Rep. Max Rose and Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis’ nationally watched campaign for Staten Island’s House seat has turned into a referendum on Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Both candidates in the swing-district race are slamming the mayor as their contest to represent the only borough to go for President Donald Trump in 2016 has become increasingly focused on city governance.
“Bill de Blasio is the worst mayor in the history of New York City,” Rose trumpeted in a much-discussed digital ad released last week, trashing his fellow Democrat.
Meanwhile, Malliotakis, a Republican who got trounced everywhere but Staten Island in her 2017 challenge to de Blasio, is determined in her ads to tie the freshman rep to the mayor.
“De Blasio and Rose’s policies aren’t just radically liberal. They’re radically dangerous,” a television spot from Malliotakis’ campaign declares.
Political observers told THE CITY that the strategy to attack de Blasio, who is deeply unpopular on Staten Island, makes sense for both candidates, especially this year.
The summer’s anti-racist protests have prompted numerous pro-police demonstrations in the heavily white district, which includes part of southern Brooklyn, over a perceived lack of support for the NYPD. Meanwhile, Staten Island politicians, activists and business owners have criticized the state and city’s deliberate pace in reopening New York.
Richard Flanagan, a professor of political science at CUNY’s College of Staten Island, noted that Rose’s 2018 campaign also targeted de Blasio.
“It’s just more pronounced now,” Flanagan added. “And Malliotakis — she ran against the guy. And just harnessing that anti-de Blasio vibe on the Island has always been her playbook.”
‘One of the Most Negative Campaigns’
The increasingly bitter campaign is shaping up as a microcosm of the Trump campaign’s calls for “law and order” in American cities and Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s efforts to respond without alienating voters in swing states.
“Going door to door, speaking with voters, people are very concerned about public safety,” said Malliotakis, who has earned endorsements from every NYPD union. “And quite frankly, Max is on the wrong side of those issues.”
Rose, an Army veteran and centrist Democrat, touts himself as a strong backer of cops.
“I’d never defund the police,” he declares in his latest ad. “I approve this message, because if you want to know why Nicole’s lying about me, just look at all the ways she’s been screwing you over.”
Other Rose ads brand Malliotakis as a “fraud” and even calls into question her aid efforts during the height of the pandemic.
“It’s one of the most negative campaigns I’ve ever seen,” Flanagan said.
And it’s far from over: Rose’s campaign began a multi-million dollar ad push across multiple platforms in July and plans to increase spending as the election nears, according to a spokesperson. Rose had $4.3 million in his campaign account as of July 1, compared to Malliotakis’ $958,115.
“This election is coming down to who is going to put the country first, not their party,” Rose told THE CITY. “We’re dealing with an unprecedented economic and health crisis — we don’t have time for party hacks and frauds.”
‘I’m Going to Beat Him’
Malliotakis hit back on Monday, alongside about a dozen supporters who praised her for providing personal protective gear for her constituents during the pandemic — and slammed Rose for politicizing the crisis in mailers and ads attacking her.
“When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser,” said Malliotakis.
“Desperate candidates say desperate things. I’m going to beat him,” she said. “Talk to firefighters, talk to police officers and ask them what they think.”
Republicans in Washington have begun helping Malliotakis spread her message, releasing a controversial ad that declared Rose’s participation in a June anti-racist protest caused de Blasio to cut the NYPD’s budget.
“Max’s walking did the talking,” the spot by the Congressional Leadership Fund says. “De Blasio got the message, gutting NYPD by $1 billion dollars.”
The video features young Staten Island anti-racism activists in some scenes, but was spliced with footage of rioting that occurred elsewhere.
“We have never advocated for violence and that is not who we are or what we stand for,” said Isaiah Buffong, a member of the Young Leaders of Staten Island.
Political strategists told THE CITY that the negative advertising — complete with de Blasio-bashing — will likely forge on until Election Day.
“I think it’s effective,” said Jonathan Yedin, who managed Democrat Michael McMahon’s successful bid for Staten Island’s congressional seat in 2008. “Staten Islanders vote for the person, not the party.
“And I think [Rose has] done a good job of attracting a lot of folks that may go in there and say, ‘You know what, I’m an old time Republican and I love Ronald Reagan and I’m voting for Trump, but I’m also voting for Max.’”
But Peter Giunta, president of the Staten Island Young Republicans, said GOP voters are riled up over an increase in shootings in the city. He said his grandmother, who lives in southern Brooklyn, recently asked him to help her switch to the Republican Party.
She’s now one of over 10,000 voters in the district who’ve joined the GOP since Trump was elected, while 22,000 have become Democrats. On Staten Island, Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 140,000 to 100,000.
Republican voters “are more motivated than they were two years ago or even four years ago,” said Giunta, adding that Rose’s anti-de Blasio ads won’t sway voters.
“He didn’t come out as often against de Blasio until now when it’s convenient,” said Giunta.