Brandon Patterson and Michael Tannousis are vying for an Assembly district that shares territory with the only competitive Congressional and Senate races on city ballots Nov. 3.
The drama of Election 2020 in New York City will run along the Verrazano Bridge, as three contests covering parts of Southern Brooklyn and Staten Island could tilt the balance of power in the state Assembly, the state Senate and the U.S. Congress.
Rookie Democratic Rep. Max Rose’s bid to hang on to his District 11 seat against Republican Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis has received national media attention. And first-term Democratic State Sen. Andrew Gounardes faces the only competitive Senate race in the city, as he tries to fend off Republican Vito Bruno in District 22. Both Rose and Gounardes defeated Republican incumbents in 2018.
Receiving less attention but still a race to watch is the one in the 64th Assembly district—the post currently held by Malliotakis, who is not seeking re-election as she pursues Rose’s House seat. There, Democrat Brandon Patterson, an aide to state Sen. Diane Savino, is hoping to defeat Michael Tannousis, a former Bronx and Richmond County prosecutor.
The three districts all overlap geographically in southern Brooklyn; the Assembly and Congressional districts also share the east coast of Staten Island. All three have a Democratic registration advantage, although a small one compared with most city districts. Both the Congressional district and the Assembly seat have bounced back and forth between the parties over the past 20 years. President Trump won all three districts in 2016. And all three Republican candidates are building their campaign around fears of crime: Malliotakis, Bruno and Tannousis issued a joint statement last week blaming bail reform for an assault on an elderly woman.
Rose and Gounardes are battling to retain seats won by Democrats two years ago, when their victories helped swing the control of legislative bodies: Rose was part of a Democratic surge that returned Rep. Nancy Pelosi to the speaker’s chair (although Rose did not support the California rep for that post). Gounardes’ victory helped Democrats to a long-sought majority in the state Senate.
Patterson’s bid for the 64th district doesn’t carry the same stakes. With a two-to-one majority, Democrats already dominate the Assembly. But it does have this significance: If incumbents hold on and Democrats, as is expected, prevail in other open contests on Nov. 3, a Patterson victory would leave Staten Island Assemblymember Michael Reilly and Senator Andrew Lanza as the only Republicans representing New York City in the legislature (both Reilly and Lanza are running unopposed for reelection.)
The 64th district runs along the east coast of Staten Island, covering parts of Eltingville, Bay Terrace, New Dorp and Dongan Hills as well as all of Midland Beach, Oakland Beach and Arrochar. Across the bridge, it traces the Brooklyn coastline to link up with a chunk of Bay Ridge. About 58,000 registered voters live in the Staten Island section, versus 17,000 in the Brooklyn part. There are 31,000 Democrats and 22,000 Republicans districtwide.
Malliotakis beat two-term incumbent Democrat Janelle Hyer-Spencer to win the seat in 2010. She easily turned back Democratic challengers in 2012, 2014 and 2018. In 2016, she ran unopposed—and actually received nearly 1,000 more votes in the district than Donald Trump did.
Tannousis has the Republican ballot line thanks to a win in the June primary, when he bested Marco Kepi 58 percent of the mere 800 votes cast. The win was financially costly to the Tannousis campaign.
Patterson now has a two-to-one cash advantage, with $60,000 in the bank to Tannousis’s $28,000. Tannousis raised funds primarily from the real-estate industry and the Greek community, whereas union money is prominent among Patterson’s donations.
In an interview last week, Patterson told City Limits he was running a “policy-driven campaign.” But where he and Tannousis are aligned on the policy front—for example, on the issue of criminal justice reform—Patterson emphasizes practical politics.
Crime is up about 5 percent in the Staten Island part of the district and just over 1 percent in the Bay Ridge section. Across the two NYPD precincts, there have actually been three fewer murders in 2020 compared with 2019. There were two shootings in those precincts by this time last year. There have been four so far this year.
While he feels the bail laws did need some reform, because it had created separate and unequal justice systems for rich and poor, Patterson believes the state bail reforms of 2019 went too far. “We need to make sure we keep violent criminals off the street,” he says. That echoes his Republican opponent. So, what’s the difference? Patterson argues it’s that Tannousis is doomed to be a minority player in Albany like Malliotakis, who passed only six bills into law during a decade in the Assembly.
“He’s not going to be in the room when these things get done,” Patterson says. “We need someone who is for the safety of the public, but also has a chance to change [the law].”
Patterson’s primary focus is not criminal justice but small businesses. He targets the State Liquor Authority for criticism: “It shouldn’t take eight months to get a liquor license.” He also proposes a program to help small businesses during the pandemic, like the federal Payroll Protection Program (PPP), which many city businesses missed out on. “A lot of small businesses are going to be struggling for a while,” he says. Patterson also wants to equip navigators to help small business owners understand and apply for the benefit programs that do exist.
Higher up on the ticket, Rose has spent much of the campaign deriding other Democrats and boasting of his willingness to work with Trump. Patterson also faces the challenge of how to campaign in a district that the president won with 59 percent of the vote.
“We have a lot of support for Republicans – from people who voted for Trump and are coming over to me. While Patterson says he is voting for Biden, he says that doesn’t matter to Trump supporters he talks to. Nor does their presidential choice appear to matter to him: It does not seem as though Patterson is championing his party’s nominee when he encounters a Trump supporter. “I respect their choice for president.”
Tannousis’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment. City Limits also offered to host an online debate featuring the two candidates, who have not yet debated. Patterson accepted the invitation, but Tannousis’s camp did not reply.