blue wave

Red Fades in Brooklyn: Inside the Race for Borough’s Lone GOP Seat

A man walks past a halal grocer on Fifth Avenue and 72nd Street in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, on July 14, 2019.
A man walks past a halal grocer on Fifth Avenue and 72nd Street in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, on July 14, 2019. Photo: Clifford Michel

Until last November, three Republicans represented Brooklyn neighborhoods near the Verrazano Bridge, uninterrupted for seven years.

Then Democrats won dual victories: Max Rose upset Rep. Dan Donovan in the midterm elections, and Andrew Gounardes ousted Marty Golden, who had held onto his state Senate seat for 15 years.

Only Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis survived the “blue wave,” beating her Democratic challenger with 60% of the vote — making her the sole Republican to hold office in Brooklyn.

Now Malliotakis is making a run for Congress, seeking to unseat Rose, after she significantly raised her profile by challenging Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2017.

That will force her to give up her Assembly seat, which covers a slice of Bay Ridge as well as several East Shore neighborhoods on Staten Island, in 2020 — leaving the last Republican-held elected office in Brooklyn up for grabs.

Uncontested — For Now

Democrat Brandon Patterson, a 30-year-old Great Kills resident who grew up in the North Shore, filed in February to run for her 64th Assembly District slot, less than a month after Malliotakis announced her congressional bid.

Patterson touts himself as a “pragmatic Democrat” with crossover appeal. He’s not, as he puts it, “a Bill de Blasio Democrat.” His first campaign fundraising filing is due today.

No GOP candidates have registered for the contest yet, but Malliotakis told THE CITY she’s spoken to two Republicans interested in running. They’d have until April to register for a potential primary, though the party could appoint someone to the nomination once that deadline passes.

“I’m confident that the Republicans will have a strong candidate to fight in the Assembly seat I’m vacating and carry on the fight on behalf of taxpayers of the 64th district,” Malliotakis said.

She highlighted the string of progressive bills passed by the now Democrat-dominated state Legislature in the session that concluded last month as evidence of a need for a Republican voice for the district.

Brandon Patterson wants to flip the last Republican-held seat in Brooklyn.
Brandon Patterson wants to flip the last Republican-held seat in Brooklyn. Photo: Clifford Michel /THE CITY

“From granting illegal immigrants driver’s licenses, to the late-term abortion bill, to doing everything they can to protect criminals — I think the voters of this district will think twice before sending a Democrat to Albany to be part of that destructive agenda,” Malliotakis said

Patterson, meanwhile, spent the past four years working for Democratic State Sen. Diane Savino, whose district spans Staten Island and parts of southern Brooklyn. He’s served variously as her community liaison, director of operations and, now, deputy chief of staff.

During much of that time, Savino aligned with the Independent Democratic Caucus, which entered a strategic alliance with Republicans in Albany until rejoining the mainstream Democrats last year.

Patterson also worked on former Coney Island Councilmember Domenic Recchia’s congressional bid in 2014. Recchia lost to Michael Grimm, who was under indictment at the time.

After Grimm vacated the seat, the slot went to another Republican, Daniel Donovan, who lost to Rose last year. That marked a sign of Republicans losing grip even in their Staten Island stronghold.

Practicing ‘Pothole Politics’

Patterson said that he plans to keep his campaign focused on local issues, even though the Assembly race next year will coincide with President Donald Trump’s re-election bid.

“This isn’t about Trump, this isn’t about Nicole and Max,” Patterson told THE CITY. “This is about talking to the voters about what they want and how Albany affects them.”

He’s on board with legalizing marijuana and sports betting. But says he’d like to focus on keeping small businesses afloat and providing more affordable housing, especially for unionized workers.

“It’s very simple: Keep people in their homes, get them to work quicker, get them more work options,” said Patterson. “That’s what I hear from people at their doors.”

It’s a strategy that worked for Rose in 2018. The then-challenger put out ads of himself in traffic on the Staten Island Expressway while singing along to the “Pitch Perfect” soundtrack, and insisted to voters that talking about transportation was more important than talking about Trump.

Gounardes and his City Council counterpart, Democrat Justin Brannan, also aggressively address local issues. They most recently successfully advocated for city Department of Transportation to put a new bike lane network in Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights.

“We’ve really gotten pothole politics around here for sure,” said Richard Flanagan, a Bay Ridge resident and political science professor at the College of Staten Island.

“Their margin of safety is those independent voters in the district who like a pragmatic approach, and even some Republicans who might be voting for those guys for their practical sense,” said Flanagan, author of and author of “Staten Island: Conservative Bastion in a Liberal City.”

“And I think all of them are on the same page on the dead-center quality of the district.”

Conservatives Not Worried

Ex-Brooklyn Conservative Party chair Jerry Kassar, now the state conservative party chair, expressed confidence that the GOP will live on in Brooklyn.

“I do not anticipate us having extreme difficulty holding the seat,” said Kassar, who previously served as Golden’s chief of staff. “It’s a good conservative seat. We also have an incredibly good chance at winning the congressional seat where obviously in the general election, Nicole would do extremely well, which would propel whoever the candidate is in this seat to an even greater number.”

Patterson declined to share fundraising numbers with THE CITY, but hinted that his initial campaign filing on Monday will show “diverse” backing from unions.

“You’re going to see some of that support already and you’ll see it throughout the campaign,” Patterson said.

Brooklyn Republican Party chair Ted Ghorra didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The Staten Island Republican chair, Brendan Lantry, declined to comment on the 2020 race.

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