Both City Council members announced their endorsement of Sklarz, who is running against incumbent Assemblyman Brian Barnwell to represent the 30th District, which includes Woodside, Maspeth and Middle Village.
“Her race is incredibly important, not only because she is going to make history, but because we, particularly at this moment, need progressive leaders,” Van Bramer said.
Van Bramer explained that Sklarz’s run for Assembly presents Queens with an opportunity to continue to make history by electing the first transgender Assembly member.
He and Dromm became the first openly LGBT elected officials in Queens after they won their respective elections in 2009.
“We need strong progressives at every level of government, and we need people that are going to do that in a way that makes us all proud,” Van Bramer added. “Melissa Sklarz is that candidate.”
Sklarz, who first moved to Woodside 12 years ago, has a long history of community involvement. She has served as board chair at LGBT organizations such as the Stonewall Democrats and the Empire State Pride Agenda.
In 1999, she made history when she became the first transgender person elected to office in New York after she won a judicial delegate seat in Manhattan.
In addition, she has served on the Credentials and Rules Committee of the Democratic National Convention since 2004. In 2016, she was a delegate and member of the Electoral College.
“She is a fighter and an advocate of community involvement,” Dromm said. “This community could have no better fighter for them.”
Dromm praised her involvement in the local Democratic club, and said her work ensured that Woodside and the areas in her district got their fair share of tax dollars.
“She’s able to interact with all the different communities that make up the district,” he said, “and I think for that reason she's highly qualified for this position.”
Dromm added that he did not endorse Barnwell because he disagrees with him on a number of issues.
He said that he is in full support of a woman's right to choose, but described Barnwell’s position on LGBT rights as “unclear.”
In addition, he accused Barnwell of not being pro-immigrant.
“I think in today’s world, if you’re going to identify as a Democrat, you need to stand up and support those issues,” Dromm said.
Sklarz, who has known both Van Bramer and Dromm for many years, said she is better suited for the job due to her 20 years of experience, as well as having taken the time to talk to and listen to her community.
“Public service is, in fact, about service, no one does it for the glory,” she said. “It’s a desire to serve, it’s a desire to represent the neighborhood.”
In response to claims about his stances, Barnwell said he supports equal rights for everyone, including the LGBT community. He touted his support for the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which he voted in favor of twice.
Barnwell is also sponsoring the Assembly’s “Trans Panic Defense” bill, which would not allow murderers to use the victim’s gender identity or sexual orientation as a defense in court.
On the issue of immigration, the assemblyman highlighted his support for legislation like the DREAM Act, as well as his votes against creating immigrant registries.
Barnwell added that his office speaks more than 30 languages, which he believes is the most diverse office in the state. The assemblyman said he has given funding to the Woodside organization Emerald Isle Immigration Center, and has hosted numerous “Know Your Rights” initiatives in the district.
“It’s all scare tactics,” he said in response to Dromm’s comments.
He noted that he did vote against the New York Liberty Act, a bill that would make New York a “sanctuary state.” The Assembly passed the legislation multiple times, but it has died in the State Senate.
Barnwell explained that he voted against it because he believes undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of violent felonies, such as murder and rape, would be let off the hook by the bill.
“The bill was so bad,” he said. “I don’t favor people who are convicted murderers and rapists being simply let go without a hearing, whether documented or not.”