Southern Brooklyn

Welcome to West Brighton, the Staten Island neighborhood that could decide the Rose-Malliotakis House race

October 29, 2020 Clifford Michel, THE CITY
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Staten Island resident Analissa Williams is voting for Joe Biden for president.

But when it comes to the hotly contested House race between freshman Rep. Max Rose, a Democrat, and GOP Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, she’s still undecided.

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“Honestly, I’m unsure,” Williams, 23, said outside her West Brighton home recently.

Williams lives in a swing neighborhood at the center of a swing-district contest that’s drawn attention — and money — from well beyond New York. In recent elections, whoever has taken West Brighton has won the borough’s House seat, which has see-sawed between the parties over the last dozen years.

An NBC/Marist College poll released Monday showed that the race for New York’s 11th Congressional District, which includes all of Staten Island and a hunk of southern Brooklyn, is extremely tight. Malliotakis pulled support from 48 percent of likely voters to Rose’s 46 percent — a difference well within the margin of error.

That’s why swaying voters like Williams in the key neighborhood in the only borough to go for Donald Trump in 2016 is crucial for both campaigns.

“It’s that vital to the winner,” Jonathan Yedin, a political consultant who founded Power Play Strategies. “And I think that’s why there’s such a heavy focus by the campaigns.”

‘Brings Old and New Together’

West Brighton has a suburban feel, with a mix of longtime and new homeowners. Residents describe the neighborhood as working class with a sizable number of civil servants. American flags fly proudly in front of many homes and campaign signs for both candidates stand in local lawns.

The majority of the neighborhood’s 16,000 residents are white and the median age in most parts is just above 40.

Residents tend to be more affluent than the typical New York household, census data shows. The median income in most parts of the neighborhood sits just above $100,000 and goes no lower than $71,000.

The neighborhood cares “more about the person than” party affiliation, according to Yedin, who served as Michael McMahon’s campaign manager in 2008 when the Democrat won West Brighton — and the congressional race.

Michael Grimm, a Republican, won Williams’ election district in 2014 while he was under federal indictment. Rep. Dan Donovan, another Republican, took it again in 2016.

Rep. Max Rose (D-Staten Island, Brooklyn) campaigns for reelection. Photo: Max Rose for Congress/Twitter

But Rose, an Army veteran and freshman Democrat, flipped the seat in 2018, aided by voters in Brooklyn.

Both Rose and Malliotakis’ campaigns acknowledged that West Brighton is important to their congressional bids.

Rose’s campaign headquarters sits squarely within the neighborhood’s main commercial district. Residents and the campaigns say that the candidates and their canvassing operations are frequently in the neighborhood.

Rob Ryan, a spokesperson for Malliotakis, called West Brighton “a key part of the electoral puzzle.”

“I love West Brighton. From the quaint homes to the friendly people to the fantastic social scene at local restaurants, it is a neighborhood that brings old and new Staten Island together,” Malliotakis told THE CITY in a statement.

Jonas Edwards-Jenks, a spokesperson for Rose’s campaign, said: “Just like he has been since Day 1, Max has been all over every corner of the district in recent weeks, including in West Brighton at grocery stores, doors and all throughout the community.”

Personal Politics

Beverly, a 59-year-old West Brighton resident, said she votes for the Democrat “if they act sane and reasonable,” and cited her past support for McMahon.

But this time around, Beverly, who didn’t want her last name published because of the contentious nature of national politics this year, pointed proudly to her “Malliotakis for Congress” lawn sign.

Beverly said she was deeply upset that Rose attended an anti-racist protest back in June where some protestors carried anti-police signange, such as “ACAB” –– short for “All Cops are Bastards.”

“Max Rose hasn’t supported our police officers, plain and simple,” said Beverly. “So how can I support him?”

Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis released an ad touting her support of police during her run to unseat Rep. Max Rose. Photo: Screengrab/NMalliotakis/Twitter
Malliotakis has painted Rose as anti-cop — a claim he vehemently denies. He’s lambasted her in attack ads as a “fraud” who’s exaggerated claims of coming to the aid of constituents during the pandemic.

A longtime West Brighton resident, Dorothy Towstik, 65, said she always votes for a Democrat — except when she split her ticket in 2016 to give Donovan a chance because she knew him personally.

“I thought he was normal,” she told THE CITY before driving off with her husband to vote early. “And then he went on to become a Trumpeter, so I regret my one Republican vote.”

This time around, she’s voting for Rose again.

Residents on both sides of the political aisle agreed they’ve had enough of the constant barrage of negative television advertisements put out by both campaigns. Some $20.7 million has been spent on the race so far, with much of it coming from PACs and other outside groups with the district viewed as one of the few in the country up for grabs.

“It makes you feel like you don’t want to vote, like it’s pointless,” Williams said of the dual ad barrages.

She plans to do some research on the candidates, talk to friends and cast her vote by Election Day. “It is still important,” she said.

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