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Politics

Working Class Warrior Nomiki Konst Makes Run for NYS Senate

Since my first interview with Nomiki Konst in 2016 (‘Nomiki Konst: the Face of 2016 Politics on TV,’ TNH, Mar. 19, 2016), she’s been quite busy. Konst ran a spirited campaign for NYC Public Advocate in 2018, which we also covered (‘Corruption-Fighting Champion Konst Runs for Office,’ TNH, Oct. 28, 2018), and now she has her sights set on a seat in the New York State Senate. Konst spoke with TNH about her vision and reasons for running.

TNH: Since your NYC Public Advocate campaign in 2018, what have you been focusing on politically and professionally?

NK: I founded Matriarch, a national organization focused on training and electing working class women to office. Recent notable wins are founding class members Nabilah Islam (Georgia State Senate) and Rep. Cori Bush (MO). Since Hurricane Maria in 2017, I’ve been the director of a documentary on Puerto Rico – which is in the editing room now. I also contribute to various media shows and hosted a regular show which focused on labor organizing and defeating fascism.

TNH: What compelled you to run for the NY State Senate at this time?

NK: The morning a brand new district was created, encompassing much of Astoria as well as Long Island City, Greenpoint, North Williamsburg, StuyTown, Gramercy, Kips Bay, Murray Hill, and Waterside, I received phone calls from neighbors and leaders in the Astoria community who advocated for me to run based on our shared history of organizing locally and our ability to bring attention to the crises this community faces.

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. I am excited to represent Astoria, which is a large part of the district.

TNH: Will your Greek heritage help you be particularly effective because your district contains such a large Greek population?

NK: Well, of course! I’m the only Greek in the race. I know my neighbors, I frequent their small businesses and restaurants. I grew up in the Greek Orthodox Church, went to Sunday School and Greek School. I took part in Greek dancing and choral competitions and was a member of GOYA. My family was very involved in AHEPA. Greeks see Astoria as a significant part of our American history. I’m honored to live in a place that has represented the American dream for so many Greeks who immigrated to the United States. We’re in danger of losing that focus on the dream that immigrants came here with. I’m honored to have the support of so many small business owners and community leaders who recognize we are losing the identities and community feel of so many New York neighborhoods to big business takeovers.

TNH: A common obstacle many candidates face is that prospective voters immediately ask them: “Are you Democrat or Republican?” and that’s all they seem to care about. How would you react in that situation win over voters who normally align with a party different than yours?

NK: I think this is why it’s important to run folks who are connected with the community and who know their neighbors. When you listen and try to understand the issues your neighbors are facing, and honestly try to address them – whether dealing with potholes or protecting small businesses from potentially shutting down due to rising rents or helping neighbors fight off eviction because of loss of pay from the pandemic – political lines are swept away.

Of course the State Senate’s political makeup is important in order to pass legislation, and we have a Democratic majority. This district is overwhelmingly made up of registered Democrats. I want to go to Albany to make sure my fellow Democratic lawmakers are focusing on relieving the pain working people are facing across New York. The era of Albany’s political game-playing is coming to an end and I’ll be proud to present bills that deal with this speculative housing market, small business relief, pandemic related relief, transportation funding, and public school funding. I’ll fight for women in NY and around the country who worry about their reproductive rights. Now that we have the majority and the political obstacles are gone, we must actually win these fights. We are in a crisis and need to act like it in Albany.

TNH: There’s a perception that many of today’s younger and more progressive Democrats are quite illiberal insofar as they’re not open to considering ideas opposite from their own. The so-called Cancel Culture. Do you think that’s an accurate assessment and, if not, how can you change that perception?

NK: I think everyone goes on the Internet and sees harassment, bullying, antagonistic behavior, and thinks that is real life. Of course many real people are influenced and act like this as a result of what is being modeled, but much of this so-called culture is a result of unhealthy online behavior. Tech companies are taking advantage of people’s frustration with society and incentivizing hate and bullying through their algorithms. I work in media and understand how this ecosystem works. We must challenge big tech to make their algorithms transparent and change the incentive structure of their platforms – because everyone is a target – but it does have real life consequences: whether mass shootings, revenge and cancel culture, or an increase in teen suicide.

TNH: Some of that criticism comes from lifelong liberal Democrats, such as Bill Maher, who routinely admonishes the left by imploring: “if what you do sounds like an Onion headline, stop doing it!” What can you do, as a proud progressive Democrat millennial, to dispel the myth that the views you hold are not at all absurd?

NK: The far right wing has spent the last decade-plus pushing the narrative so far we sometimes don’t think it’s real. With Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Matt Gaetz peddling Q-anon conspiracy theories on a daily basis, maybe Maher should ask who the bigger threat is. We have folks who instigated a coup pushing the narrative further and further into oblivion. I believe that Democrats can’t sit idle and let the extremist Q-anon world set the debate. We have to fight for something, because if we don’t, what’s the alternative?

TNH: What issues that transcend party and ideology are you most passionate about?

NK: I think most working New Yorkers are worried about their livelihoods in the city they love so much. We’ve seen vast growth in the last decade – high-rise glass apartments dominating our skylines. But only recently are we hearing how those apartments aren’t selling, and when they are, it’s often foreign oligarchs looking for a place to stash their money safely and getting tax breaks in exchange! We have a dangerous speculative market that is endangering New Yorkers who live and work in this city. Our State Senate needs to prioritize taking on these root crises because they’re increasing our apartment rents, small business rents, and overall cost of living. We can’t just stand by while working New Yorkers are losing their livelihoods.

TNH: Why should voters choose you over your Democratic primary rivals and your Republican general election opponent?

NK: This district is overwhelmingly Democratic and progressive. As an Astoria-based candidate, I have been involved not only in the community locally, but I’ve fought to make the State Senate truly Democratic and have championed progressive causes at the national level. My history in organizing and activism is long-documented. We’re running a positive campaign rooted in ideas, community involvement, and our experience fighting for working New Yorkers.

The people of District 59 deserve someone who is connected to the district and has a long history of fighting for neighbors and achieving success at the local, state, and national levels.

American-born with roots in Kalymnos, Kefallonia, and Epirus, Konst tries to visit Greece every year, if possible. Though this year she’s locked into winning this race.

The Democratic Primary is August 23rd.

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