Traditionally a Democratic stronghold, Brooklyn — specifically, Southern Brooklyn — could be undergoing a political transformation of sorts, as many in the borough have been voting more conservatively as of late.
Last year, the GOP compiled enough votes to flip three State Assembly seats in Southern Brooklyn and propelled candidate Lee Zeldin to within six points of the governor’s mansion — the best performance for a Republican in nearly 30 years.
Fran Vella-Marrone, chair of the Conservative Party of Kings County, said she most definitely sees a “Conservative wave” developing in Brooklyn South.
“I see a trend. And my evidence of this is these past elections — especially last year — where we flipped three Assembly seats of three longtime incumbents,” Vella-Marrone told the Brooklyn Eagle. “And the year before that, we elected Councilwoman Inna Vernikov to a seat that a Republican hasn’t occupied in 100 years.” (Vernikov currently represents Brooklyn’s 48th District.)
With regard to demographics, Vella-Marrone said, “If you look at the last two to three elections, Asian, Orthodox Jewish, and Russian communities have most certainly been trending our way.”
According to U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, “Southern Brooklynites of all political stripes are growing tired of the far-left policies coming out of City Hall and Albany that have made them less safe, less prosperous, and reduced their overall quality of life.”
Malliotakis added that prior to 2021, she was the only Republican representing the borough of Brooklyn at any level of government.
“And since then, five more Republican representatives have been elected to the City Council and State Legislature,” she pointed out.
In 2023, when the City Council is up for reelection, Vella-Marrone said she sees this trend continuing.
“The issues we ran on last year we will continue to run on; I see people concerned with those same issues once again,” she said.
It’s really about engaging democratic voters with “common sense policies,” Brooklyn GOP Chairman Ted Ghorra pointed out.
“Most of our solutions are common sense solutions,” he said, noting that what he sees happening in 2023 (when the City Council is up for reelection) is retaining seats and picking up a couple more as well. “I really believe the Democratic Party is tearing itself apart — and this is evidenced by many Democratic primaries.”
Jerry Kassar, chair of the New York State Conservative Party and longtime Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge figure, admitted that while he has no crystal ball, “Things have certainly been trending in the direction of conservatism in Southern Brooklyn. And I expect this to continue. Currently there are three councilmembers serving Brooklyn who are endorsed by the Conservative Party: Inna Vernikov, David Carr and Kalman Yeger. I believe we will return those three, and be highly competitive in several others.”
Speaking to the keys to engaging Democratic voters and turning them from blue to red, Vella-Marrone pointed out that discussing the issues they care about — public safety, education, affordability in the city (basic issues that everyone out there is concerned about) — is imperative.
“I have seen Democratic voters that have voted a certain way for years and years, and all of a sudden last year voted a different way,” she noted. “There were people I know that said, ‘I’ve never voted this way, but I’m voting this way this year, because I just can’t take it anymore.’ And I think you will continue to see that.”
Even Independent voters, like Brooklyn local Patrick Gilbride, are seeing the swing toward more Conservative votes in certain areas of the borough.
“I see little reason why the GOP gains we saw in the last election won’t continue,” Gilbride said, adding that he attributes that to a poor economy, rising interest rates, crime, education trends and challenges — in addition to serious worries fostered by policies around national and border security that are bad enough to actually affect all states, including New York City and State in a bigger way than usual.
Councilman Justin Brannan, who refers to himself as a proud Democrat, admitted that while Brooklyn will periodically have “pockets that may flip from year to year,” it will always remain blue, and overwhelmingly Democratic.
“Republicans offer no solutions of how to fix things, and just continue to point fingers,” Brannan said. “The Republican Party, to me, is the party of ‘no.’ And I see that party as being even more divisive and toxic as time goes on.”
Looking ahead to 2024, Vella-Marrone said that while it’s too soon to say who the Conservative Party of Kings County would support for president, there are a number of candidates that are coming to the surface now and could be quality candidates, should Donald Trump become too vulnerable due to some voters having a hard time bypassing his demeanor.
“[Ron] DeSantis is one,” she said. “He is very conservative; he cares about conservative issues and I believe he could be a good choice to unite the party.
“But we really need to see what direction the presidential campaign is going in. I certainly can’t ignore the fact that Trump has a lot of support. The polls are showing that he does. But the Conservative Party is not the party of Trump. We have a philosophy, a platform that we stand by, and that’s what guides us. It’s not just about one person.”
Nanci Roden, real estate appraiser and executive secretary of the Conservative Party of Kings County, said she is going to wait and see who she will support in the next big election.
“I haven’t decided who I would support; there’s a lot of people running. I would like to see more, but I would not be unhappy if it was Trump,” Roden explained, noting that she felt her life was better under his administration.
“Is he crass? Absolutely. Is he a jerk sometimes? Absolutely. But that type of behavior does not affect my life; his policies affect my life,” Roden said. “I was making more money with Trump at the helm. There were more jobs, people’s salaries were higher — the country was just better off under him the way I see it.”
Vincent Katinas, a 2012 Conservative Party candidate for District 49 of the New York State Assembly who ultimately lost to Peter Abbate, said he believes that whoever the candidate will be in 2024, what is most essential is a great moral compass, as well as upstanding family values.
“I enrolled in the Conservative Party in 1968, prior to my 21st birthday, and have always been a registered Conservative,” Katinas said, adding that he, too, is also seeing more Conservatives surface in the south of Brooklyn as of late, specifically within the Middle Eastern community. “They believe in family values, less crime, and a good economic plan that isn’t tax, tax, tax.”
Katinas is unequivocally a Trump supporter, and said he has remained staunchly loyal to him throughout all of his legal difficulties.
“He’s a New Yorker, and he talks like he’s a New Yorker,” Katinas explained. “Does he get things done? You’d better believe it. Did we have a war while he was president? No. Did we have inflation when he was president? These are all things in my pocket, in your pocket, in everybody’s pocket.”
Ghorra was a bit more elusive as far as who he would throw his support behind.
“I see a large, diverse field of Republican candidates for president. But we need a steward to carry policies, and a positive vision for the country moving forward,” he said.
The way you make a change in government, Vella-Marrone pointed out, is by electing different people. Simply put: If you elect someone different, they are going to govern differently. And that’s what this whole conservative trend is about, she said.
“Do I think there are parts of our government that need to be improved and changed? One hundred percent,” Vella-Marrone said. “I don’t think government should have their hand in too much in the average American citizen’s life. The party that I represent believes in states’ rights; we believe that everything should be done as local as possible.”
Vella-Marrone did point out, however, that national defense, foreign policy, infrastructure/roads and the like should be handled by the federal government.
“I just feel that once they get too involved in something, it bloats it and creates this huge bureaucracy that’s not necessary, and doesn’t serve the people the best,” Vella-Marrone said.