The Battle for a Once-safe Brooklyn District Gets Heated

Marty Golden, the borough's lone GOP state senator, faces a determined challenger and increasingly raucous crowds

Andrew Gounardes, the challenger, left, moderator Fran Vella-Marrone, and incumbent Marty Golden in a debate in Dyker Heights last night (Photos by Trey Pentecost)

The lone Republican state senator in Brooklyn, the long-serving Marty Golden of the 22nd District, has run unopposed four times, but this election is not one of them. In fact, his bid for a ninth term is turning into an intense battle, with statewide Democrats hoping to take his seat in their bid to overturn the narrow GOP margin in the senate.

When Golden went toe to toe last night with his opponent, Andrew Gounardes, the Democrat challenger enthusiastically characterized the proceedings afterward as “a bit of a sparring match.” The debate took place before a crowd of 100 at St. Phillips Parish Hall in Dyker Heights, where the audience leaned heavily (and raucously) toward the challenger. “The crowd was really rowdy,” commented Sally McMahon, a member of the community advocacy group Fight Back Bay Ridge

While Golden has made most of his headlines in recent months based on his changing position on traffic-speed cameras, the fireworks last night were about legislation to aid the child victims of sexual abuse. Golden has taken heat for his lack of support for the Child Victims Act, which would extend the statute of limitations on cases of child sexual abuse, and has already garnered State Assembly approval.

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Golden fires back, at one point telling his rival, “You’re a liar!”

Just after opening remarks from the candidates, a woman from the audience asked both of them about their stance on a related, Republican-sponsored piece of legislation, the Child Victims Fund, a bill currently being considered by the senate’s Rules Committee that “would take $300 million from the more than $700 million in asset forfeiture funds controlled by Manhattan District Attorney’s Office that has to go toward criminal justice initiatives,” according to the Daily News.

Gounardes said he does not support the Fund because “taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for the sins of others,” but that, like many other Democrats, he does support the Child Victims ActIn his rebuttal, Golden, who defeated Gounardes in the 2012 election, said he supported the Fund because it “take[s] care of victims,” and that the money does not come from taxpayers’ pockets.

That’s when the temperature in the room kicked up. Bay Ridger McMahon, who said she was “speaking as a child victim,” asked both candidates if they explicitly supported the Child Victims Act. Golden began his answer with mention of the Fund instead, to which McMahon interrupted, saying it wasn’t the legislation she was asking about. The moderator, Fran Vella-Marrone, president of the Dyker Heights Civic Association, slammed her gavel down repeatedly to hush McMahon and give Golden the floor.

But he professed confusion instead. “What is the Child Victim … What are you talking about?” Golden agitatedly said to McMahon, to which several attendees groaned in conspicuous dismay. Golden then said that there are “so many pieces of legislation, I’m not sure which one you’re talking about,” and restated his support for the Child Victims Fund.

Taking to the podium for his answer to McMahon, Gounardes summarized his interpretation of the Act’s language, and then directly addressed Golden. “Marty, do your homework. Read the bills that come across your desk,” he said. “Of course I will support the Child Victims Act.”

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The debate crowd of about 100 was vociferous, often in support of the challenger

Gounardes’s supporters, who seemed to comprise nearly three-quarters of the crowd, rapturously applauded. (Later, when Golden’s supporters began chanting “Mar-ty! Mar-ty!” they were absorbed by hollers of “An-drew! An-drew!”)

Reached this morning, McMahon said she was “astounded” by Golden’s reaction to her question, especially since he’d previously spoken about the Act as recently as last week, during another debate with Gounardes at a Bay Ridge senior-citizens center. McMahon said that the crowd there reacted unfavorably to Golden’s response. “He didn’t want to go through that again, so he’d rather play dumb,” McMahon added. (As of press time, Golden’s campaign did not offer a comment after a request from The Bridge.)

A couple of queries later, a young man asked Golden if he will “release the records of the investigation of the incident where you struck and killed a woman in 2005.” (Golden’s SUV hit Hariklia Zafiropoulos, a 74-year-old retiree, who fell into a coma and remained in the hospital until her death. According to the Daily News, Golden paid her family a $750,000 settlement in 2010.)

Gounardes fans cheered at the question. Golden supporters jeered; one shouted “Slander!” and another yelled “Shame on you!”

“He killed somebody!” the initial questioner lashed out. After a booming knock of the gavel by Vella-Merrone, Golden said, “You are a disgrace, young man. A disgrace.”

Golden said the striking of Zafiropoulos was “an accident, where a woman crossed in the street … against a light.” He said his car’s mirror hit her and she suffered a head injury as a result of the fall. “It was found at the hospital that she had cancer, cancer of the stomach,” he continued. “She died six months later. Now, ladies and gentlemen, I have no problem releasing anything as long as the family is OK with it.” His supporters applauded wildly.

Seconds later, another attendee, a woman who identified herself as Yemeni-American, was given the floor. “Wow, this is intense,” she remarked.



She then asked Golden to clarify a statement from him, that she’d heard secondhand, in which he said Arab Americans don’t vote. “I did not say that,” Golden retorted. He explained that even his parents, who were Irish immigrants, did not immediately register to vote upon their arrival. “When immigrants come to this country, it takes a period of time for them to be accustomed” to voting, he said.

In his rebuttal, Gounardes said that Golden’s response “would be believable, except for the fact that Marty has a history and a record of saying things about the Arab-American community in Brooklyn—”

“You’re a liar,” Golden interrupted. The audience booed.

In 2011, Brooklyn members of the Arab American Association of New York said they were not welcome at a picnic sponsored by Golden. More recently, Golden defended President Trump’s staunch immigration policies by saying that several of the 9/11 hijackers lived in Bay Ridge. (Last night, Golden admitted to—and apologized for—confusing the 9/11 hijackers with one of the organizers of the World Trade Center bombing in 1993.) Gounardes also said that Golden has supported the police department’s “spying on mosques.”

In closing remarks, Golden announced that he stands up to the “liberal lunacy coming out of City Hall,” and also said of Gounardes: “You are a rubber stamp for the Governor and a rubber stamp for Mayor de Blasio and we don’t need another rubber stamp.”

At the podium for his closing remarks, before attacking Golden over his record on subway elevators, fair pay for women, taxes, and more, Gounardes said, “I got under Marty’s collar a little bit.”

Overall, “I think that Gounardes won,” said activist McMahon. “He remained level-headed, and focused on the questions and on answering them. He spoke without a script, which I thought was really good. Senator Golden had a script with him, and he lost his cool with the people who asked questions, including me.”

What seems certain is that more fireworks are to come before the final verdict Nov. 6.

Michael Stahl is a freelance writer and editor. A former high school English teacher, he has written for Rolling Stone, Vice, the Village Voice, Narratively, Splitsider, Outside Magazine and other publications.