Republicans See Gains in Brooklyn

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New York state Republicans, along with those in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Rhode Island, came out to vote in the presidential primaries April 24.

With Rick Santorum suspending his campaign on April 10, it’s a sure bet that the Republican candidate will be Mitt Romney. Santorum’s name, however, was still on the ballot, along with Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich, who still have active campaigns. As expected, though, Romney won by a considerable margin in New York, with 56.4 percent, and swept the other states.

With 95 percent of precincts reporting, in New York state, 162,990, out of the about 2.9 million registered Republicans, voted—significantly less than those that have voted in past primaries. In the 2008 primary 670,078 Republicans voted out of around 3 million registered Republicans.

The Republican primary’s importance seemed even less significant in a Democratic town like New York City. Republicans are also a minority in Brooklyn. In the 2010 Presidential election, 581,159 voted for Obama and 138,930 voted for McCain in Brooklyn.

But there are red areas in the borough, particularly in Southern Brooklyn, where Republicans represent neighborhoods, such as Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Gravesend. And Republican leaders in the community are optimistic about the ground they’ve gained in the borough. Although Democrats outnumber them, they feel that they provide a strong oppositional voice to the other party.

“We might be in the minority, but we’re sure on the winning side these days,” Craig Eaton, chair of the Brooklyn’s Republican Party said. “My guess is that in 2012 we’re going to take back even more seats in the senate and assembly.”

In the past few years, Republicans have won seats over Democrats in Southern Brooklyn, including some incumbents. These elections show that the party is gaining more visibility and presence in that area of the borough. Though most of Brooklyn and the city are still blue.

“Being a Republican in New York is certainly difficult,” says Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, who represents District 60, covering parts of Staten Island and Bay Ridge. Malliotakis is currently the only Republican woman elected to any office in New York City.

At one voting location in Malliotakis’ district, Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on the corner of 4th Avenue and 80th Street in Bay Ridge, 39 people had voted by late afternoon. John Pawson, the coordinator for this location, said the turnout was low, but did expect more people to come after work (polls closed at 9 p.m.).

The candidates, he said, were still trying to win voters in the state right before the primaries, and on Monday, he received two robocalls asking him to vote for Romney.

One person that did come to vote, Zach N., 31, who did not feel comfortable giving his full name, recognized that Romney is going to be the Republican nominee, but felt it was still important to cast his ballot. “I still want to show numbers,” he said.

Before the primary, Malliotakis hoped voters would come out and vote for the same reason. “These people are very opposed to the policies put forth by President Obama. And this primary having a large turnout in support of a Republican candidate would be a referendum on the president,” she said.

Zach N. admitted that it was difficult to be a Republican, especially a young one, in New York City, and often said he has to keep quiet when he hears someone criticizing a member of the party or its policies. Though he admitted in Bay Ridge, it’s a little easier to be a Republican.

Voting booths in Bay Ridge for the April 24 Republican Primaries. (Cristabelle Tumola / The Brooklyn Ink)

According to poll worker Pawson, this voting location in Bay Ridge is in a “swing” area of Brooklyn because the vote can go either way.

Malliotakis, who represents this area of Bay Ridge, is one of two Hispanic Republicans (she is half Cuban and half Greek) in the New York state legislature, and one of four Republicans from New York City in the legislature, along with State Sen. Marty Golden from Brooklyn.

Malliotakis said that though Republican state representatives are few in number, they add important components to the political discussion, and do a good job of holding the opposite party accountable.

In 2010, two Republicans, Malliotakis and U.S. Congressman Michael Grimm, beat Democratic incumbents representing Brooklyn, and Marty Golden was reelected. In a September 2011 special election, Republican Bob Turner won the U.S. Congressional seat vacated when Anthony Weiner, who represented parts of Queens and Brooklyn, resigned.

After a special election last month, there is still no clear winner between Democrat and city council member Lew Fidler and Republican David Storobin for the New York state Senate seat in District 27 (southeast Brooklyn). The vote was extremely close, and has ended up in the courts, in a battle reminiscent of the 2000 presidential election.

The state Senate adjourns in June. If a winner isn’t declared before that time, the newly elected state senator will not be able to vote in Albany because the seat will be eliminated through redistricting.

Weiner’s former seat will also be eliminated, but Brooklyn Republicans are optimistic because of the ground they have gained in the borough. There is also the possibility that a Republican can win a newly created heavily Orthodox Jewish state senate district that includes Flatbush and Borough Park. Storobin has stated that he wants to run for that seat.

“We see ourselves branching out into other areas of Brooklyn, as the people are getting sick and tired of the policies of the Democrats and really want a choice,” said Malliotakis.

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