The lone blemish in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s overwhelming victory in the general election last fall was Staten Island, the only borough that the mayor lost in what was otherwise an historic landslide.
But today, in a carefully-choreographed event with elected officials, Democratic loyalists and handpicked business owners at a local pizzeria, Mr. de Blasio showed affection for the borough and the borough–at least those in the room at Goodfellas Pizzeria–loved him right back.
“We’re starting over, my friend,” Mr. de Blasio declared, wrapping up a meal of at least three gourmet pizza slices, as longtime Staten Island Democratic activist John Sollazzo beamed across the room.
“Twenty years! Twenty years! It took 20 years for you to come,” Mr. Sollazzo, one table over, shouted.
“Twenty long years, John. Twenty long years,” the mayor replied.
That 20 years was the last time the city had a Democratic mayor before Mr. de Blasio. Republican mayors Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg had also graced Goodfellas, an upscale, sit-down pizzeria on the south shore of Staten Island. Though Mr. Bloomberg grew deeply unpopular in the right-leaning borough during his final years of office, especially after Hurricane Sandy walloped the island in 2012.
While Mr. de Blasio has taken heat from the Staten Island Advance for not appointing more Staten Islanders to his administration, the mayor promised, as he did during the campaign, that he would be a “five borough mayor” who treats everyone equally, reminding his fellow diners–and the media scrum roped off nearby–that he was an outer borough homeowner.
“I’ve spent a lot of time on Staten Island over the years and it was important to me very early on, day 10 of my administration, to get out here and show the people of Staten Island, the leaders of Staten Island, that we’re going to be focused on them,” Mr. de Blasio told reporters after he had chowed down on pizza, with a fork, and listened to the various complaints raised by assembled business owners. “I’m gonna be out here a lot. Leaders of the administration will be out here constantly.”
Mr. de Blasio, repeatedly emphasizing his Italian heritage in a borough that remains heavily Italian-American, ate smoked margarita pizza and a canolli. Seated next to him was the chairman of the Staten Island Democratic Party, John Gulino, a reminder that the event remained at least somewhat partisan. Republican Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis appeared at the pizzeria at the same time as Mr. de Blasio but did not join the Democratic mayor at the lunchtime roundtable.
As cameras snapped away, Mr. de Blasio listened as small business owners lamented their Bloomberg-era struggles, including fines on their businesses, which they argued were excessive, and a ban on trans fats, even on baked goods imported from Italy. Mr. de Blasio nodded along sympathetically, though he has been generally supportive of Bloomberg era health policies.
One of Mr. de Blasio’s biggest fans at the pizza roundtable was also, most likely, his oldest. The 103-year-old Michael Gallo, who said he’d been a Staten Island resident for more than a half century, dined with the mayor, telling reporters later that he was once a Brooklyn Democratic district leader (Mr. de Blasio was a Brooklyn city councilman).
“I’m a born Democrat,” Mr. Gallo said in a low rasp, offering praise for the new mayor. “He calls me up after six days in office and he calls me up and asks me if I’m comfortable on the coldest day … with all his problems, he was worried about a senior citizen.”
Update (6:40 p.m.): A spokesman for Ms. Malliotakis told Politicker that Ms. Malliotakis and other local GOP officials met with Mr. de Blasio in a separate room, away from reporters, at the pizzeria to discuss Hurricane Sandy-related matters.