Nicole Malliotakis declared victory Tuesday over freshman Rep. Max Rose for Staten Island and southern Brooklyn’s congressional seat — fueling local and national Republicans’ dreams of clawing back the key slot in the city’s most conservative district.

“Let us savor our victory tonight,” Malliotakis, a GOP Assembly member, declared outside the Staten Island Republican Party’s headquarters. “We have returned the 11th Congressional District to the hands of the Republican and Conservative Party.” 

But even amid a 37,000 vote deficit with 93% of returns in late Tuesday, Rose refused to concede — pinning his diminishing hopes on up to 52,000 absentee ballots yet to be tallied. 

“As a soldier who fought for our democracy, I believe every vote should be counted,” said Rose, an Army vet who won his seat two years ago as a moderate Democrat and raised a record amount for a Staten Island race to maintain his slot.

Congressional Rep. Max Rose speaks to his supporters on Election Night, Nov. 3, 2020. Credit: Clifford Michel/THE CITY

Malliotakis notched about 58% of the nearly 225,000 votes recorded by 11 p.m. Tuesday. Meanwhile, Republican candidates running for state Legislature seats in areas overlapping with parts of the congressional district also were winning.

If Malliotakis maintains her lead, she’ll keep alive the GOP’s four-decade-plus streak of denying Democrats a second term for Staten Island’s only House seat. The swing-district contest has drawn interest — and money — in New York and far beyond as both parties fight for every seat up for grabs in the House.

The bitterly fought battle, filled with weeks of attack ads fired by both sides, turned into a competition on who was the bigger law-and-order candidate based in a borough that went for Donald Trump in 2016 and did so again on Tuesday. 

When they weren’t sniping at each other, Malliotakis and Rose both targeted Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is not popular on Staten Island. Malliotakis also attached herself to Trump. 

In her speech Tuesday night, Malliotakis declared her campaign was for “the hardworking New Yorker who obeys the law, pays their taxes and gets up every morning and goes to work.”

GOP Back on the Rise

Malliotakis, who got the backing of police unions, had long eyed a chance to run for the House seat, which covers all of Staten Island and a hunk of southern Brooklyn. 

Her big lead boosted local Republicans after two years in near political exile, largely shut out of federal and state elected posts. 

In 2018, the GOP lost several congressional representatives — including the only one to represent New York City — as well as control of the State Senate and were locked out of the state’s executive offices. 

On Tuesday night, State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, a freshman Democrat who represents part of southern Brooklyn, was trying to fend off a challenge by Vito Bruno, who was ahead with most of the vote in and declared victory. Meanwhile, Democrat Brandon Patterson conceded to Republican Michael Tannousis in the race for Malliotakis’ Assembly seat, which covers part of Staten Island and southern Brooklyn.

State Sen. Andrew Gounardes speaks in Albany. Credit: New York State Senate

“The turning point was the atmosphere, I think,” said Ted Ghorra, Brooklyn’s GOP leader. “Honestly, I think that one party rule in this town had a major impact. Their policies were just clearly not working for a lot of people.”

Both Rose and Malliotakis’ campaigns had expected a cliffhanger, based on polls that had the challenger a mere two percentage points ahead. Their spokespeople told THE CITY recently that the high number of mail-in ballots would make it unlikely for either to claim victory on Election Day. 

The Board of Elections didn’t respond to questions about when ballots would be counted, but the agency’s secretary told CBS 2 the tallying could extend into December.  

Over 40,000 absentee ballots have been returned to the Board of Elections from voters who live within New York’s 11th Congressional District, with another 12,000 still out, the campaigns said. 

Absentee ballots, which have surged due to the pandemic, will be accepted through Nov. 10 as long as they’re postmarked by Nov. 3. Counting won’t begin until Nov. 11.

Both campaigns are prepared to deploy volunteers, staff and election lawyers to oversee the counting of absentee ballots. Campaigns can send representatives to watch the count in BOE offices and can object to individual ballots by invoking arcane laws, such as if an oval on a ballot isn’t completely shaded in.

A Long and Bitter Campaign

Only three months after Rose beat then-GOP Rep. Dan Donovan by six points in Nov. 2018, Malliotakis announced her bid for Congress. The two have been slamming each other ever since.

In statements and ads, Rose — who won his first race by sticking to local issues and chastising the Democratic Party at times — repeatedly excoriated Malliotakis as a “fraud” and a lobbyist. 

In Rose’s campaign and his own official capacity, he repeatedly highlighted wins for his district, such as getting the ball rolling on a nearly five-mile seawall to protect the borough’s East Shore and emphasizing his efforts to be bipartisan. 

He even told Politico in April that “if we beat COVID and [Trump] wins reelection, so be it.”

Rep. Max Rose released a reelection ad denouncing challenger Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis. Credit: Screengrab/Max Rose for Congress/Twitter

Malliotakis, the daughter of Cuban and Greek immigrants, has consistently tried to tie Rose to the Democratic Party’s rising left flank and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

The Assembly member went after Rose on his vote to impeach the president and local issues like bail reform. But her fiercest attack came in June after Rose attended an anti-racism protest, where some demonstrators marched with anti-police signs.

Since then, Malliotakis has hammered away at Rose, proudly touting her police union endorsements. 

Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis released an ad touting her support by police. Credit: Screengrab/NMalliotakis/Twitter

Both campaigns waged all-negative ad blitzes from the summer on. And while Malliotakis struggled to keep up with Rose’s prolific fundraising, Republicans in Washington buoyed her campaign by spending millions of dollars on her behalf.

The Congressional Leadership Fund and the National Republican Congressional Committee have poured in at least $5.5 million into the race — including paying for digital and televised ads that portrayed Rose as anti-cop in a borough that’s home to more than 15,000 civil servants. 

As of Oct. 14, Rose had raised $8,373,990, a record for a Staten Island rep, and flooded the airwaves with anti-Malliotakis ads.

A broad coalition of political groups — from unions to veterans’ organizations — have injected over $4 million into Rose’s run.