Staten Island Rep. Nicole Malliotakis often speaks of the violent upheaval that changed her mother’s life after a revolutionary government in Cuba seized her family’s gas stations.
“I’m the daughter of a Cuban refugee, so when I hear someone talk about socialism it scares me,” the Republican told THE CITY in November, shortly after beating freshman Democratic Rep. Max Rose for a seat that also covers part of southern Brooklyn.
“And I feel that it’s important that we have members in Washington who are going to fight back against it,” she added.
Just two days after she was sworn in to Congress, Malliotakis had to be whisked to a secure location Wednesday after right-wing insurgents stormed the Capitol building in Washington in hopes of stopping a vote to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s win.
Malliotakis condemned the violence and called for everyone involved to be arrested and prosecuted.
But as other GOP members of Congress — including Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Georgia) — tried to distance themselves afterward from the rioters’ anti-democratic mission, Malliotakis stood with the 147 GOP House members who voted to overturn election results.
A day before rioters invaded the Capitol, Malliotakis had tweeted about “rooting out fraud” in the election results — echoing the president’s false claims, which are blamed for helping incite the violence.
Some observers now say that even after less than a week in office she may be vulnerable to a challenge in 2022, while others believe her Trump-loyalist stand could help cement her power in the conservative heart of her district.
Staten Island and Brooklyn GOP leaders didn’t respond to requests for comment Thursday. Neither did Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, a top local Republican leader who is no fan of Malliotakis or Trump.
‘She Reflects the Electorate’
Meanwhile, the political backlash from progresssive parts of Malliotakis’ district, particularly in Brooklyn, came quickly.
The Bay Ridge Democrats are planning to stage a “25th Amendment Rally” at her Brooklyn office, as they called for her to join growing demands that Vice President Mike Pence and the cabinet move to push President Donald Trump from office.
Malliotakis’ office didn’t respond to requests for comment. But the freshman rep defended her votes on Twitter Thursday.
“I voted against certification of the two challenged states not to ‘overturn an election’ but to highlight need for a proper hearing into unconstitutional rule changes, irregularities and alleged fraud,” Malliotakis wrote.
Some see her actions as a political calculation that encourages her political base on Staten Island, the only borough to go for Trump, giving him 57.5% of the 2020 vote.
Malliotakis, who fell behind Trump in total votes in her own district, also will likely be running against Biden’s record in the midterm elections, a playbook that generally favors the political party in the minority.
As a State Assembly member in 2016, Malliotakis didn’t support Trump’s first run for the White House, writing in Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) instead.
But the 40-year-old politician waved the Trump banner in her Congressional race, portraying herself as a would-be leader of the right’s answer to “The Squad” — the band of young Democratic women of color associated with Queens and Bronx Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Even as she seeks to build on a national profile that brought millions in outside donations to her swing-district campaign, Malliotakis is banking on being politically insulated in her home turf, political observers told THE CITY.
“Staten Island is a conservative place, they go for Donald Trump, so she reflects the electorate,” said Doug Muzzio, a professor of political science at Baruch College.
Will Rose Bloom Again?
No Democrat has captured Staten Island’s congressional seat in the past 40 years without winning the Staten Island side of the district. The borough increased its turnout for Trump in 2020, handing him 133,320 votes — an increase of about 32,000 over 2016.
Nonetheless, some see the fallout from Wednesday as the potential start of the 2022 race.
No Staten Island politician has shown public interest in challenging Malliotakis yet, including Rose, who slammed her in an interview with THE CITY Wednesday. Still, he recently dipped in and out of this year’s mayoral race, leaving his options open.
“She has to come out against this president of the United States who openly led the effort, exciting this, and encouraging it and pushing it,” Rose said after the attack on the Capitol building.
Other Democrats called out Malliotakis on what they deemed her hypocrisy in voting against the election certification after criticizing the rioters who waged the unprecedented attack.
“I’m glad you’re safe, but you are complicit,” Councilmember Justin Brannan, a Brooklyn Democrat whose district overlaps with Malliotakis’, tweeted at her Wednesday.
The upcoming redrawing of Congressional districts by the Democratic-dominated state Legislature in the wake of the 2020 Census could entice moderate Rose and other more progressive Brooklyn politicians to challenge her, said Richard Flanagan, a political science professor at the College of Staten Island.
“It just seems [Rose is] prime to run again if he wants to and it’ll be more of a Democratic district,” Flanagan said. “He’ll probably get flanked from the left in a Democratic primary. And if they really want to shove it to [Malliotakis] they can go into Sunset Park and then you have a whole raft of talented politicians who might want to run for Congress.”