A day after leaving his Pentagon job, Max Rose –– who lost Staten Island’s only House seat to Nicole Malliotakis in November after one term in office –– updated his political Facebook page for the first time in months.
“Excited for some family time and the next chapter,” the former Democratic rep wrote on Wednesday.
Almost immediately, political friends and foes alike, began asking whether “the next chapter” meant a rematch against Malliotakis, a Trump-wing Republican representing the city’s most conservative borough.
With Democrats holding a slim six-member majority in the House, the Staten Island-southern Brooklyn swing-seat is already drawing attention from national political groups with crucial midterm elections on tap next year.
And as congressional districts are set to be redrawn by GOP-controlled legislatures in several battleground states, New York is increasingly being viewed as a state where Democrats can rejigger lines favorable to the party.
The Staten Island portion of the center-right district has swung back and forth from voting for Democrats like Barack Obama and moderates like Rose, to Republicans like Donald Trump and Malliotakis over the past 13 years. But with new district lines possibly expanding into more left-leaning areas of Brooklyn or Manhattan, progressive groups like Brand New Congress and MoveOn are already getting involved.
A primary between Rose and activist Brittany Ramos DeBarros, a Democratic socialist, will likely trigger a hard-fought ideological battle a year after many Democrats on Staten Island voted for moderate mayoral candidates like Eric Adams and Kathryn Garcia.
Meanwhile, the primary loss of Staten Island borough president candidate Steven Matteo — a party-backed moderate Republican — to disgraced former Rep. Vito Fossella, after a last-minute Trump endorsement turned the race into an upset, shows the former president’s lingering influence.
‘Need a New Strategy’
House Republicans and Democrats spent millions on the 2020 Rose-Malliotakis contest. Now, even before she’s logged seven month in office, two opposing political action committees are focusing on the GOP incumbent.
One is the Malliotakis Victory Committee, a pro-Malliotakis PAC funded by billionaire supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis, which has raised $17,750. There’s also an anti-Malliotakis group, NICPAC, which was created in reaction to her January vote against certifying the presidential election results.
But Rose’s possible entry into the race would set up a primary fight that’s playing out across the Democratic Party between moderates and progressives. Ramos DeBarros, a U.S. Army veteran who has recently been endorsed by Brand New Congress, a progressive group that helped Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Queens, The Bronx) and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-The Bronx, Westchester), win their election bids.
And much like Rose, also an Army vet, Ramos DeBarros is proving herself to be a formidable fundraiser, pulling in about $240,000 since she launched her campaign in January.
Rose’s previous campaigns took pains to establish him to voters as a moderate Democrat. He avoided the color blue in his campaign signage and criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California).
Ramos DeBarros told THE CITY she’s not worried about Rose possibly entering the race. She said that her campaign is focused on increasing turnout through a grassroots effort and unabashedly supporting policies like Medicare for All and a Green New Deal.
“Among some of the more conventional thinkers there’s a tendency to think that someone like Max Rose is a safe choice, but he already out fundraised [Malliotakis] and lost to her as an incumbent so I don’t think we need much more evidence to demonstrate that we can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result,” Ramos DeBarros said.
“We need a new strategy. One is about energizing and expanding the base beyond the consistent 10% or 11% of primary voters that we’ve gotten in midterm years,” she continued.
Ramos DeBarros has also begun to draw donations and informal support from some progressive grassroot leaders in the district, such as the founders of Staten Island Women Who March and Fight Back Bay Ridge.
Another candidate, former NYPD officer and teacher Michael DeCillis, a liberal candidate who briefly opposed Rose in 2018 before dropping out, has filed to run again, but has only raised $25,000.
Political observers told THE CITY that the race will only get more crowded after New York’s independent group of commissioners determine new boundaries for congressional districts. The group is set to hold a hearing on Staten Island July 29.
‘Redistricting is going to play a big factor.’
Several neighborhoods — including Sunset Park and Lower Manhattan — that could be included in a redrawn district have more reliably Democratic constituencies than the southern Brooklyn neighborhoods currently represented by Malliotakis.
“Redistricting is going to play a big factor in who is going to decide to get in [the race] and maintain a campaign in the district,” said Paul Casali, a Staten Island-based political strategist.
A packed field could help Rose, as it did in his 2018 primary race. He would benefit from name recognition, ties with elected officials, unions, and his ability to raise campaign cash.
“If he runs, I don’t see who can take him out, personally,” said Assemblymember Charles Fall (D-Staten Island).
Calls seeking comment from Rose and Malliotakis were not returned.
Where the Winds Blow
Whoever wins the Democratic primary will face an uphill battle against Malliotakis in a midterm election year, said Richard Flanagan, a professor of political science at the College of Staten Island.
Malliotakis is already sitting on $800,000 in campaign cash and currently has no primary opponent.
She’s proved a polarizing presence: Malliotakis voted against the House’s proposed January 6th commission and has repeatedly criticized President Joe Biden’s administration on everything from protests in Cuba and confronted him about the issue of migrants arriving at the U.S.’ southern border.
This could win her another endorsement from Trump, who still has considerable sway in the district, as he showed with his game-changing endorsement of Fossella, who is vying to make a political comeback. He declined to seek a seventh term in the U.S. House of Representatives after a 2008 DUI arrest in Virginia led to the revelation that he had a second family in the Beltway.
“In the midterm with Biden in the White House, the wind will be at Malliotakis’ back,” Flanagan said.