Malliotakis draws on parents’ immigrant experience
In Public Service: Assemblymember’s Mom Fled Castro’s Cuba, Dad Hails from Greece
Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis’ parents are immigrants who came to the U.S. with next to nothing and achieved the “American Dream.” Her father George was born in Greece. Her mother was born and raised in Cuba and fled when Fidel Castro came to power in 1959.
“My dad comes from the birthplace of democracy. My mom came from a place where democracy was crushed,” Malliotakis told the Brooklyn Eagle over lunch at The Pearl Room, a Bay Ridge restaurant.
The immigrant experience of her parents is the rock upon which Malliotakis built her world view. “It has had a big impact on me,” she confided. She credits her mother’s experience as a Cuban émigré for forming her political view as a Republican. “It’s the reason I’m anti-Communist and anti-Socialist,” she said.
Malliotakis represents the 64th Assembly District, a seat that includes a small portion of Bay Ridge and a larger section of Staten Island. She first won election in 2010 and has been re-elected twice, in 2012 and 2014, with increasingly larger margins. In 2012, she earned 61 percent of the vote. She garnered a remarkable 73 percent of the vote in 2014.
She likes to point out that she is the only Republican woman from New York City in the state legislature.
Her mom Vera saw Communism up close. When Castro came to power, he nationalized formerly private businesses, leaving owners high and dry. “My grandfather had a gas station. They took it away,” she said.
In 2009, Malliotakis and her mother traveled to Cuba. “It was my first visit there and my mother’s first time back. It was heartbreaking to see how the Cubans live,” she said. “The country pays its people $10 a month. People don’t even have access to aspirin. She has a cousin who serves in the Cuban military. They treat him like slave.”
In her view, the Obama administration made a major mistake in re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. Malliotakis said she does not believe closer ties between the U.S. and Cuba will improve the lives of everyday Cubans. “Nothing will change in Cuba until the Castro brothers die,” she said, referring to Fidel, the former president, and his brother Raul, the country’s current leader.
The Obama administration should have held out for more concessions from Raul Castro before agreeing to reopen the U.S. Embassy in Havana, according to Malliotakis. “People that think this is about access to Cuban cigars and nightclubs are mistaken,” she said.
The first bill she sponsored was legislation for a referendum to be put on the ballot to amend the state constitution to allow the State Legislature to submit bills via email rather than print them out on paper. Each and every piece of legislation, thousands of bills a year, had to be printed and distributed to each assemblymember and state senator.
“It’s a waste of money, millions of dollars, to print every single bill. The budget, for example, is 2,000 pages. And the bills have to be printed in multiple copies,” Malliotakis said.
Both of her parents have had a major effect on her. “My parents came here with literally nothing. They prove that there is no substitute for hard work,” she said.
George and Vera Malliotakis, who were introduced by a mutual friend, married and opened an import business on Third Avenue and 55th Street in Sunset Park. George also worked as a waiter at Chateau Madrid in Manhattan. “People like Frank Sinatra and Desi Arnaz came there,” his daughter said.
The family moved to Staten Island in 1982, when Nicole was two years old. She attended public schools, graduating from New Dorp High School. She attended Seton Hall University and earned a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) from Wagner College. Her MBA comes in handy these days. “It gives me the ability to read and understand a budget,” she said.
Malliotakis worked for a while doing public relations for the State Theatre of New Jersey. But politics soon caught her attention and she went to work for state Sen. John Marchi of Staten Island. That led to a job with the Pataki administration when George Pataki was the governor.
After Pataki left office, Malliotakis got a job as a public affairs manager for Con Edison.
Just as her parents’ experiences formed her world view, her own experience during her time at Con Edison made her want to run for public office.
She used to commute from her home on Staten Island to Con Edison’s lower Manhattan headquarters. “My express bus was eliminated,” she recalled. She felt that the assemblymember at the time did nothing to preserve the bus service. “I was an angry constituent. I decided to run for public office,” she said.
She ran with both Republican and Conservative Party endorsements and won that election by 11 percentage points.
“When I ran, the biggest commitment I made to the voters was to get the B37 and other bus lines back,” she said. “And I kept that commitment.”
The B37, which runs along Third Avenue, was eliminated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in 2010 as a cost-cutting measure.
Bay Ridge elected officials fought for restoration of the bus service. The MTA brought the B37 back last year.
Still, as a Republican, Malliotakis is a member of the minority party in the Assembly.
As a result, “I spend a lot of my time pushing back at bad pieces of legislation,” she admitted.
Two of the Democratic bills she fought against during the most recent legislative sessions involved public funding for political campaigns and the so-called New York Dream Act, which would have allowed undocumented immigrants to receive college tuition assistance.
“That one really angers me,” she said, referring to the Dream Act. “This bill was put forth at a time when the state eliminated tuition assistance programs for graduate students.”
Malliotakis sponsored a bill to restore that assistance for graduate students.
If a bill she objects to passes the Assembly, she works with her Republican colleagues in the GOP-dominated state Senate to try to prevent the bill from becoming law.
State Sens. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-Southwest Brooklyn) and Andrew Lanza (R-C-Staten Island) are two of her most important allies in this regard.
Malliotakis is optimistic about the Assembly under new Speaker Carl Heastie. “We Republicans are seeing more of a willingness to work with the opposing party,” she told the Eagle.
Her priorities as a legislator are public schools, transportation and infrastructure, sanitation and education.
On transportation, she has joined with other legislators in calling for the state to allow Brooklyn residents to get a discount on the toll on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Staten Islanders currently get a discount. “No one in Brooklyn should pay $16 to visit another borough of New York City,” she said.
She is also eager to rein in state spending. “There is a tax and spend mentality. People think money grows on trees. A lot of money is wasted in Albany,” she said.
The Brooklyn side of the 64th Assembly District takes in the area of Bay Ridge located roughly between 70th and 81st streets from Shore Road to Seventh Avenue.
“I love my district. I think it’s a perfect microcosm of the city of New York,” she told the Eagle.
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