Congressional politics in New York is almost never exciting. The steep Democratic voter registration advantage means general elections are not often competitive, and the power of incumbency makes contested primaries rare. Six of the city’s 13 members of Congress have held their seats for more than 20 years.
The exception is the 11th district, which covers all of Staten Island as well as Bay Ridge, Bath Beach, Dyker Heights and parts of Bensonhurst in Brooklyn. Republican Rep. Vito Fossella was undone by scandal in 2008. His successor, Democrat Michael McMahon, lasted a term before being swept out by the GOP wave of 2010. The man who then took the post, Republican Michael Grimm, was elected three times before pleading guilty to a federal tax evasion charge and doing prison time. The current occupant is former Staten Island district attorney Daniel Donovan, who won a special election in May 2015 and was easily re-elected in 2016.
This year, Democrats feel they have a shot to flip the only “red” seat in the five boroughs, and the leader of the Democratic field is Max Rose, whom City Limits interviewed on the BRIC-TV program 112BK on Tuesday.
A decorated veteran of the war in Afghanistan and a former healthcare executive and aide to Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson, Rose is one of several Democrats considered a contended for the nomination, but has raised more money and secured more institutional support than anyone else. Rose’s race has been tabbed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as a “red to blue” priority as part of the party’s effort to retake control of the House of Representatives.
A Brooklyn native who’ll be married in two weeks and still serves in the National Guard, Rose says he’s running to restore a sense that effective government is possible. He says his moment of peril in combat – when an improvised explosive device detonated under his vehicle and armor plating installed through Congressional action likely saved his life – crystalized this belief for him, but his philosophy pre-dates his purple heart. In 2008, while a senior at Wesleyan, he appears to have penned an essay for The Nation that said, “[I]t is imperative that the United States puts forth a new social contract; one predicated on the same New Deal responsibility of the government to protect its citizenry not only from foreign foe, but also from the inevitable evils of our society’s faceless turbulence.”
Rose’s platform emphasizes progressive tax reform, gender equity, consumer rights, efforts to reduce opioid addiction and “true universal healthcare coverage.”
Rose has raised $659,000 to date and has just over $492,000 on hand. That’s substantially less than Donovan (with $719,000 in the bank) but more than Grimm, who is challenging Donovan for the Republican nomination and reports $198,000 in his coffers.
Film worker Omar Vaid, former boxer Boyd Melson, state technology worker and union leader Radhakrishna Mohan, financier Zach Emig, nonprofit leader Michael DeVito, Jr., special education teacher Michael Decillis and real-estate figure Paul Sperling also have campaign accounts with the Federal Election Commission. But only Mohan and DeVito received votes when the Staten Island Democratic County Committee voted overwhelmingly last month to endorse Rose for the race.
Petitions are due by April 12 to qualify for the June 26 federal primary. The general election is in November. Democrats are the biggest party in the district, with 46 percent of registered voters overall (compared with 27 percent for Republicans and 21 percent who identify no party) and a 44 percent to 30 percent advantage even in the Staten Island side of the district.
But party identification hasn’t had much to do with election outcomes recently on the island: President Trump won 56 percent of the vote there in 2016.