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Progressive Candidates Engage in War of Words as Campaign for Senate Seat Gets Ugly

Kristen Gonzalez (left) and Nomiki Konst (Facebook)

July 14, 2022 By Christian Murray

Tensions are running high between the campaigns of two progressive candidates who are both running to represent the District 59 seat in the state senate.

Nomiki Konst and Kristen Gonzalez—both left leaning candidates in the race to represent western Queens, north Brooklyn and parts of Manhattan—have been waging a war of words on social media.

Gonzalez has leveled claims that Konst is racist, while Konst has accused Gonzalez’s campaign of harassment, intimidation and inciting violence.

The animus between the two campaigns began the moment that Konst announced on June 1 that she was running.

Konst, a well-known progressive who ran for NYC public advocate in 2019, was criticized from the get-go since Gonzalez had announced months prior that she was running for state senate. Gonzalez had already received the backing of scores of high-profile progressives—including the NYC-DSA, the Working Families Party, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—and that there were fears that Konst would jeopardize her campaign.

Konst faced an avalanche of criticism on Twitter when she announced.

“This is so selfish and wasteful. We have a Latina socialist running in the district who has a track record in this particular community & has a winning coalition of endorsements & she’s up against a machine hack. Don’t split the vote! And for what?!” posted Elana Levin, whose tweet got 320 likes and reflected the sentiments of DSA supporters.

Many of Gonzalez’s followers—as well as DSA members–believe that Konst’s campaign will help candidates such as Elizabeth Crowley, who is also vying for the seat, win the Aug 23 primary. Other candidates in the primary include Mike Corbett and Francoise Olivas. All five candidates have a following.

The tension heated up online on July 10, when Gonzalez took to Twitter and accused Konst of racism for “twice sarcastically saying to my face Welcome to Astoria.”

Gonzalez, who was raised in Elmhurst and is the child of Puerto Rican and Colombian parents, viewed this as a “dog whistle,” implying that she was an outsider and was without community support.

Konst, who says she has lived in Astoria since 2015 but hails from Arizona, said that she was baffled by Gonzalez’ tweets saying that she welcomed Gonzalez to Astoria on two occasions–once at a candidate forum held in the Astoria and another time at a polling site in Astoria on election day.

She said that on both occasions she didn’t speak with any ill-will and noted that she has welcomed other candidates to the neighborhood without incident.

Konst, of Greek heritage, said that when candidate forums have been held in other parts of the district candidates welcomed her there.

“This was her literally just creating controversy right before the filing so she could raise money,” Konst said. “It was personally offensive, and it was also grotesque.”

Olivas, who lives in Greenpoint and whose father is Mexican, said she was disappointed to hear these allegations of racism and questioned whether they were true.

Olivas said that she has welcomed candidates to Greenpoint and offered to show them the neighborhood, noting that the senate district is so big. “There’s an etiquette to that.”

But Gonzalez’ account is somewhat different– although she did agree that Konst said “Welcome to Astoria” on the two occasions she mentioned.

But it was the incident at the polling site where the controversy began, which came after the candidate forum.

Gonzalez said that when she walked past Konst near the polling site, Konst said ‘Welcome to Astoria’ in a snarky manner as she passed her.

“It was definitely sarcastic and not said in a welcoming tone,” Gonzalez said, adding that it was a clear “dog whistle.” It was also the second time she received that greeting.

“I’m someone who– as a person of color–has operated in predominately white spaces. I’ve experienced microaggressions my entire life. I know what they are. I know what they look like. I know what they feel like. And so do a lot of people in this district. This is a microaggression and it needs to be talked about, not invalidated.”

Konst argues she was not being sarcastic, and it is a political smear.

But Konst says that the tweets alleging racism have led to her being the target of attacks from the Gonzalez campaign and DSA members. She said she is worried about her safety and that the level of hostility directed toward her—both online and in person– have reached new heights after the tweets alleging racism were posted.

On Monday, Konst said, she held a campaign event at Katch Astoria, a restaurant located on Newtown Avenue, and was the subject of fierce abuse. She attributes the abuse to Gonzalez’ tweets.

“This guy stormed the restaurant after physically getting in my face and protesting outside,” Konst said, noting that he was making similar allegations made by Gonzalez.

Footage of the man was released by Konst’s campaign. While the man can be seen protesting Konst’s campaign, it was unclear what exactly he was saying.

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On Wednesday, Konst said she was at the 30th Avenue subway station in Astoria with her organizers and they were harassed by a man who gave them the finger and said: “‘I’m DSA, f*ck you! I’m DSA, f*ck you!’ as he walked up the stairs.”

Konst, 38, said she has been working in politics and organizing for years and she has never seen a campaign get this heated before. “I’ve never ever in my life ever seen anything like this or experienced anything like this.”

But Gonzalez said that she has no association with these people and was disappointed to hear of the attacks. She said she has never met the man who protested outside Katch, nor knows who he is.

“No one from our campaign has been involved in what’s been alleged. Nonetheless, I’m very sorry to hear that Nomiki experienced this. We’ve experienced false accusations and targeted harassment during this campaign, which no young woman should have to experience. Our volunteers and core members of our team have been focused on knocking on doors and raising money through small donations from friends and family.”

Many people also took to twitter to question Konst’s account, saying the video footage was inconclusive. Some said that it was just a campaign smear tactic against Gonzalez as well as the DSA.

The battle between the progressives led to two other candidates weighing in on the discussion.

Crowley, seen by some pundits as Gonzalez’s main rival, took to twitter and said that she stands with Konst and that “no campaign or candidate should encourage this behavior.”

Meanwhile, Olivas took to twitter and criticized the DSA and Gonzalez’ campaign.

“On Saturday, a @Gonzalez4NY supporter and DSA member told me I can’t be a WOC and Jewish. Gonzalez supporters have gone after my daughter, saying she is adopted and calling her a prop.”

Olivas told the Queens Post that the DSA and the Gonzalez campaign are extremely aggressive when it comes to their campaign tactics.

The whole back and forth saga between Gonzalez and Konst led to dozens of twitter users—most with anonymous handles—firing toxic comments at one another. However, the underlying theme remains that Konst’s candidacy could hurt progressives in their bid to take a vacant seat.

Konst said that she was entitled to run and that she announced shortly after the district maps were drawn that included Senate District 59—a brand-new district that included Astoria.

The district had been configured by a special master in May after the maps drafted by state Democrats were deemed unconstitutional.

Gonzalez announced she was running when most thought Long Island City, where she lives, was going to be part of Senate District 17, a district originally drafted by state Democrats that did not include Astoria.

The special master eliminated District 17, and Long Island City was included as part of District 59, which also incorporates most of Astoria.

Konst said that District 59 is entirely different than the proposed District 17, noting that District 17 didn’t include Manhattan and Astoria as well as several parts of Brooklyn.

“This is called a democracy and I have every right to run, and I should not be afraid to walk out of my house and say anything. I should not be afraid to run for office.”

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