By Michael Tobman, Publisher of New York Jewish Life
Nicole Malliotakis, Republican candidate for New York City mayor, should be taken seriously. Despite the massive voter enrollment advantage Democrats have in New York City, and despite the damage President Trump has done to the Republican brand, Assemblywoman Malliotakis is a formidable candidate. Tireless, media savvy, unafraid and public minded, Malliotakis—regardless of party—is precisely the type of elected official who should be aiming big.
Heavyweight Democrats citywide ducked challenging incumbent Bill de Blasio in a primary, all of them bowing out once criminal investigations did not yield City Hall indictments, but Nicole is sticking with the old saying, “Ya gotta be in it to win it.” November is still a long way off, and while maybe nothing happens between now and then to dramatically alter the electoral calculus in favor of de Blasio, maybe something will happen. Fortune favors the bold.
Nicole already chased off another Republican challenger who had spent a fortune early in the race, mostly by simply being more present and active. She seems to be everywhere, and that counts for a lot. Every day, those who pay attention to these things see her sitting with seniors in the Bronx, visiting public housing in Manhattan, talking with parents in Brooklyn, singing with church crowds in Queens and shoring up her base in Staten Island. Being there matters.
The de Blasio administration can, and should, take credit for well-earned victories in early education, affordable housing development and public health initiatives. The mayor has particularly distinguished himself in committing New York City to supporting those struggling with mental health issues and addiction.
But it’s also true that his City Hall has been plagued by high-stakes and high-profile missteps in vital relationships with Albany, clumsy favors for clumsy campaign donors, thinly veiled arrogance and dismissiveness, and testy dealings with the press. While the numbers can be read several ways both positively and negatively, depending on what type of crimes you’re highlighting (and that matters a lot), there is also a widespread perception that the city is less safe.
In terms of overall tone, there is something to the criticism that City Hall now favors those who are organized in ways consistent with how the mayor and his team consider activism, at the expense of a citywide rising tide lifting all boats. And with regular forays into national and international stories, it cannot be reasonably disputed that the mayor’s attention often seems to be in places other than here in New York City.
All of which presents Assemblywoman Malliotakis—standing on her own as a candidate, and in opposition to the mayor—with openings to make appropriate criticisms and contrasts, while distinguishing herself as more George Pataki than Donald Trump, more Marty Golden than Mitch McConnell and more New York moderate than DC radical.
A Staten Island daughter of immigrants, Malliotakis should engender enthusiasm from independent-minded voters who value women-in-government, and is no stranger to the biases against strong women who speak their mind. She has committed to “Mayor Bloomberg-like” professionalism and accountability in staffing city agencies.
Aaron Short’s excellent piece in this issue paints a fair and realistic picture of the incumbent mayor’s campaign strategies and strengths. Specifically, de Blasio appears to be employing a “Rose Garden strategy” of sorts, using the prestige and trappings and advantages of office to run an arm’s-length campaign, all while giving the illusion of being up close. New York City’s Jewish communities, in all their diversity, are a snapshot of the differences that will be playing out in demographics throughout the five boroughs, posing challenges and opportunities for the incumbent and his challenger.
The de Blasio administration has, from day one, been upfront in seeing government as a constant social movement. While I see the hows and whys of that, sometimes government is just government. Recall that last year’s presidential election clearly showed that many feel alienated by the constant aggressive activism. There seem to be a lot of people who are “wrong” on the other side of the mayor’s proposals, and lecturing rarely goes over well with the electorate.
That leaves Nicole Malliotakis—with her energy, no-nonsense approach and pledge to reprofessionalize City Hall—as an alternative. The next couple of months should be interesting.