Interview With Republican Mayoral Candidate Nicole Malliotakis

City Hall, Malliotakis

The person running to be New York City’s first female mayor is the quintessential New Yorker. As Nicole Malliotakis said in an interview at Hamodia’s Brooklyn office, “only in New York, I think, can you have a combination like mine.” And she wants her fellow citizens to return the city to Republican control the way it was before the de Blasio era.

The daughter of a Greek father and a Cuban mother, the assemblywoman from Staten Island conveys the same strong personality harkening back to her days as class president when her yearbook quote was “Be bold.”

Malliotakis, 36, would be one of the city’s youngest mayors, as well as its first Hispanic- or Greek-American mayor. She is known as a policy wonk, which became evident almost as soon as she launched into her opening remarks.

“What makes New York so special,” she said, “is that you have people from all over the world who come here to the American Dream. New York City has always been a beacon of hope and opportunity. It seems it’s become increasingly difficult to make it in New York City.”

How so?

Property tax levy has increased 28 percent over the last three and a half years under Bill de Blasio, and it’s becoming more difficult to purchase a home; even to rent an apartment, with those costs being passed on to renters. Then, of course, you have the small businesses that struggle.

I’m running for mayor because there’s a clear deterioration of the quality of life in our city, and we’re spending, under this mayor, $15 billion more in tax dollars but we’re not $15 billion better off. In fact, everything is deteriorating. Whether it be the transit crisis, in which we have a mayor who refuses to work with the governor; the homeless crisis — the numbers are skyrocketing, a 39-percent increase in street homelessness despite spending more money than ever on homeless services. Whether it be the mentally ill who are on the street who are a threat to themselves and others. Our police officer assassinated by someone who was schizophrenic or mentally ill also. An FDNY EMT run over and killed in the Bronx.

Crimes against women have increased 25 percent over the last three-and-a-half years alone. So, these are all incidents that our mayor is turning a blind eye to, and despite spending more money than ever — $15 billion more than Bloomberg’s last year — we’re getting less in terms of results.

More locally, the public school system, the private schools, and yeshivos in particular, I think, have not fared well under Mayor de Blasio. He is not sensitive to the needs of the yeshivos or parochial schools, and it almost seems as if he is pitting public schools against private schools instead of making sure that all children — all families that are paying taxes, that their children are getting an equal treatment.

I know with charter schools there was a battle with the mayor trying to stop their growth. But with private schools, can you give me an example of how the mayor pits public against private?

For example, just not supporting the education tax credit, which would be a benefit to so many families. On some things like that, that would help our religious schools, he’s not taking a position, and what he’s doing is hurting children. He has agreed, kicking and screaming, to do something about security in the [nonpublic] schools. But yet, if you talk to the companies that are providing the security, or the schools themselves, they’ll tell you they’re finding it increasingly difficult to get reimbursement from the city. So, you give with the one hand, and then with the other hand, you’re making it so difficult.

If you don’t mind me being a little blunt, on a host of issues that you spoke about now, the mayor could come out with numbers and statistics saying overall crime is down, the economy is up, jobless figures are down. Usually voters vote out an incumbent when they want change. What change do you offer?

Well, first of all, he points to statistics he wants to point to. So, yes, you could say the major felony crimes, that index may be low. However, when you look at the numbers, you see that, for example, crimes against women had a 25 percent increase. Assault has increased. There are other examples.

I think the latest numbers of a couple months ago had it that out of the top six or seven crime categories, they were down in five of them and up in two — crimes against women and grand larcenies.

The issue is that people don’t feel safe. Of course, when you reduce the number of crimes that you’re prosecuting, the numbers go down. That’s the number one thing. But what we find is that the reason people don’t feel safe is because they see what’s happening within the court systems.

For example, the individual who ran over and killed the FDNY EMT, this is a guy who had 31 prior arrests. He had six psychiatric visits on his record. And he came in for robbery, and the judge just allowed him to walk back onto the street, and that enabled him to commit this horrible crime and kill this woman.

Here in Brooklyn, you had an individual who walked into a church and threatened to kill a nun. That individual was arrested, and the judge just allowed him to walk back onto the street.

There was a guy here in Brooklyn as well who walked into a precinct, threatened to take the officer’s gun, wanted to kill himself, threatened the officers’ lives. He was arrested. The judge let him walk back onto the street. We’re allowing a lot of these crimes to happen without any type of punishment.

Where does the blame lie? Obviously, talking from the perspective of City Hall. How does the mayor get into this?

Well, there’s two things. One, the mayor appoints judges, so the mayor appointed that judge who allowed that guy in the Bronx to walk, despite having 31 prior arrests and six psychiatric visits. He had not complied with other… he didn’t show up to court on a number of occasions for previous arrests, and the judge let him walk. That was a judge appointed by Bill de Blasio, so you keep appointing bad judges, and this is what happens. So, that’s number one.

If you don’t mind me interrupting, what type of judges would you appoint?

I would appoint judges that take crime seriously. If somebody has 31 prior arrests and … had six psychiatric visits, you would think that they would send them to a 72-hour evaluation. Maybe we need to use Kendra’s Law to utilize outpatient treatment for people who are severely mentally ill. We don’t put them back on the street so they hurt other people.

I think the other issue you have is because they keep putting them back on the street, they’re revolving through the criminal justice system over and over again, coming in and out of Rikers Island, as opposed to getting them help for their underlying issue.

A woman was slashed on the subway over the summer by a homeless woman who had 60 prior arrests. Sixty. This is somebody who is mentally ill as well. This is somebody who’s going in and out of the justice system over and over again. Everybody’s putting her back on the street — committing more crime because they don’t know what they’re doing because they’re hurting themselves and other people because they’re mentally unstable — instead of sending them for outpatient treatment, ensuring that they’re getting some type of assistance to address it. It’s the humane thing to do for not only the person but for public safety, and you improve this person’s quality of life, not just have them go in and out of jail.

I want to talk about affordable housing. The mayor has promised to create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing. But these numbers have bypassed the Orthodox community. There hasn’t been a significant housing project in our community in decades, probably. Do you have any ideas for that, anything to allow people who want to live where their parents live to stay in that community?

Yeah, I know there are some issues also that the community had with the buildings department when they’ve tried to build, expand their properties, and they’ve had some difficulty in doing that. Is that correct? That’s what I’ve been hearing from the community.

What do you mean by expanding? Adding another floor?

Yeah, sometimes they want to expand. As their family grows, they may want to expand their properties. I think that [there are] ways we can work together. One of the issues that I feel, from what I learned from individuals I was speaking to, is that — and this is not just unique to the Jewish community, other communities feel the same — in that the mayor does not engage them. And I think that’s wrong. We can’t have a cookie-cutter approach to governing, and what works in one community may not work in another community. Even by borough. What works in Manhattan may not work in Staten Island. What works in Brooklyn may not work in the Bronx.

So, if you want to see more affordable housing here in Boro Park, that’s something that we should be working together to try to achieve. And I’m sure there’s various organizations, non-profit organizations, that would be willing to partner with the city to achieve that.

I also feel that when the mayor talks about affordable housing, a lot of it is preserved units. It’s not added units. And he has a plan to build 90 homeless shelters throughout the city of New York, and that could be in any community. We’ll spend a billion dollars over the next five years to house people in hotel rooms and another $300 million to build shelters — that’s a low estimate that he gave — $300 million to build 90 shelters across the city.

Will you run a City Hall that’ll be open to every community?

Yes.

How will you do that?

By just engaging.

The mayor has been engaging with the community.

OK, and you still don’t have the things you need, though. You’re telling me that the schools can’t be built, affordable housing’s not happening, the children in the schools aren’t getting fair treatment. So, he could have a liaison, but they’re not being effective. I believe each community — each community — needs to have a seat at the table. And that means we’re not jamming things down people’s throats, but instead, listening to the wishes of the communities and the needs of the community. And there’s a cookie-cutter approach to governing right now at City Hall, where they’re not taking into account the needs of not only the Jewish community here, let’s say, for example, but the African-American community in Brownsville is just as upset because they’re not addressing their issues. Gang violence, for example. Or charter schools.

So, I think there’s just a disconnect because there’s no personal engagement. Also I believe my administration’s going to be reflective of the city. I want to make sure I have an Orthodox Jew in the top ranks of my administration. Not just a liaison at the low level but somebody higher up in the administration. Every mayor has had that, except for this mayor.

I will have — and make sure you get this in the story — I will have my town halls at the beginning of my administration, not the end of the term. At the beginning of the term, so I’m going in and learning immediately what the community wants. It needs to be done community by community, based on what the needs are, what the wants are. And that’s the difference between de Blasio and me.

A mayor, apart from running the city, also runs a bureaucracy, the bureaucracy of City Hall, with effective oversight of the city’s finances. Over here in Boro Park, we have a bathroom in a park that cost $2 million. I’ve actually taken my kids there, and it’s just a simple two stalls, a sink, and it was flooded.

There’s two of these $2-million bathrooms, though. There’s also one in Prospect. I was going to do a press conference at the one in Prospect Park. But we should take a picture of this.

How would you be an effective overseer?

I did a whole press conference on this issue, actually. Not in regard to the bathroom but in regard to other capital projects throughout the city. It is really astounding how money is being wasted. This mayor is not fixing the problems. Instead, he’s taxing people more, and throwing more money at problems, which is why we’re spending $15 billion more and we’re getting not much in terms of results.

I put out a whole plan on how to fix the issue. First of all, I think there needs to be a complete audit of contracts with vendors and consultants. It is a big issue. The comptroller has come out with a report saying that money’s unaccounted for. They were putting WiFi in all the schools. It cost a billion dollars. They don’t even know whether it was really upgraded to what it should have been. There’s no paper trail. Laptops, iPads, thousands of them are missing. We’re missing contracts with Apple and Lenovo.

The second thing is in terms of Department of Design and Construction, we need to streamline the process because what’s happened was they have various steps in this process, and they’re not all talking to each other at the beginning. And that’s what’s creating this big mess. So, for example, they have pre-approved architects that they work with to design a project. They come up with a cost estimate, and then they go through a bidding process, and the process comes — the contractor has another cost estimate. Then when they look at the project that the architect did and they say, “Well, wait a minute, this material’s a lot more if you’re going to be using that,” and there’s all this discrepancy.

Then you’re going through the various agencies. You’ve got to go through the Fire Department. You’ve got to go through the Transportation Department. You’ve got to go through the Department of City Planning. You have to go through all these various agencies. I think we can streamline it by ensuring that the contractors and the architects work together at the very beginning so they can agree. They have the expertise of both to ensure that they’re coming up with proper numbers and figures.

Because what’s happening is they start a project with X amount of money, and then when the contractor comes in and says, “No, this material’s costing this much. You put too low of an estimate,” then they have to stop the project and wait until there’s more money allocated to make up the difference. And it stalls everything.

So, on top of it, the taxpayer’s paying new debt on that project that sort of started and has been stalled, and that’s why you see some of these projects — there’s an animal shelter on Staten Island or a Little League field, or there were instances in Queens, a library. You can point to so many different examples of how the project ends up being double, sometimes triple, the original cost and is delayed five to 10 years.

How much do you consider an appropriate cost for a bathroom?

I can’t tell you exactly. It would cost less, that’s for sure.

The problem is the mayor has added 30,000 people to the payrolls. Thirty thousand people that he’s added to city government, increasing bureaucracy because only 3,600 of them are uniformed workers. The rest is a lot of added bureaucracy. And so, he’s made the problem worse by adding so many people. I mean, yes, we need people, but not 30,000 people in three years.

Would you keep those jobs?

We’re not going to fire them, but — look, when [Mayor] Rudy Giuliani came in, he offered incentives for some of the older workers to retire, and then he didn’t necessarily rehire people. It was as needed. [Mayor de Blasio] is adding jobs just to give jobs to his friends, to people that he wants to bring in politically. That’s not the right thing to be doing, right? You add jobs as needed and where it’s needed.

And so, I think that’s the approach that I would be taking, which is a commonsense approach to things. If he just allowed the people in 2015 to retire and not replace them for one year, the 8,500 people, he would have enough money to do the whole emergency plan on the subway system right now without even having to go 50/50 with the governor.

It’s a matter of priorities and how you’re spending money.

Do you have a good relationship with Governor Cuomo?

I do have a decent relationship with the governor. I have a better relationship I think than the mayor does with the governor. What I will say is, the governor and I have had our differences. That’s for sure, especially when it comes to tolls and fares and some of the ways he uses economic development money. But we put our differences aside and work together when we need to.

And the governor, I think, is realistic. He’s a better manager than the mayor is. The mayor seems to always want to be fighting this ideological war, and things don’t get done. He’s just neglecting his job as mayor. He’s off fighting a national ideological war. He’s in Germany, protesting our country when we have the train derailments. We had the numbers that week coming out showing a 39-percent increase in street homelessness. This is all the same week. And a police officer was assassinated.

So, instead of being here in the city doing his job, he’s out in Germany trying to protest our nation. The governor, when things have to get done, the governor does it. He makes sure that at least when something truly needs to happen, it happens. And that’s why I have a lot more respect for the governor than I do the mayor. The mayor has shown that not only does he not get along with the Republicans in Washington, but he doesn’t get along with the governor of his own party. And it’s the people of New York City that suffer as a result.

Let’s talk about the transit system. Will you try to get mayoral control of the subway system?

No, I think what we need is to make sure that we have more control over how the capital money for the city system is spent. We cannot fund the system on our own. If we have local control it’s going to be very difficult to really maintain the responsibility. We need the help from the state. And we need help from the federal government, too, which is why the relationships are so important.

But what I do think is that New York City should have more control over the capital improvements that are made in the subway system.

What are your feelings about when religious practice comes into conflict with the Board of Health or Education?

Family values, religion, culture, traditional beliefs — they need to be respected. You can’t force policies on individuals if it may be against their religion. America is a place where your religion is supposed to be respected and where you’re allowed to demonstrate without any type of repercussions.

A couple of months ago, the mayor said that New Yorkers have a “socialistic impulse” and want the government to tell them where to live or how much they can charge for items. Do we have a socialistic impulse?

I don’t think so. Look, there’s no doubt that we’re a liberal town, but I think New Yorkers are more centrist than this mayor is claiming.

What he is saying is the government should have more control over private property — who owns it and how it’s being used. That’s an outstanding claim to be making, and I don’t believe that most New Yorkers agree with that, and I would hope not, especially as the daughter of a Cuban refugee where my family had their property seized by the government. Both their home and their gas station that my grandfather owned were taken by the government because of a philosophy similar to that.

That’s the thing with the mayor. The mayor is too far left. We have to represent all New Yorkers, which means you have to govern from the middle, not from the left. Not all the way from the ultra right, either. From the middle. We have to govern from the middle, so that’s how you include everyone.

Would you preserve universal pre-K if elected? Would you expand it to 3-K for 3-year-olds?

Yes, I actually voted for pre-K. Now, my issue with the 3-K right now is that there aren’t seats for the four-year-olds in their neighborhoods. And so, how do we expand this now to three-year-olds without ensuring that the four-year-olds have a seat? I think there are some things that need to be hashed out first. That’s my opinion.

What sort of relationship will you have with the press?

I’ve been very open with answering questions and giving my opinion when asked about various topics. The mayor has a tendency to ignore the media and not feel accountable to the public, and I think that’s wrong. n