NEW YORK — Possible mayoral candidate U.S. Rep. Max Rose will likely portray himself as a pragmatist who can rebuild the city in the aftermath of a catastrophic pandemic. But the blunt-talking 34-year-old from Staten Island faces a tough path in a crowded Democratic primary field, in part because he represents some of the least-Democratic parts of the city.
Rose, who opened a mayoral campaign account with the Campaign Finance Board last week, will soon give up his House seat, having lost reelection to Republican Nicole Malliotakis last month. His base on Staten Island and in southern Brooklyn has some of the lowest turnouts in Democratic primaries, and the positions he has taken during his single term in Congress could put him at odds with key voting blocs elsewhere in the city. And, in any case, no Staten Islander has been elected mayor since the city’s consolidation in 1898.
In an email to supporters on Sunday, Rose, a decorated U.S. Army veteran, portrayed himself as an outsider eager to take on the city’s problems.
“It wasn’t just a pandemic, but generations of politicians and power brokers who dug this hole. Now they’re telling us they’ll fix it while still holding the shovel? Come on,” the email said.
The last candidate to attempt to launch a mayoral campaign from Rose’s corner of the city was former City Council Member Sal Albanese, who lived in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. He received less than 1 percent of the vote in the 2013 Democratic primary. Rose, however, has many more advantages than Albanese had. He has a bigger district and far higher name recognition, in part because of relentless television ads that aired during his bitter fight against Malliotakis, many of which hammered the mayor as much as his opponent.
“It appears Rose would be the most well-known and passionate foe of [Mayor Bill] de Blasio, and is positioned to blast away for every misstep of pandemic management,” said Richard Flanagan, a political science professor at The College of Staten Island. “A congressional district is not a bad base from which to launch a campaign because, unlike more than half the field, he has a geographic base.”
Rose garnered more than 137,000 votes in his House race, which would seem like a solid base of support from which to launch a citywide campaign. But history would suggest few of those voters will turn out in next year’s June primary.
In 2013, the most recent Democratic mayoral primary when there was an open seat, Staten Island accounted for just 3 percent of the total turnout. Brooklyn voters made up one-third of the electorate, slightly ahead of Manhattan. But turnout varied widely within the borough.
For example, the 47th Assembly District, which covers parts of Bath Beach and Gravesend and overlaps with Rose’s district, churned out slightly more than 4,600 votes, or less than 1 percent of the total, according to a POLITICO analysis of turnout.
Compare that to the more liberal 52nd Assembly District covering Brooklyn Heights and parts of Carroll Gardens and Park Slope: Nearly 23,000 registered Democrats headed to the polls and accounted for more than 3 percent of the total primary vote.
“Archie Bunker doesn’t vote in a Democratic primary,” said one Staten Island elected official who spoke on background. “And young, white progressives are offended by that image — that’s just reality.”
And so while Rose has a leg up on some first-time candidates who have no geographic base, he will need to find a message that resonates both with his more centrist and soon-to-be former constituents along with other vote-rich areas of the city already being courted by competitors.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, another moderate, is presumed to have a heavy advantage in central Brooklyn. And former Wall Street executive Ray McGuire, who like Adams is Black, will be going after some of the same centrist voters in key places like southeast Queens. More liberal bastions like the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a high turnout area where City Comptroller Scott Stringer has strong support, will be a much tougher sell for Rose.
In an election-night speech, Rose defended his decision to participate in a Black Lives Matter march, a source of controversy in a cop-friendly borough and which led to sharp criticism from Malliotakis. During his two years in office, he had to tread a careful, moderate path, supporting law enforcement but also charting out a circuitous path to his vote to impeach President Donald Trump, who remains wildly popular on Staten Island.
Christina Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University, said that the electoral pendulum has swung back and forth between moderates like Bloomberg, whom Rose endorsed in last year’s Democratic presidential primary, and progressives like de Blasio. Rose might appeal to voters who are turned off by messages about defunding the police and other policies from candidates further to the left.
But in a city that voted overwhelmingly against Trump, his political tightrope act on Staten Island might not play as well on the road.
“I think Max Rose is very comfortable playing footsie with Trump supporters and people who hold views that are antithetical to many New Yorkers,” Greer said.
Over the past two months, Rose has adamantly denied that he was eyeing a run for Gracie Mansion.
“No, no, no,” Rose said in an Oct. 14 interview. “I am not running, I don’t have plans to run for mayor. I’m not running for mayor.”
Yet just weeks after conceding his congressional race, he appears to have changed his mind. Some observers observers wonder why he decided to get into the race.
“Being the mayor of New York City is not some consolation prize,” political consultant and former mayoral spokesperson Olivia Lapeyrolerie said. “He is going to really have to explain to voters about why he’s made this seemingly sudden decision to jump in, and what his plans are to address the many issues that the city is facing.”
Amanda Eisenberg contributed to this report.