Andrew Gounardes wants to know what’s on the minds of south Brooklyn residents.
The state Senate candidate is specific in his word choice when he knocks on doors in his district, where he’s hoping to unseat 16-year incumbent Sen. Marty Golden.
“I wanted to come by and see if there are any issues or concerns you have,” he says after introducing himself to a resident in a building on 82nd Street in Bay Ridge on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
“By framing it that way, it gives people an opportunity to talk about what’s on their minds,” Gounardes, 33, said. “It’s not just me coming and saying, ‘Hey, I’m so and so, I want to do X.’ It’s ‘Hey, I’m so and so, and I want to hear from you.’”
This fall’s race is the Bay Ridge native’s second shot at unseating Golden in District 22, after a run in 2012 when the incumbent won with 58.1 percent of the vote. The senator, one of the few Republicans representing New York City in the Senate, is a consistent presence in south Brooklyn and has gotten support from voters in both parties (Democrats have a two-to-one majority in the district).
Flipping the seat could change the power structure in Albany, giving Democrats a majority — if Gounardes wins and all the seats currently filled by Democrats remain that way after the general election on Nov. 6.
Since his last run, Gounardes, now counsel to borough president Eric Adams, has become more known throughout the district for his community involvement.
“He helped me with something following hurricane Sandy when I was trying to fundraise for neighbors in need,” volunteer and Bensonhurst resident Jay Brown, 42, said outside Gounardes’ Bay Ridge headquarters. “Nobody knows about that. I know about it, and I know so many other people in this community who have similar stories like that.”
From a young age, Gounardes valued community service. “I learned that first in the church,” he said, referring to the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church, where he was an altar boy and where he continues to volunteer.
After superstorm Sandy, he and Brooklyn Councilman Justin Brannan co-founded the nonprofit Bay Ridge Cares, which passed out thousands of meals to neighbors. He’s also an assistant scoutmaster with his former Boy Scout troop and has been a local advocate for safer streets and better transit options.
“People in this district care very much about the work that you’ve done before you ran for office,” Brannan said. “Andrew can point to stuff that he’s done in the neighborhood for years and years and years.”
Even with that recognition, Golden, 68, remains a hard candidate to beat. He is running on his record of “getting good things done,” like securing funding for schools in the district, authorizing “Design-Build” to streamline the rehabilitation of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, passing the surcharge on livery and black car vehicles to bring in money for the MTA and passing the SAFE Act.
“He’s been a pillar of the community for many years,” said Mike Diamond, 53, a longtime Bay Ridge resident.
Golden, a former city councilman and police officer, is often seen talking with constituents at parades and festivals, celebrating senior citizen’s birthdays and speaking at community events.
“Whenever I need something, I go to (Golden),” said Susan Esposito, a Dyker Heights resident for 30 years. When she reached out to his office about making Coney Island beach accessible to children in wheelchairs, it was able to initiate the addition of mats that go down to the water. “That was all thanks to his office,” she said.
Golden said the campaign does its “homework” on its constituents.
“We’re out on the blocks, we’re out in the neighborhoods … and we’re gonna make sure that we return to the New York State Senate so that, in fact, we can do the people’s business,” Golden said.
But the senator has had his share of controversy, and Gounardes is quick to criticize him for his record on speed cameras, which Gounardes says is the top issue voters bring up with him.
Golden’s Cadillac has been caught speeding in school zones 10 times since 2015, though it’s not known who was driving each time, according to The New York Times. Golden also hit a woman with his car in 2005, and she died months after the accident.
The senator, along with his colleagues, failed to extend the school-zone speed camera program this summer. The city and Gov. Andrew Cuomo later came up with a plan to go around the Senate to turn the cameras back on before the start of the school year.
Putting speed cameras in every school zone is part of Gounardes’ progressive platform — one that looks similar to the platforms of the insurgent Democrats who beat former members of the Independent Democratic Conference in September’s primary election. With the energy from those wins, the Gounardes campaign has confidence that he could be next.
Golden, however, says he isn’t concerned about the “Blue Wave” hitting his district.
“We don’t believe that the progressive left movement is a movement that’s going to impact us,” he said, citing past voting records in the district. In the 2013 mayoral election, several of the neighborhoods voted for Republican Nicole Malliotakis, and in 2016, several neighborhoods voted for President Donald Trump.
Gounardes and his campaign say they’re energizing people in the district who haven’t voted before. Ahead of the primary, the campaign knocked on 100,000 doors, and by Nov. 6, they will have knocked on 150,000 more, Gounardes’ campaign manager said.
“If you look at any of the races that won, whether it was the (Alexandria) Ocasio-Cortez race, or (Alessandra) Biaggi, or (Julia) Salazar, or anyone else, Zellnor (Myrie), (Jessica) Ramos, it’s all about door knocking,” Gounardes said. “Everything else is kind of just window dressing, it’s all about talking to voters directly.”