Brooklyn’s last remaining Republican lawmaker is ready to take on some new challenges. When the Blue Wave swept over the former Republican stronghold of Southern Brooklyn and Staten Island in 2018, it took with it incumbent pols U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan and State Sen. Marty Golden, leaving Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis the last Republican representing any part of Brooklyn.
Malliotakis’ 64th Assembly District spans portions of Staten Island and Bay Ridge. Serving her fifth term and ninth year in office, Malliotakis is now running for New York’s 11th Congressional District seat, currently held by Max Rose.
Malliotakis is the daughter of immigrants; her father is an immigrant from Greece and her mother is a Cuban exile of the Castro dictatorship. She was the first Hispanic-American elected from Richmond County. She graduated from Wagner College and has served in the Assembly since 2011.
Prior to being elected, Malliotakis served as a liaison for the late State Sen. John Marchi and Gov. George Pataki. Subsequent to Pataki’s departure from office, she worked as a public affairs manager for Con Edison, focusing on the state’s energy, economic and environmental policies.
In addition, she has fought to restore and expand transit service in both Brooklyn and Staten Island, improve programs for senior citizens and reform education in the state. She has worked to improve New York’s economic climate and reduce the tax burden on small businesses and residents. She is also a passionate advocate for animal rights and strengthening animal cruelty laws.
She also was a candidate in the last mayoral election, running against incumbent Mayor Bill de Blasio. Malliotakis was able to win both sides of the 11th C.D., receiving 58 percent of the vote on the Brooklyn side and 70 percent on the Staten Island side.
Malliotakis took the time to answer some questions for this paper.
Spectator: Why leave a successful position as assemblymember for a congressional run?
Malliotakis: There are two reasons: the local reason and the national implications of this seat. One, when I ran for the Assembly, I set out to change the culture of Albany, hold Speaker Sheldon Silver accountable, fight for bus restoration in my district and be a voice for the taxpayers.
And during that time we’ve done some really great things in terms of getting rid of Silver, and number two, bringing transparency to Albany. We’ve successfully pushed for rule changes that would require that all committee votes be accessible to the public so you know how your representative votes behind closed doors in committee meetings, and restored bus service in the south Brooklyn area, particularly the X27 weekend express bus service and the B37 local bus service. Those were cut under my predecessor.
And a lot of times, because I’m in the minority in the Assembly, a large part of my job is stopping bad pieces of legislation from becoming law.
Over the years we’ve been successful in doing that — blocking bad pieces of legislation that were not in the taxpayers’ interest. So, having been in the Assembly now for nine years, and having fought as hard as I can on behalf of my constituents, it’s time for someone with a fresh perspective to come into state government and carry on that fight.
I feel that I have a better platform to fight for my constituents as a member of Congress and I feel it’s important that New York City has at least one Republican voice in Washington.
And even Democrats should want at least one voice of opposition to what [Rep. Alexandria} Ocasio-Cortez and other members are proposing, because it’s best when you have both sides of the spectrum represented so you end up with better policy. Right now we don’t have that.
Spectator: You are the last Republican standing in Brooklyn. That must be both rewarding one sense and frustrating in another, especially in light of the last election where Republicans lost both the Senate and Congressional seats.
Malliotakis: This last year in Albany has been very frustrating because I’ve seen a flip in the Senate. I lost a good partner in [former State Sen.] Marty Golden and a lot of the policies that I fought so hard to stop over the last eight years are becoming law.
But, really it’s about bringing in a fresh perspective. We have a candidate emerging in Michael Tannousis [who is running in the 64th A.D.], and others who may be interested in running. I’m confident that the lone Republican voice in the state legislature from Brooklyn will remain. It’s important for balance to have alternative perspectives.
Spectator: Do you feel the Conservative/Republican presence is still strong within your district?
Malliotakis: I do. I think that it is a very diverse district, ethnically, economically as well as physically. It is also a swing district because I was able to take a seat from a Democrat, Janele Hyer-Spencer. So, I think that this is a district where people are engaged, they do their homework and they vote for the person they feel will best represent them and fight for them. And I’ve been honored that they’ve chosen me to do that for the last nine years.
Spectator: Let’s talk about a few recent issues you confronted. You helped the automatic voter registration bill get pulled from the Assembly agenda by finding a loophole that would have made undocumented immigrants eligible to vote.
Malliotakis: Yes, I was against New York State extending licenses for illegal immigrants. And subsequent to that, they attempted to pass legislation that would have automatically registered everyone who applied for a driver’s license to vote.
The burden would have fallen on the applicant to say that they were not eligible. So, if someone walked into a DMV with a foreign passport and they applied for a driver’s license, that application would be automatically forwarded to the Board of Elections to have them registered to vote unless the individual was honest and opted out and said ‘I’m not eligible.’
It made absolutely no sense. Why would the state pass on an application if someone used a foreign passport? So, we exposed the bill because it would have led to non-citizens being registered to vote. Gov. Cuomo backed us up on that claim and the bill was pulled from the agenda at the 11th hour on the last day of the session.
It’s something I’m continuing to keep my eye on if they try to make some changes and sneak it through again. I’m going to keep vigilant on this in case they try to pass it through again. We want to protect the integrity of our elections and make sure that only United States citizens vote.
Spectator: And recently you stood with some fellow lawmakers to promote legislation to criminalize water attacks on police.
Malliotakis: I think there’s a lot of rhetoric that’s come from New York politicians that have put our police in danger, made their job more difficult and tied their hands. It has led to this type of anarchy where people think that they can disrespect our police officers and disregard the rule of law. And the message has to be sent that it will not be tolerated.
I don’t believe that Mayor de Blasio has been strong enough in denouncing these water attacks on our police officers. And the police officers that I speak with don’t feel like the mayor has their back. Instead of us, he should have been on the steps of City Hall condemning the attacks.
Instead, he was in Detroit on a debate stage, further disparaging our officers. So, we’re proud to stand with our civil service workers, our uniformed workers. They need to be respected. They have a job to do and they do it well, and we cannot tolerate any assault on them.
Spectator: You’re in your fifth term in the Assembly and have served for nine years. That’s a remarkable achievement. What are some of your proudest accomplishments?
Malliotakis: Even though the Democratic Party took control of the legislature, we’ve had successes this year gaining mental health funding for veterans and covering the tuition costs for Gold Star families and children of men and women killed or injured in duty, and stopping a bill that would have automatically registered non-citizens to vote.
That’s why we have a two-party system — to make sure that we have representatives who will stand up and speak out when the majority is not doing the right thing.
Spectator: One last question, if you could give Bill de Blasio some advice about running for president, what would it be?
Malliotakis: Just don’t run. Just don’t run for anything ever again.