prohibiting same-sex marriages] in the state senate the day after the governor proposed his marriage equality bill. It's one thing to have a position against it; I understand that. But this is a historic vote, and he led the opposition. He'll go down in New York State history as being the lead opposition to marriage equality. And that's an... infamous position to have, I guess.
And just in general, his lack of support, or his full support for the Republican agenda in Albany, which is hostile to New York City. On schools, on public transportation. You know, he sent out glossy mailers saying he's done all these great things for bus and train service and for our schools. But in reality, Senate Republicans, they are... You ask anybody who works up in Albany, you know, in the press, they tell you that they are actively hostile against New York City. It's like they have something against us. And he votes with Dean Skelos [the State Senate Republican Majority Leader from Nassau County] 99 percent of the time. So you can't tell me that he's being a fighter for Brooklyn when he's doing Dean Skelos's bidding. And I actually think he gives Dean Skelos cover to keep screwing over New York City. He says, "well, Marty Golden is with me, and he's from New York City, so I must be doing something right." No! It's just the opposite. Marty Golden's with you and he's hurting our neighborhoods.
Do you see that as the fundamental difference between you and him?
Absolutely. I think I can do a better job standing-up-for-our-neighborhoods than he's done. I think he does just the bare minimum to get his picture in the paper, and he takes the votes that are non-controversial, that gets him good press, but we really need more than a photo-op senator.
Well, one questioner asked him, "do you agree with Todd Akin's comments, as a fellow Republican, that rape victims should not receive emergency contraception?" And at first he pretended not to hear it. "What do you mean?" This and that. It was actually... one of the papers covered it like that, they said he pretended not to hear it even though he understood. And he said, "yeah, of course they should get support. They should get emergency contraception." And then I said, "well, Marty, why did you vote against it three times in the last 10 years?" And he was just stunned because he got caught. He got caught saying one thing and doing the other. And that's been his MO for a while: he says one thing on Third Avenue and when he goes up to Albany and the cameras are off, he does just the opposite.
Again, last night, we were at a candidate's forum, and we didn't debate each other, he went first and I went second. And one of the questioners asked him, "do you support the NYPD's policy of spying on Muslims in their mosques while they pray as an anti-terrorism measure?" And he said, "absolutely not. The NYPD should not be spying on anyone, in a synagogue, a mosque or a church anywhere in this country." But just last year he sent a letter to Commissioner Kelly praising him for the NYPD spying program that was uncovered by the AP that includes them spying on Muslims when they're praying in mosques! I think he's trying to have it both ways. I think he didn't think that anyone in that room knew about that letter. Some of the people knew about that letter. He probably didn't think that I had done my homework and found that letter. But again, he says one thing and does the other.
So, I found him to be a very good debate opponent. Obviously things got very heated, and that's because I think he's not used to have people call him into question. And, hey, if you've been around for 10 years and never had anyone hold your feet to the fire, you get kind of comfortable, you get kind of cozy that way. I can see why someone gets frustrated if someone else comes up and says, "hey, hold on a second, you didn't do X, Y and Z as you just said. Or you did X, Y and Z, but the real problems are A, B and C." I can see why he'd get very frustrated with that, he'd get very angry at that.
Did you see the vice president debate?
I had the forum at PS 170, and I'm fighting a cold, so I didn't want to stay up late. I skipped the whole debate. I heard Biden did pretty well.
Yeah, it was funny. I mean, Joe Biden's such a.... he's a good guy to have in your corner.
I met him in 2006. He came to campaign for Bob Menendez. And my job was to drive him around all day. So from like six in the morning til 10 at night it was me, him and his staff member. Best day of my life. The best day of my life. He was such a genuine person. So warm and so fun. And I drove around Ted Kennedy, I drove around John Kerry, I drove around a lot of people. He was the most fun. At the end of the night, he took off his cufflinks from his shirt and gave them to me. He probably does that for everyone he sees, but you know what? I felt, I still feel like a million bucks when I think about that. It was great. They say "Joseph R. Biden III, U.S. Senate." I have Joe Biden's cufflinks. And no one can take that away from me.
Do you have any French-cuff shirts?
Oh yeah. I'm probably gonna wear them on Election Day, just as a good luck charm. I think that'll be good. The second best person to drive around was Ted Kennedy. He was fun also. I pick him up from the airport. I go to Teterboro. And he was old at the time. And he gets off the plane, and this is like seven in the morning, and it looks like somebody woke him up in the middle of the night and just threw him on a plane. Didn't tell him where he was going. His hair was disheveled, he was all a mess. Here I am, I'm like 21 years-old, about to pick up this guy. It's Ted Kennedy. And he looks like this. You know? What do you say? How do you act? So I'm driving very nervously and he's hosting a radio call-in before we go to our first stop. So he's sitting in the car, and he's like slumped over, he's like half-sleeping or whatever. His staffer gets the guy on the phone, he sets up the phone interview, gives him the phone, he holds it out. And he pats his hair and shakes his head and puts the phone to the ear and then non-stop, 20 minutes, he was just spitballing, attack after attack. I'd never seen anything like that. He just turned it on. He was unbelievable, like the Ted Kennedy, you know, you read about, and I was just in awe. It was pretty cool.
It's fun to drive Ted Kennedy around, but it's probably not fun to given driven around by him.
Yeah, that's true. [Laughs] That's very true. Then him and his wife got into a fight about his seatbelt. He was trying to put his seatbelt on; he couldn't get the buckle. His wife was trying to help him. "I can do it! Leave me alone!" You know, arguing. You don't want to get in the middle of that type of fight, right? He was fun, though.
I mean, I started working local politics, but when I started doing the national stuff is when I really got into it, into really enjoying this as a sport, as a game. And exposure to that at the national level was what kind of sealed the deal for me to go down this road. I mean, working on The Hill and everything else, and now starting up myself... So, we'll see how far it goes. But that—that was incredible.
What are your priorities? If you go to Albany, what do you get to work on first?
Definitely the Fair Pay Act. Women in New York lose $24 billion a year to paycheck discrimination here because they only earn 83 cents to the dollar. And the Fair Pay Act probably won't eliminate that gap completely but it'll definitely go a long way toward closing that gap. And, you know, Golden says the bill is too vague, it's not specific enough, we don't have the right answers. That may be true. But I'll amend the bill, I'll fix the bill, and to get it passed we actually solve that problem. You know, I'm not gonna say, "it's not good enough" and then not do anything about it. That's a big one for me.
The other thing is, I think we need to rewrite the funding formulas that come down from Albany for our schools. I don't think it's a secret that Albany sends less money to New York City schools than they do to other school districts across the state, Long Island or Upstate or wherever else. And the funding formulas they use give geographic "bonus factors," if you will; they weight basically any city outside of New York, any school district outside of New York City, they give them an extra weighted bonus to give them more funds. We need to rewrite those funding formulas and give us all our fair share. Every school district needs money, and they could all use more. I'm not trying to say rob Peter to pay Paul. But let's start with a fair formula first, let's spread the money equitably and fairly, and then we can see what our true education needs are, and then we can figure out ways to increase them appropriately. But those funding formulas need to be rewritten. And I don't know if you know, there was a lawsuit filed a few years ago by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, where a group of parents... actually, this started back in '92, '93. A group of parents filed suit saying we were being denied our fair share of education funds. In 2004, 2005, a judge said, "you're right," after it went through appeal and this and that. Albany owes New York City schools $15.5 billion. Just to catch up! Because of the inequities in the funding formulas. Just to catch up. Not even to stay on par. Well, we saw $2 billion and nothing else. We still have a long way to go to fix those inequities. I really wanna tackle that issue.
And the third priority—the immediate priorities; there are so many things I want to try work on—is mass transit. The N, the R, the D are some of the worst train lines in the entire system. I myself have waited a half an hour to transfer during rush hour from the N to the R at 59th Street. There's no reason why anyone in our neighborhood should be subject to that. That's just not right. Whereas other neighborhoods have no problem. You know, you wait two minutes for a train in Manhattan, you wait three minutes for a train. You can wait 15, 20 minutes sometimes. How many trains pass by: Not in Service, or this and that. The MTA is woefully broke and needs a steady funding stream. It also has management issues I want to tackle. But I think we need to get serious about fixing the MTA and funding the MTA fairly and appropriately, and get serious about mass transit options to all five boroughs and not just Manhattan or not just other parts of the city. Especially here in southern Brooklyn.
What about express buses?
Yeah, that's included. Trains are just one example of how the MTA is letting us down. Bus service, more regular bus service. The B37, the B64 we finally got restored. You know in Bensonhurst we got the B4 bus, in Sheepshead Bay, in Marine Park it's still cut. We have one of the largest senior populations in the entire city here in southwest Brooklyn, and yet not one of the subway stations in this district are handicap-accessible. None of them. So seniors can't take the trains because they can't get down in the train station. And we keep cutting bus service so they can't get around on the bus to go the doctor or the hospital or this or that or wherever. We need serious bus service back in southwest Brooklyn. That includes express bus service. Now we got the express buses back on the weekends. Thankfully, Councilman [Vincent] Gentile fought really hard to get that done. I know Marty takes the credit for it, but in reality you ask anyone who paid attention to that fight and it was Vinny who did that. You look, we got the B64 back, and Marty took credit for that as well. But again you look at all the... Bill Colton got that done because he got 5,000 signatures on a petition. Because he worked with the TWU and the community to lobby the MTA to get the job done. And I was a part of that. We helped get signatures and we were at the rallies he held and things like that. So we definitely need more bus service. More meaningful service.
Aren't those express buses underused, especially on the weekends?
Well if more people knew about the options to use them, I think we would have more people using them! And as train service continues to be horrible on the weekends I think the express buses are a great option for people who want to get into the city and not take an hour. They can get there in half the time. We can definitely increase ridership, for sure. I think we should be increasing ridership, telling people about them more and more. Should they run every 10 minutes on the weekend? No, of course not. But we should give people the opportunity to get into the city. And as long as senior citizens can't get onto a subway because they can't get down the stairs, we need to provide other means of access to get into the city or other parts of Brooklyn. Seven days a week.
That's why you're running for State Senator!
Well, it is, yeah! There's no reason for that, right? None at all! That should never be the case. And no one else cares? I mean, unless you live... unless you're affected by that, no one else would even care about that. They'd be, "ok, you're complaining about trains? Ok, we all complain about train service, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah." That's a real issue. To wait almost an hour for a train? C'mon, right? So, we'll try, we'll see. Golden's on the capital review board, the MTA capital review board. I haven't seen much improvement to the trains since he's been on that board. We'll see what he does with that. But we need more train and bus service.
Part two of this interview appeared the following day.
Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart