WOODSIDE — The neighborhood has a new voice.
Brian Barnwell was sworn in last week after defeating longtime incumbent Margaret Markey during September's primary, taking over the 30th Assembly District which covers Woodside, Maspeth and parts of Long Island City, Astoria, Sunnyside and Middle Village.
The new lawmaker says one of his goals upon taking office is to address the most common complaint he's heard from voters while on the campaign trail: that elected officials are unresponsive to their constituents.
"I always felt that it would be a great thing if you can call your representative up and say, 'Hey, listen, this is my concern,'" said Barnwell, 30, adding that he doesn't hesitate to give out his cell phone number to voters.
"I think that’s something that should be done," he said. "People call you, you call them back — why should politics be any different?"
Barnwell, who lives in Woodside, said he's always wanted to enter public service.
Growing up, he'd hoped to enlist in the military but was unable to because of a back injury, opting to study political science and history instead.
"I said to myself, well, everything happens for a reason, how else can I serve the people?" he said.
After attending Albany Law School, he worked as a criminal attorney for a few years before joining Councilman Costa Constantinides' office, where he coordinated special events.
Though he's only been in office for just over a week, Barnwell said he's already working on several bills and that his main priority is to craft policies that help seniors and the middle class.
"These groups, in my opinion, have been taken for granted," he said.
One bill he's working on would aim to help struggling seniors stay in their homes by proposing a property tax exemption that would increase as a taxpayer ages.
"Seniors obviously have a fixed income, and as they age they have less and less money," he said. "Longtime generation property owners who have lived in their home since they were a kid, they're being pushed out."
His other plans include legislation that would give judges more discretion when sentencing violent criminals who violate orders of protection, and banning pet stores in the state from purchasing dogs from puppy mills.
Barnwell also wants to change the formula for determining the New York's Area Median Income, or AMI, which is used to set the income requirements for affordable housing.
The city's AMI is currently calculated using the incomes of residents in the five boroughs but also Westchester, Putnam, and Rockland counties — which some critics, including Barnwell, believe should be considered separately.
► RELATED: What is AMI?
In addition to legislation, the assemblyman is working on setting up mobile office hours at different sites throughout the district where constituents can come to discuss their concerns.
In the meantime, he said anyone is welcome to reach out to his district office directly.
"If you have an issue, please don’t hesitate to come to the office," he said.