NEW YORK – Progressive activist, investigative journalist, and founder of the women’s group Matriarch, Nomiki Konst, will continue her fight for the community though her candidacy in the State Senate District 59 primary race. Holding power liable and working for visionary reform throughout the years, she now aims to build a better future for Astoria’s residents. Nomiki Konst spoke to “The National Herald” regarding the upcoming elections and her purpose to make a change.
First of all, how and why did you decide to run for State Senate District 59?
When the old district 17 was struck down by a court as unconstitutional and a new district was revealed to include Astoria, local leaders, organizers, and longtime neighbors reached out for me to run.
Something I couldn’t help but notice was that there were key issues that bafflingly were going unaddressed — particularly the continuing economic and human devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the willingness to take on the big interests that are making this community so quickly unaffordable.
After dozens of conversations with other community leaders throughout the district, it became clear that issues related to income inequality, transportation, pandemic relief, housing, and safety needed to be elevated.
New York is one of the few places in the country where we can actually get things done. We have a responsibility to be a national leader in this moment, and many New Yorkers are calling on us to do so.
I’m excited to represent Astoria, which is a large part of the district and has a deep history with the Hellenic community. Before I lived here, I would visit as a kid when my father was in NY State AHEPA leadership. I have the fondest memories of glendis and concerts as well as going to many of the Greek restaurants that sadly are not around anymore.
According to your opinion, why has politics in Astoria changed so much in recent years, especially after Congresswoman Cortez’s victory in 2018?
I think it has been immensely powerful and clarifying for many people to have an outspoken progressive representing Astoria, and this is why I supported her from the first time I met her before she announced her run back in 2017, when she reached out to me after I spoke at a conference.
The things Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez talks about and advocates for are common sense agenda items — single-payer health care and climate resiliency. These are issues that touch working people directly and it’s extremely helpful to have someone out there with a major platform reminding us that things do not have to remain as broken as they are.
Can you find a connection with the traditional Greek – American Community of District 59?
Absolutely! That is my community. I grew up in the Greek-Orthodox Church, went to Sunday school and Greek school, competed in Choral and Greek dancing at FDF and traveled to Greece as often as I could. My father’s side is from Kefalonia and Kalymnos and my mother is from Vorio Ipirus. In 2018, I was the first of my Greek-American family from Ipirus to cross the border into the remote mountains of Albania and visit the still incredibly isolated village of Politzani. I saw the mountains my Yiayia and Papou escaped through, my great-grandmother’s grave and the houses they grew up on.
My father was the New York State governor of AHEPA and I would visit Astoria regularly as a little girl. It was here I practiced my Greek dancing and cultivated an appreciation for our culture and — if we’re being totally frank — our food.
Sadly, many of the mainstays my father and I would go to, like Zenon Taverna, have closed — part of a larger trend.
Although all these years most of the candidates and elected officials are talking about an agenda to make New York more affordable for the working class, we finally see that the costs are rising and everyday life in the city is harder and harder. What do you think is the common mistake and how could this situation change?
I do not doubt the good intentions of many of our local lawmakers, but as the question notes, the cost of living has gone up significantly in my lifetime. We all understand what is driving it: a speculative housing market driven by tax incentives for big developers and rezonings. As more and more property is bought up by speculators and turned into luxury housing, people are getting priced out of their communities, which exerts pressure downward on lower-income communities, and the pattern repeats itself.
We know we need to end tax subsidies for luxury development and we need to impose a pied de terre tax on unoccupied housing stock and challenge oligarchs using our real estate to hide money. Additionally, we need to use our government to actively remove costs from people’s budgets — like health care. New York needs single-payer and can pass it. We also need to make sure people are properly compensated for their work to keep up with the cost of living.
The issue is it’s very hard to do all of this when powerful interests are so entrenched. We simply haven’t had the votes for some of these key agenda items. Complicating the job further is the fact that New York cannot solve wealth inequality on its own. We need the federal government to do more.
Albany has been at a stalemate for decades and now that we have Democratic control, we are able to act bolder. But, unfortunately, many lawmakers even on the Democratic side are controlled by special interests. I am proud to be the only candidate who not only doesn’t take special interest money and have machine support, but I have taken on special interests and won.
It is said that many progressives believe that your candidacy could cut into the vote for Kristen Gonzalez. What do you think?
With respect to our opponent, we are starting significantly ahead in terms of name recognition, community connection and progressive experience. The lines were announced a little over two months ago and everyone started to introduce themselves to this district at the same time. In hers and others’ cases, they were running races in an entirely different district that is 85% district – and now have to introduce themselves to an area very quickly. It’s unfortunate that the groups that backed her in another race would not open up the endorsement process for the new district so the community could have a voice and there could be a democratic process. This is happening all over NYC with other groups and candidates, I would’ve thought progressive groups would’ve had a more transparent and democratic process. We believe that all 4 candidates should’ve been part of the endorsement process and should’ve had the ability to make their cases to the community they are representing.
My history in the progressive movement is long standing, spanning over 2 decades. My residence and connection to this community is long standing. We believe in democracy and listening to neighbors – not the internet noise that is often influenced by many other factors, including the promotion of narratives by machine organizations who want to anoint their electeds and pressure others to do the same.