‘This Is A Whole New Race’

Manhattan’s East Side is joined with Queens and Brooklyn in the new NYS Senate District 59 — where Nomiki Konst wants to win your vote

| 22 Jun 2022 | 01:33

It took a bit of convincing for Nomiki Konst, a progressive activist and journalist, to run for NYS Senate in District 59, which encompasses her home neighborhood of Astoria, Queens. Now, only a few weeks after the official launch of her campaign, she’s all in.

“I really believe in listening to our neighbors in our community,” Konst told Our Town. “I listened to them when they asked me to run; I really wanted to dig in and see if their concerns are being addressed at the level needed.”

New Senate maps weren’t released until the end of May, and once they were set in stone, they created an entirely new District 59 — which now merges Stuyvesant Town, Kips Bay and Tudor City on Manhattan’s East Side with Queens and Brooklyn. “This is a whole new race,” Konst said. In what she calls “one of the most progressive districts in the country,” Konst believes voters are largely united in their attention to increasing rents, transportation shortcomings and pandemic-era concerns. With an “intersectional” platform, Konst has made it her mission to make some changes.

A Varied Path

Konst’s campaigning roots trail back to her childhood, “from the time I could basically go out on my own and hand out flyers,” she explained. Her parents were active in politics in Buffalo, New York.

Konst’s own career has taken her down a varied path. She’s been an advocate for keeping the city’s subways up and running amid renovations and fought Amazon’s intended (and ultimately thwarted) arrival in Long Island City in 2018. During Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns, Konst was appointed his national surrogate, later serving as one of eight founding members of the Democratic National Committee’s Unity Reform Commission. And in 2019, she founded Matriarch, an organization dedicated to helping elect women into political positions.

She’s also worked as a journalist; In a forthcoming documentary on displacement and the economic workings of Puerto Rico, Konst has traced the past four-plus years since Hurricane Maria swept through. “You kind of become an expert on those issues, just by virtue of covering them,” Konst said of the topics she’s taken up in her journalistic work. “You can really understand topics that are impacting our communities and how deep these crises go and who the players are.”

An “Intersectional” Platform

In her current campaign for state Senate, she’s gearing up to tackle a plethora of community-based issues — with housing front and center. Rising rents and large-scale development, Konst said, are a big part of the problem. “People in Manhattan are acutely familiar with this, because they’ve seen it happen before their eyes very rapidly over the last 30, 40 years,” she said. “In Queens, on the other hand, especially western Queens and Greenpoint, in Brooklyn, and North Williamsburg, they’ve seen the gentrification happen in different ways.”

Long Island City, northwest Queens and North Brooklyn — once “very affordable for working class people,” Konst said — have also fallen victim in more recent years. “It’s not healthy for New York, it’s affecting every New Yorker and it’s not sustainable.”

It’s an issue linked with the pandemic, too, Konst explained, as many New Yorkers have struggled with illness that has impacted their ability to work and make rent. Recently, despite the growing sentiment that it’s no longer an issue needing attention, she released a plan for tackling COVID-19. As part of her NY Recovers “public health roadmap,” Konst has called for hazard pay for in-person workers, a statewide ban on evictions, a fund for long COVID research and a series of COVID protections in schools and workplaces, among a host of other steps to prevent spread and aid those impacted physically and financially.

She’s focused on health in a broader sense, too, with a particular dedication to health “justice” for women and people of color. For Konst, it’s personal: While visiting a gynecologist after an ovarian cyst burst the day before launching her campaign, Konst’s doctor discovered a “fist-sized” fibroid that had been there for a decade — but of which prior OBGYNs had failed to alert her. “This stuff doesn’t seem like rocket science,” Konst said about the lack of medical research conducted among marginalized communities.

“Let’s Sit Down And Talk About It”

On the campaign trail, Konst has noticed that many of the issues she’s keen to take up plague people across the different boroughs. “All of our district is feeling these pains,” she said.

She’s been striking up conversations with voters, some of whom are neighbors, and taking what they have to say to heart. “If I’m wrong on something, I want to be corrected,” she said. “I want to listen and hear people out. If someone disagrees, let’s sit down and talk about it.”

“That’s what makes us New York, right?” she added. “We all have an opinion.”

“I really believe in listening to our neighbors in our community.” Nomiki Konst