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‘Hitler’ Flap Puts Spotlight on Staten Island Borough President Race, a Contest Without a Democrat

Staten Island borough presidential candidate Letitia Remauro speaks in favor of additional financial support for restaurants during the coronavirus.
Staten Island borough presidential candidate Letitia Remauro speaks in favor of additional financial support for restaurants during the pandemic.
Leticia Remauro for SI Borough President/Facebook

The Staten Island borough president candidate who sparked an uproar by invoking Hitler faces competition from a decidedly lower-key fellow Republican — but there’s no Democratic challenger in sight.

Leticia Remauro, who has close ties to freshman U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island, Brooklyn), told THE CITY she expects to reap about $272,000 in private and public dollars in the fundraising cycle that ends Friday.

It’s not clear how her Dec. 2 comment — captured on video and revealed this week — declaring “Heil Hitler” while criticizing city sherrifs enforcing the indoor dining ban, will affect her fundraising prospects in the only borough to go for Donald Trump in the last two presidential elections.

But she faces, at least on the money front, an uphill battle against Steven Matteo, a term-limited City Council member who said he’s raised $569,759 ahead of Friday’s Campaign Finance Board reporting deadline.

“My political views are conservative, there’s no question about it,” Remauro told THE CITY.

While the two candidates agree on a range of political issues, their campaigning styles couldn’t be more different.

Matteo, who is looking to replace his term-limited old boss, James Oddo, tends to let his work speak for itself. He’s focused on everything from reducing litter in the borough to fighting to complete the Staten Island Expressway’s unfinished HOV lane.

Councilmember Steven Matteo speaks on Staten Island, Feb. 2, 2019.
Councilmember Steven Matteo speaks on Staten Island, Feb. 2, 2019.
John McCarten/New York City Council

“It’s all about, every day, making sure Staten Island’s local issues are being handled and addressed,” said Matteo, who served as chief of staff for Oddo when the borough GOP leader was a Council member.

“And that means making sure other agencies are doing their job. It’s always about fixing potholes, making sure the garbage is picked up and that the streets are clean,” Matteo added.

‘I Know Better’

Remauro, meanwhile, has emerged in recent months as a vocal activist for local conservative causes.

The public relations consultant has organized rallies to reopen New York City restaurants and participated in pro-police protests.

She’s been a supporter of Mac’s Public House, a Staten Island pub that declared itself an “autonomous zone” and illegally allowed patrons to dine indoors after state officials imposed restrictions due to rising COVID-19 rates.

Danny Presti, a co-owner of Mac’s Public House, speaks in front of his restaurant, Dec. 7, 2020.
Danny Presti, a co-owner of Mac’s Public House, stands outside his Grant City restaurant during a news conference, Dec. 7, 2020.
Clifford Michel/THE CITY

The video that got her in hot water was shot outside of Mac’s as she railed against dining limits.

“I’m sorry for ever uttering those words because it’s never appropriate ever to liken anything to the horrors of Nazi Germany,” Remauro said. “And I know better.”

She insists that her experience shepherding projects like Empire Outlets, an outlet mall next to the St. George Ferry Terminal, as a community board chair and as a business development advocate would make her an effective public official.

“The actions that the borough president takes is on what matters for Staten Island, it’s in the city budget, it’s in land use, it’s in traffic and transportation,” she said.

A Democrat in the Wings?

Meanwhile, with the general election less than 10 months away, no Democratic candidate has stepped up to run. If that remains the case, it’ll be the third election cycle in which no established Democratic politician has made a run for the borough-wide seat, which has been in GOP hands since 1990.

Still, Democrats are hopeful that the Staten Island Democratic Party chairperson, conservative Mid-Island Assemblymember Michael Cusick, will join the race.

Cusick’s voter base rests partially within Matteo’s district, which could prove crucial if the North Shore goes to Democrats and the South Shore goes for a Republican, as in years past.

James Clinton, a spokesperson for the Staten Island Democratic Party, didn’t respond to an inquiry from THE CITY regarding the possibility of a Cusick bid, but said that the party would be interviewing all 2021 candidates in the last week of January.

Kevin Elkins, a Democratic political operative who worked on ex-Rep. Max Rose’s campaigns and Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon’s 2015 race, argued that Cusick’s reputation on Staten Island affords him more time to decide whether to jump into the race.

“Someone like Cusick, they come with their own infrastructure, name ID, and record. So the urgency to run [right away] is not as significant,” said Elkins.

While Matteo is viewed by many as the Staten Island Republican Party’s preferred candidate, Remauro, an ex-chair of the Staten Island GOP, told THE CITY she still plans to seek endorsements.

Looking to Malliotakis

Malliotakis, who condemned Remauro’s remarks earlier this week, has worked closely with her for years: Remauro managed her 2017 mayoral campaign and worked as a consultant for her 2020 congressional bid.

But Matteo was one of just a few local Republican lawmakers who publicly endorsed Malliotakis’ House bid.

Nicole Malliotakis campaigns for Congress on Staten Island during Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020.
Nicole Malliotakis campaigns for Congress on Staten Island on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020.
Clifford Michel/THE CITY

Malliotakis gained some headlines of her own recently: The Trump acolyte backed the president’s bogus claims that votes were stolen from him.

While she condemned the storming of the Capitol building by insurgents egged on by Trump, she later voted to overturn legitimate election results in two states and this week voted against impeachment.

In the race closer to home, Malliotakis has yet to pick sides.

“I have been totally focused on my new job in Washington. The primary is six months away and I’ll make my endorsement at the appropriate time,” Malliotakis told THE CITY in a statement.

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