Interviews & Profiles
Nicole Malliotakis could form an “anti-socialist squad”
A Q&A with the likely Staten Island Congress member
Assembly Member Nicole Malliotakis is used to taking on hard races. She first won her seat in 2010 by unseating two-term Democratic Assembly Member Janele Hyer-Spencer in a district on both sides of the Verrazzano Bridge in Staten Island and southern Brooklyn. In 2017, she was the Republican nominee who unsuccessfully challenged New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s reelection bid. This year, she took on first-term Democratic Rep. Max Rose – and now looks all but guaranteed to be the newest member of Congress, and the only Republican, representing New York City.
“I feel that it’s important that elected officials are held accountable,” Malliotakis told City & State. “And that’s why I’ve chosen in all three of my races to take on a Democratic incumbent that I feel wasn’t doing a good job.”
In-person ballots left Malliotakis with a 58% to 42% lead over Rose, or a 37,158-vote difference. At least 41,663 absentee ballots have been returned, and have yet to be counted, and although they are expected to break heavily towards Rose, the margin is likely impossible for the incumbent to make up.
That follows closely with President Donald Trump’s margin over former Vice President Joe Biden in the 11th congressional district, which covers all of Staten Island and a swath of southern Brooklyn. Malliotakis aligned herself closely with the president, who gave her his “Complete & Total Endorsement” ahead of the primary.
City & State caught up with Malliotakis the Thursday after Election Day, when Trump was still claiming victory, despite the evidence. She talked about criticizing Rose for attending a Black Lives Matter march, the need for balance in the city’s congressional delegation and her plans for an “anti-socialist squad.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You thanked the NYPD and law enforcement unions at your victory party and said the race was “about the brave men and women of the NYPD.” Neither you nor Rose worked in law enforcement, and it’s not really a federal issue. How did that become so central to the race?
Elected officials have a platform, whether they’re a city, state or federal rep. They have a platform in which they can support or oppose issues or policies. For example, you saw (Rep.) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pushing for defunding (the police) and even when they cut the billion dollars (the actual NYPD budget cut was closer to $400 million) she was saying that’s not defunding, and using her platform to continue that push.
Also, there needs to be a balance in this city. We saw disastrous policies take effect because there is not balance. The move to close Rikers Island, which, yes, was the city, and defunding the police, which was the city, and the bail law, which was the state. They’re looking now to take those policies to the federal level. In the COVID package, you have (House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi and the House Democrats trying to insert bail reform and release of convicted felons. We have to be vigilant that the policies I believe have been disastrous here in New York, to not allow them to go national.
You criticized Rose for joining a Black Lives Matter march in June. Do you think that peaceful demonstration was wrong? And did you join any demonstrations against racism and police brutality this summer?
I went to a number of marches in support of the police. I used my platform on Twitter to speak out. There’s nothing wrong with peaceful protest. That’s a foundation of our democracy. It’s one of the constitutional freedoms that we need to protect. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that you proceed – like in the case with Max, he showed up at this rally, they had signs that were derogatory towards our police. “All Cops Are” – I’m not going to complete the term. He proceeded to march with them. Then they started chanting “defund the police” and he continued to stay there. And while I support peaceful protest, I’m not going to participate in a march in which those messages are displayed. Everyone has had to make their own determination. But I still don’t understand what the men and women of the 122 (police precinct) did to warrant their Congressman standing in front with those very derogatory messages toward them.
You’re expected to be the only Republican member of Congress in New York City, or even in any districts that border the city. Looking beyond the district that voted for you, do you think it’s important to have a Republican in the city’s delegation?
The city needs a balance. That’s where you get the best policy, when you have a balance. You compromise, you meet in the middle somewhere. I bring a very important viewpoint that is needed. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has brought the whole delegation to the left. And there’s nobody really providing a counterview or a balance. So even though I’m going to be significantly outnumbered, I provide that viewpoint that is needed. But I also look forward to working with the other members of the New York City delegation, because at the end of the day, we need to fight collectively for our city and for our state. And where we can find common ground, whether it be transportation infrastructure dollars or funding for New York City housing or for education, we need to work together. At the end of the day, it’s not me versus them, it’s us versus the other 49 states.
But when I think that the New York City Democrats are doing something that hurts my constituents, would strip away our freedoms and liberties, I’m going to fight back, and hold them accountable. It’s a balanced approach.
We’ve generally seen Democrats in Congress pushing for larger federal bailout packages for cities like New York and transportation agencies like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, while Republican leadership has blocked them. Do you think that the city needs federal money?
I was among the local legislators that did write to (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell asking for assistance for the MTA. Of course I want to see more money coming to my city and state. But I want accountability as well. Nobody in the New York City delegation has really held our mayor accountable as to where the money we’re giving him is going. We know the mayor squanders our tax dollars, whether it be the Renewal Schools program, whether it be the ThriveNYC program.
President Trump has made baseless claims about Democrats trying to steal the presidential election and has tried to cast doubt on legitimate mail-in ballots. Do you believe that the president has won, and do you believe his claims are valid?
Here in my district, we found two dead Democrats that voted. We want to make sure that all the ballots are counted, but that they’re legitimate. That’s the way you preserve our democracy, by making sure all ballots are counted, but of course, that they’re all legitimate.
Your mother was born in Cuba, and you’d be one of what looks like ten Cuban-Americans in Congress. Have you talked with any of them yet? And in office, do you expect to get involved with foreign policy?
Senator Marco Rubio supported me, as did Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American from Miami. I know Maria Elvira Salazar, who was just elected, also representing Miami, and I also met Carlos Giménez, who’s the mayor (of Miami-Dade County), now elected (to the House) also on Tuesday. There’s going to be a Cuban Caucus there. I think it’s important, because Cuban-Americans know more than anyone what socialism and communism mean and are very vigilant when it comes to individuals who want to take away any freedoms or liberties or move us down a path to socialism. Our voices are going to be significant. We may have a little anti-socialist squad forming in Congress.
And certainly, foreign affairs has always been something of interest to me. I don't know what committees I may end up on. Transportation is of interest to me as well. We’ll see how this all shakes out.
I still have relatives that live in Cuba. I know the oppression that they live under. We need to do what we can as a nation to continue to be the leader of the free world and try to promote freedom and democracy everywhere. It’s certainly something of interest to me as the daughter of a Cuban refugee.
We just passed the 8th anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. Is Staten Island prepared for the next storm, and what does the federal government need to do?
This is something that’s near and dear to my heart, because I represent the Assembly district that was most devastated in the entire state by Sandy. The seawall project is critically important. It’s been delayed twice in the last two years. It’s going to be a large focus of mine. One of the first things I want to do is meet with the Army Corps of Engineers and get the status. I’ve met with (the New York City) Parks Department over this, because the seawall is an opportunity for us to bring recreational activity and economic opportunity to the East Shore and incorporate that into the seawall project. I’m going to use my voice to push that project along and make sure it’s completed. It’s not just the protection it provides, but it’s also the assistance in terms of reducing flood insurance rates for my constituents. Once that wall is 50% built, the flood insurance rates will drop.
You’re instantly the most sought-after endorsement in a lot of the 2021 elections for City Council, Borough president and mayor. Are you planning to get involved, and are you endorsing anyone yet?
I haven’t endorsed anyone yet. But the mayor’s race in particular is important. When I ran for mayor, I pushed de Blasio to form a property tax commission. That property tax commission has come up with recommendations that will help the low and middle income communities that are subsidizing the wealthier neighborhoods of our city in terms of property taxes. We need to fix the system and before I give my endorsement to anyone, I want a commitment that they’re going to work with me on this issue. Because it’s just too critical to the people of Staten Island and southern Brooklyn.
It looks like Donald Trump’s presidency may be coming to an end soon. Will you be pushing for the Trump Presidential Library on Staten Island?
I think that’s (City Council Member) Joe Borelli’s endeavor (laughs). The first time I met Donald Trump he was speaking at the commencement ceremony at Wagner College, around 2004. He has a long history on Staten Island. His dad owned some apartments here and he grew up collecting the rent. Tysens Apartments and some on Howard Avenue as well. He’s beloved here in his community. He’s the president and deserves a library just like the others, and if the other boroughs don’t want him, I’m sure we’ll find a place here on Staten Island.
NEXT STORY: How Mondaire Jones made history in the suburbs