Two days after filing paperwork to run for mayor of New York City, Staten Island Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis made her first play to distinguish herself in an increasingly crowded field of candidates vying for the Republican nomination.
Speaking at a GOP mayoral candidate forum at the Metropolitan Republican Club on the Upper East Side Wednesday night, Malliotakis told a 100-strong crowd that she is “used to being the underdog.” She faced off against real estate executive Paul Massey—whose strong cash hauls once appeared to mark him as the frontrunner—and Jets lineman-turned minister Rev. Michel Faulkner, as well as celebrity cop and investigator Bo Dietl, who botched his voter registration paperwork and thus must seek special permission from the county GOP organizations to run on their line.
Malliotakis argued her background as the daughter of Greek and Cuban immigrants gave her a “compelling story that will resonate with the people of New York.”
“I understand the aspirations of the American dream,” Malliotakis said. “I understand that we need to preserve that and it’s very important that we do that but we do it in the right way. We’re gonna allow people to survive and thrive in a city to achieve the dream as my parents have and I think that because I can resonate with many people in the immigrant community because of my background.”
The assemblywoman emphasized her crossover appeal, noting how she dispatched a Democratic incumbent in 2010, and recently received encouragement from Bronx Assemblyman Jose Rivera—his borough’s former party boss.
“He respects me because of my energy and my passion and the other day, he was in the Daily News saying that I would make a great candidate and give Bill de Blasio a run for his money,” she said.
Malliotakis also said she’s proficient in Spanish and can talk to Hispanic voters and “understand their issues.” She also highlighted her appeal as a female candidate.
“I also feel that it’s very well-known that Democrats, their base consists of women,” she said. “Most women vote Democratic. Most women, most Hispanics vote Democratic. And I have the ability, I think, to take from the Democratic nominee.”
Nonetheless, the former New York chair of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s campaign has a record of playing to the GOP base by clashing with the mayor and with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Last year, she and her Staten Island GOP colleague Assemblyman Ronald Astorina sued the city to try to stop it from going forward with plans to purge the databanks of the IDNYC municipal identification program, databanks believed to contain the personal information of thousands of undocumented immigrants.
Earlier this month, a Staten Island Supreme Court judge ruled that the two state legislators did not have legal standing to lodge such a complaint, though the pair has promised to appeal the decision.
Malliotakis has also argued that President Donald Trump’s administration should deny the city funding for its failure to comply with federal immigration authorities.
But last night, the assemblywoman dismissed de Blasio’s assertion that she “loves to spew right-wing rhetoric.” She insisted that she supports a path to citizenship for the undocumented, and argued the city should help arrest and expel those foreign nationals who commit crimes.
“The mayor accused me of spewing right-wing rhetoric,” she said. “When is following the law being right-wing? That’s what I don’t know…We have a mayor now that has a complete disregard for the law.”
Malliotakis has said she would drop out of the race if GOP billionaire John Catsimatidis, who is also Greek American, decided to run for mayor. The supermarket mogul, who lost the 2013 Republican primary to Joseph Lhota, was among those in attendance.
During the forum, Malliotakis said she opposed de Blasio’s plan to close Rikers Island and install replacement jails throughout the city. She also blasted what she called the mayor’s costly budget as well as the decriminalization of quality-of-life issues. She also blasted the mayor for not including Staten Island in his citywide ferry service plan.
She claimed she “strong person to have at the top of the ticket” to campaign with Council candidates across the city, pointing to the soon-to-be-vacant seats of term-limited Brooklyn Councilman Vincent Gentile, Bronx Councilman James Vacca and others.
Still, she would “absolutely” back whoever ends up being the nominee, vowing to raise money and campaign for the nominee for the sake of standing “as a united force.”
“This is not about just the party, it’s about returning sanity to city government and we have not had that with the leadership of Bill de Blasio and Melissa Mark-Viverito,” Malliotakis said.
Neither Dan Levitan, the mayor’s campaign spokesman, nor a spokeswoman for Mark-Viverito immediately responded to requests for comment.
But Levitan—who typically proffers a statement outlining the mayor’s record of achievements in response to any comments made by opponents—took to Twitter to blast Malliotakis and the other candidates during the forum after Dietl made an off-color comment about the mayor’s wife.
Malliotakis has long pined for higher office, having unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for Staten Island’s congressional seat in 2015. The party line instead went to then-District Attorney Daniel Donovan.
A strong performance in her home borough, even in losing the general election contest against de Blasio, could position her for a future run for the House seat or for Staten Island borough president.