Bay Ridge has a reputation as being pretty conservative. Do you think that's accurate?
I don't think that's true at all. I think that was true at one point, but this is a neighborhood that's changed dramatically. If you look at how the president did in 2008, just in Bay Ridge alone, he overwhelmingly won Bay Ridge. And across the entire district, he got 48.5 percent of the vote—which, 10 years ago, I don't think he gets. I don't think a president named Barack Obama gets 40 percent of the vote 10 years ago, and I don't think a Democrat named Joe Smith gets 40 percent of the vote. So it really has become more progressive, more Democratic. But there's also been a dramatic change in the face of Bay Ridge. We have a lot more younger families moving to the neighborhood who are getting priced out of other neighborhoods; we have younger professionals who are moving here, looking for a place to settle down, who can afford the rents in this neighborhood, who like that we have great restaurants and bars, a great waterfront, great park space and everything; we have a growing immigrant population. I forget where I read it—maybe I saw it on your site? But there was a link somewhere a few months ago saying that Bay Ridge and Bushwick were two of the most diverse neighborhoods in all of Brooklyn. And you wouldn't think that if you just have the stereotype of the old Bay Ridge in your mind. But if ride the buses or ride the subways or go to the restaurants, you see that Bay Ridge is very, very diverse. And there many different ethnicities here and different groups in the community. And it's going to continue to do that.
And I've also noticed, both seen and heard from other people, that there's a growing LGBT community here in Bay Ridge. A lot of gay families are moving to this neighborhood. Now that's also part of the general trend of people moving here because they're getting priced out elsewhere, but people think that Bay Ridge is so hostile to the gay community, but you have a growing gay community here, which I think is very significant. It shows how much this neighborhood has changed.
When I walk around Bay Ridge, I feel like many blocks are just blanketed in Marty Golden lawn signs. Do you think that's an accurate impression of support?
Lawn signs don't vote. For every one house you see a Marty Golden sign at, there's probably one whole apartment building who knows how bad Marty's record is on housing issues, that is not gonna vote for a state senator who supports gutting everything. So I wouldn't use lawn signs as a barometer of support.
I remember hearing a year or two ago that Marty Golden looked uniquely vulnerable this cycle.
This is an overwhelmingly Democratic district, by a two-to-one margin—45,000 more Democrats than Republicans. And that doesn't mean anything unless they actually vote for Democratic candidates, which they do, 54 percent of the time. Or rather, the average Democratic candidate gets 54 percent of the vote. It's not overwhelming, but it's enough to win, comfortable. The challenge is getting someone to run against Golden; that's been the thing.
Is it scary running against Marty Golden?
Is it scary? No. I have nothing to lose. I really don't. Even if I do lose, I'm not gonna "lose." Part of the problem, I think, speaking as somebody within the party now: there isn't really a bench of people looking to get into politics right now. There's a few people thinking about it, but we don't have a strong bench. Even though this is a very civically active neighborhood—we have so many community groups who do so many different things—we're not very politically active. We don't have a lot of competitive elections, we don't have competitive primaries like other parts of Brooklyn or other parts of the city. And that feeds into the idea that we don't have people who want to run.
I think it's important. I think politics is very important. Yeah, it can be dirty and nasty and mean and whatever, but politics is everything. It determines whether we get our streets paved or not, or whether we get a bus on the avenue or not, you know? Or whether we can build a new school. Politics is everything. And we shouldn't shy away from that. At all. Because it's really important!
It's also not just a Bay Ridge race. How are you doing in the rest of the district?
Very, very well. We are doing extremely well across this entire district: very well in Dyker Heights, very well in Bensonhurst. These are one-time Republican neighborhoods that have become very Democratic, especially with the large increases in the immigrant population. Twenty-five percent of my district is Asian, which is extremely high. There's a growing Guatemalan population in Bath Beach that no one probably knows about; they're opening a brand-new Guatemalan church on 18th Avenue. So there's large numbers of immigrants moving into these neighborhoods that are changing the demographics and the political ideology of these neighborhoods. Even out in Marine Park and Gerritsen Beach, where Golden has long-time been very, very well-known, and where he won significantly in 2002—that's how he beat Vinny Gentile was by spending so much time in Marine Park and Gerritsen Beach—those neighborhoods have changed as well. They know who he is, but he hasn't been around.
But not only that, these are neighborhoods, especially Gerritsen Beach, that are primarily union households, even Republicans. These are guys that are sandhogs, carpenters, or electricians or plumbers or painters or whatever, and Golden crossed a picket line last year. For these union guys, these union households, that's the first amendment: Thou Shalt Not Cross a Picket Line. No matter whose union it is. So we feel pretty good about our strength that we're growing out there. And the numbers that we're getting back from our canvassers—we have 30 people a night canvassing the neighborhoods for me—are phenomenal. They're very, very strong.
It seems like southeastern Brooklyn has been turning more Republican, like where Bob Turner and David Storobin have recently won elections. Does that worry you?
Most of those areas where they did well are right outside of my district, not in my district. It doesn't worry me too much because I'm spending a lot of face time with voters. A campaign like Bob Turner or David Storobin ran succeeds when the candidates are not visible, and it's just based on mail and media. I've knocked on... I believe I'm at just under 17,000 doors personally throughout the entire district. So people get to meet me and talk to me. They don't just see my picture on a mailer or get an attack mailer from my opponent that says Andrew Gounardes is a bad guy. They know who I am. They talk to me. It's hard to convince someone that I'm going to destroy their neighborhoods when they see me, you know? After they've met me.
But again, this is a very diverse district, it has a lot of different viewpoints, and I'm trying to be accessible and accountable to everybody. I don't hide the fact that I'm a progressive Democrat, but I'm also a common-sense Democrat who wants to get things done. And to me getting things done is more important than just adhering to pure ideology. That's not how we get things done in this country. The system's not set up for that. So I have my views and my beliefs, but I'm willing to work and make compromises wherever necessary to make things happen for the neighborhoods I want to represent.
There was that article that the guy who owns Kettle Black was going to build a beer-garden for hipsters in Bay Ridge, and a lot of people seemed really upset.
I'm not crazy about so-called "hipsters." [But] I think it's a misnomer. I go out in different neighborhoods in Brooklyn; some I like more than others. I don't think a Williamsburg culture suits our neighborhood very well. I don't think this bar's gonna be a Williamsburg-type bar. And if you use the word "hipster," that may have been a way to market it to a certain group of people. On the whole, I think it'll be local people who come to use that local restaurant or local bar. I doubt anyone's coming from Greenpoint or Williamsburg to Bay Ridge to try out beer here. Maybe people from Park Slope, who are not hipsters. People from Sunset Park, maybe, who are not hipsters. Or people from Bay Ridge, who are definitely not hipsters.
What other neighborhoods do you like in Brooklyn?
I love all of Brooklyn, I'm a huge fan of Brooklyn. I think Brooklyn should be it's own independent city, but that's for another day, another debate, another office. I do like Park Slope a lot, I do like Cobble Hill and Brownstone Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights, Prospect Heights, Fort Greene, Carroll Gardens. But nothing beats Bay Ridge. Nothing beats home. It's very simple.
What did you think of the fight between the owners of Lonestar and the halal food truck on the corner of 86th Street and Fifth Avenue, when the bar owners tried to stop it from selling food there?
They had a right to be there.
The food truck?
Yeah. I understand the concerns of the bars and the restaurants, I get it completely. The solution isn't to attack and cause a fight on the avenue. The law's the law. And under the law they're allowed to be there. Now if you want to change the law, that's a whole other debate we should be having. And that comes at the city level. But to attack the food truck because it's trying to make a business too and trying to earn a living as well isn't right.
What did you think of that Bay Ridge reality show?
I came out against that. It didn't represent our neighborhoods fairly. I thought it portrayed... a really poor example of the women who make up our neighborhoods. And it's based solely on a stereotype. We were talking about stereotypes before, about how everyone thinks Bay Ridge is a very conservative neighborhood. And people still have this mistaken notion that southern Brooklyn still has all of these Jersey Shore wannabes. And that's not true. Ah, we have some people like that, and some people that fit into any type of box you want to draw. But to take that small sample and to make it representative of the entire neighborhood or the entire borough is wrong. It really demeans and diminishes so many great women in the area.
What's your favorite pizza place in Bay Ridge?
That's tough. My all-time favorite, because I used to go there when I was a kid, is Vesuvio's. But I'm a huge fan of so many... I'm a big fan of pizza. I'll eat pizza from anywhere. You know, you can't forget about Gino's or Pizza Wagon or Nino's. If I start listing them I'm going to exclude some, so I'll just say my favorite is Vesuvio's, but I like 'em all. [pause] Casa Calamari for their squares! I mean, I could go on and on.
Where do you get your bagels?
Now I get 'em at H&L on 88th and Third. I also like that new one on Third Avenue, Bagel Schmagel. It's pretty good. I used to live over there. I used to live on 76th Street. So I had my favorite bagel shop, my favorite restaurant and my favorite bar all within three blocks of each other.
Longbow. I mean, I also go to Bagel Boy. I mean, that's the Bay Ridge thing to do, I guess. Go to Bagel Boy.
I just walked by there. They have a big Marty Golden sign in the window.
So are you trying to avoid them now?
No. It's just out of my way.
What do you think about bike lanes?
I've already come out and supported bike lanes. There was an article in the Bay Ridge paper about that a few months ago. I think bike lanes make sense for streets because they keep everyone safe, both cyclists and pedestrians. And motorists. I do think they should be put in place with community input and not just at the whim of the DOT. I think putting them in certain areas is dangerous because, you know, at the end of the day it's going to be very hard to change motorists' behavior. On 86th Street, say. There's no reason why you should have a bike lane on 86th Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues because the amount of double parking that goes on there and people pulling out of spots and this and that, it's going to create more of a hazard. And, as a cyclist, I wouldn't want to ride my bike on 86th Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues. And I don't. But on the whole I think they're good. I think they make sense.
And I think it's a great way for people who want to come and explore our neighborhoods from other areas of Brooklyn. Let them have a way of getting down here. Let them ride their bikes down here to come to one of our restaurants, to one of our shops, or come to the waterfront, or come to one of our bars. Absolutely. At a time when we have so many closed stores on the avenues, why wouldn't we be trying everything possible to attract people to come to our neighborhood? In any way possible? And that includes biking.
You ride a bike yourself, you said?
Recreationally? Or do you commute?
Right now it's mostly recreational because of time constraints. But I have taken them before... for commuting. I'm a big fan. I'm an avid cyclist. And once this is all over, win lose or draw, I'm going to get back on my bike.
Is Marty Golden an avid cyclist?
You'd have to ask him.
So you're going on vacation either way?
Where are you going to go?
Most likely Argentina. I want to get out of here. I don't want to know anybody, see anybody, talk to anybody.
Argentina's a long way from Third Avenue.
Yeah. I like tango music. That's why: I need to learn how to tango dance now. No better place to do it than Buenos Aires.
Do you speak Spanish?
Nope. I need another adventure in my life, you know, aside from this. My understanding is that there's such a big expat community there already that you can get by with very little Spanish, and English. So.
Did you take Spanish in high school?
I took it, a little bit, but I don't remember much of it. I took mostly Greek, which was probably a mistake in hindsight. But I know the basics in Spanish, I can get by. Very, very broken... I understand the basics, and that's it.
How's your Arabic?
Not good. Not at all. But actually, if you look at the map of the district, they cut out most of the Arab-speaking blocks from the district. Yeah. I mean, the Arab community isn't just clustered in one area, it's spread out, but for the most part it's in northeastern Bay Ridge. Fifth Avenue, Fourth Avenue, in the 60s and 70s [streets]. And they cut out the movie theater. My district doesn't start until Fifth Avenue and 72nd Street up that way. Was that intentional? I don't know. Probably was!
That just happened a couple of months ago?
Yeah. So the next language I'm gonna learn would be Mandarin, because that is 25 percent of my district. And if you ride the subway, the N line or the D line, that's all Asian now. That's all Chinese-speaking. It's a lot of people. All up 86th Street it got really Chinese. This is actually on pace to be the largest Chinatown. Brooklyn Chinatown would be the largest one in about three or four years, I think. Bigger than Flushing and Manhattan. The community's growing very, very quickly. Very quickly.
Why is that?
I don't know. I mean, I think a lot of things just happened. There are trends that just develop and then once you're on that course, it's happening. They come here, they have kids, they start their families here, and on and on and on. And maybe people are moving out of the city and coming to Brooklyn, you know, from Chinatown to here. That could be part of it as well. It's definitely growing. And that community's going to have a lot of specific needs in the years to come. Language needs, services. Things like that that, whoever the elected officials are, need to respond to and be accountable to. And it helps to be able to speak the language, at least understand those concerns.
So you're going to learn Mandarin?
I spent a summer in Beijing in college. I took lessons but I didn't learn anything. A month is no time. But I'll try it now. I'll do that after this is over. I think it'll be fun to learn another language. I mean, I speak Greek as it is, but I don't use Greek as much as I should, so I'm a little rusty with it.
Are your parents from Bay Ridge?
My mom was from Ohio; my dad was from Astoria. My mom moved here when she was a teenager and they settled in Bay Ridge.
What do they do?
My mom's an assistant principal at PS 170. And she taught there for 16 years. And my dad has a dental practice up the block here, where my office is. [My campaign has an office] in his basement. And he's been there for about 30 years. The whole family's very involved in the church, the Greek church here, Ridge Boulevard. Very active there. My dad was president of the parish council, my mom was on the school board, I went to the Greek school here for 10 years. So, that community's very strongly tied to me and my family.
The Greek community's been a strong source of support for your campaign, right?
Yeah, very strong. There's about 4,000 Greek voters in the district, which is enough to sway an election. And they've been very supportive of me financially, as well. I've raised $250,000; a lot of that money's come from the Greek community. And others, but primarily the Greek community, the local Greek community. Which has been great. That's a lot of support, obviously. And Greeks like to support their own, as any community does. It's their chance.
Do they traditionally vote Democratic?
They're mixed. But they vote for their own, whoever that may be, whatever that may be, for the most part. So I think we'll get 90 percent of the Greek vote, easily.
How many voters are there total in the district?
Registered, there's 140,000. But actually gonna vote this year? About 85,000. That will actually vote in my election? Just under 80,000. So I need about 40,000 votes to win.
Do you think Obama's going to help or hurt you?
I think it's neutral. I think he gets me some votes; I think he loses me some votes.
So it evens out?
Yeah. But again, that's why I put such a premium on talking to people one-on-one. Because I want people to vote for me because of me, not because I'm on Obama's ticket or not on Obama's ticket. My campaign this week crossed the 100,000-door threshold. We've knocked on more than 100,000 doors already. And that does not include me talking to 17,000 people, or knocking on 17,000 doors. So it's that direct personal contact that really makes the difference and will get people to cross ballot lines. Maybe they'll vote Romney-Gounardes, maybe they'll vote Obama... or, if they're voting Obama, they're probably voting for me anyway. But we can probably get some of those Republicans, or disaffected Democrats who're voting Romney at the national level but are gonna vote for me at the local level. It sounds cliche, but the argument for change and fresher perspectives—you hear it every four years? I think it's really playing very strongly here in this district right now. Me vs. Golden. I think the contrast between us, both physically, visibly, and between our campaigns politically is very stark. And people respond to that and see that there is a need for change. They get that.
Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart