Assemblyman Brian Barnwell disputes Melinda Katz’s claim he endorsed her in Queens DA race.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz
Office of Queens Borough President Melinda Katz
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz.

Assemblyman Brian Barnwell disputes Melinda Katz’s claim he endorsed her in Queens DA race.

There are also several endorsements being touted by both the Katz and Rory Lancman campaigns.
June 4, 2019

A flyer for Queens Borough President Melinda Katz’s district attorney campaign being passed around Queens touts the names of 14 elected officials who endorsed her for the office. Among them is Queens Assemblyman Brian Barnwell - but Barnwell was surprised after seeing a picture of the flyer posted on Twitter.

Asked to explain, a Katz campaign spokesman said that Barnwell’s name has been on campaign literature for months now. “He and Melinda had a conversation way back where he said he was supporting her,” the spokesman said.

In a call with City & State, Barnwell disagreed. “Nope, that’s a lie. Never said I would endorse her,” the second-term Democrat said, adding that the tweet on Tuesday was the first time he’d seen Katz claiming his endorsement. His name was not listed among Katz’s endorsements on her website.

Barnwell represents a district that stretches from conservative-leaning predominantly white Maspeth and Middle Village into more diverse, liberal Astoria, Long Island City and Woodside. The race has become the latest front in an ongoing battle among leftist and moderate Queens Democrats – an especially tense rivalry in some of the progressive, gentrifying Western Queens neighborhoods that overlap with Barnwell’s district.

“I literally had a conversation with Melinda two months ago, and I told her I’m not endorsing anyone in this race,” Barnwell said. “She called me two weeks ago, I didn’t even answer the phone.”

Campaigns occasionally incorrectly or mistakenly claim an endorsement. In the New York City public advocate special election earlier this year, Rep. Anthony Brindisi denied endorsing Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell, and two different candidates said they had Assemblywoman Michele Titus’ backing.

Barnwell’s isn’t the only endorsement being contested in the current Queens district attorney race. Queens district attorney candidate City Councilman Rory Lancman has an endorsement from Queensbridge Houses Tenants Association President April Simpson featured prominently on his website. Below her photo is a message, including, “I trust Rory and I’m voting for Rory.”

But at a candidate forum in Sunnyside on Monday night, Katz’ campaign was handing out letters of support signed by three New York City Housing Authority tenant association presidents, including Simpson. Included in that note: “We urge you to join us in supporting Melinda Katz for district attorney on June 25th.”

Simpson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

And Simpson’s isn’t even the only endorsement both Katz and Lancman are flaunting. As of June 4, both Katz and Lancman have the endorsement of Rev. Phil Craig of the Greater Springfield Community Church listed on their websites. Craig is one name on a long list for Katz, while Lancman’s site features a video of Lancman at Craig’s church. In it, Craig is clear: “My vote goes to Rory Lancman.”

But Craig said Lancman should have taken him off the website, after he rescinded his endorsement and backed Katz instead. “I am endorsing Melinda, hands down. I’ve even said it at church,” he said.

In a call with City & State, Craig explained that Lancman came to his church and shot the endorsement video before he knew Katz was in the race too. Craig liked what Lancman had to say, and did endorse him at the time, but when Katz came to him and said she was running, the reverend was on board.

“Melinda’s plan is far superior from what I’ve heard from any of the candidates that I’ve sat down (with),” Craig said. “I told Rory, ‘I do feel bad about doing it, but I have to retract my endorsement from you and go with Melinda on this.’”

Craig said he’s glad he made the switch, knowing he’s still on Lancman’s website, even after telling the Councilman he’s backing Katz.

“The integrity of being honest and not trying to confuse people – that’s on him.”

Lancman told City & State that “if he wants to change his mind, it’s a free country,” but that Craig wasn’t clear in his phone call regarding the Katz endorsement. “He most definitely did not tell me to take the video down,” Lancman said.

The endorsement battle between Katz and Lancman doesn’t end here. Lancman told City & State he was surprised to see the endorsement of his own rabbi, Dr. Richard Weiss of Young Israel of Hillcrest, on Katz’s website. Lancman shared an email from Weiss confirming that his name shouldn’t be there.

“I have to state unequivocally that I have not in any manner endorsed her or her candidacy, or any other candidate for the position of District Attorney,” Weiss wrote. “I have to assume that the listing of my name on Borough President Katz’s list of endorsers was an error.”

Correction: This story originally stated that Barnwell's endorsement was listed on Katz's website. 

Jeff Coltin
is a staff reporter at City & State. He covers New York City Hall.
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