When Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, 40—one of the unprecedentedly large number of GOP women to enter Congress this year—was a child, she suffered from shyness.
A number of suggestions were made: Her pediatrician said Nicole could overcome her reticence by joining sports teams while others suggested theater.
But Nicole’s politically aware and Cuban born mother, Vera Malliotakis, decided to go a different route. “I put her in politics,” Vera told the New York Times. “I picked it because I wanted her to talk to people.”
Nicole signed on as a young volunteer to the successful congressional campaign of Vito J. Fossella, a Republican who would serve six terms representing New York’s 13th congressional district. “She stuffed envelopes, talked to people on the phone, handed out palm cards,” Vera Malliotakis added.
Rep. Malliotakis was one of the first public figures to demand that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s handling of the nursing home crisis be investigated.
It appears that Nicole’s mother was right: We can say without doubt that Rep. Nicole Malliotakis has overcome her childhood shyness, and that she channeled her earned skills into a very successful run in politics.
Malliotakis was elected to the New York Assembly in 2010 and in November last year, she defeated Democratic, first-term incumbent Max Rose to represent New York’s 11th Congressional District in Congress. NY-11 is the only New York City district that former President Trump carried in 2016. It includes Staten Island, Malliotakis’ home, and Southern Brooklyn.
“I ran against Max Rose because he wasn’t representing our community’s values,” says Malliotakis. “He voted to support impeachment, but he was also siding with Ilhan Omar and he refused to denounce things that Alexandria Ocasio Cortez had said. He just was not representing our community. He was voting in lockstep with Nancy Pelosi, and so, I ran against him, and that’s that. So, here I am.”
She revels in the Staten Island values and atmosphere. “Living in Staten Island is very different from living in Manhattan,” she says. “You have space, you have property. We have good schools and parks. So, it has much more of a suburban feel, even though it’s a part of the city. It attracts a lot of young families. So, I would say our district is working class, middle class. A lot of civil service workers, teachers, firefighters, police officers live here and it is a patriotic community. You drive around Staten Island, you’ll see many homes with flags. You’ll see many blocks lined with flags, as is the Brooklyn part of my district. I also represent a part of Bensonhurst, Bath Beach and Gravesend. Very conservative, very patriotic, support for the police, support for the military.
She revels in the Staten Island values and atmosphere.
“We want law and order, public safety, and I think most of this community, including me, believes that the government needs to get back to the basics of doing what they’re actually supposed to be doing, which means keeping us safe, which means supporting our police. It means border security. It means supporting counterterrorism initiatives. We want a community and a government that provides an environment for job creation, for innovation and support. We want an environment that helps small businesses rather than abusing them, like we see so often coming from people like Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo.”
The future Congresswoman made a run for mayor against Bill de Blasio in 2017. She garnered only 28 percent compared to de Blasio’s 66 percent of the votes. However, she raised issues and showed strength in Staten Island, where the percentages were almost reversed. “I never run for the easy seat,” she says. “I was never handed anything. I always ran against people whom I felt weren’t doing a good job in representing our community. So, I ran against Janele Hyer-Spencer in 2010, who was a two-term Democrat. I defeated her, so I was in the Assembly for 10 years. But in 2017, I ran for mayor against Bill de Blasio. I was unsuccessful citywide, but I won a large majority in this congressional district, about 67% of the vote.”
During the mayoral campaign, the New York Times blew a secret about Malliotakis wide open. The headline was “She’s a Republican Who Loves Cher.” Yes, gentle reader, I am afraid it is true. She doesn’t bother to deny it. “Oh. Yeah,’ she says warmly. “I’ve been a Cher fan for a long time. And I try to overlook things—she drives me mad, her Twitter feed drives me crazy. So, I don’t read it anymore. But I just love her music. I think she’s really talented. She’s somebody who has an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Grammy. Very talented. I like just her talent and entertainment. And I try to overlook the politics. With social media It’s become a lot harder, but yeah, I love her.
“Well, one more funny thing about the Cher thing. I would compare it to the unconditional love you’d have for a crazy relative at Thanksgiving, you know?” At least, she can compartmentalize Cher!
Malliotakis was one of the first public figures to demand that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s handling of the nursing home crisis be investigated. She made the call on May 8, before the full extent of the nursing home statistics had been revealed. She also says that, if teachers won’t go back to work, the money allocated for that purpose should be refunded to the government.
Malliotakis’ ideals and spunk are the products of her childhood as the daughter of immigrant parents—Vera, as noted, came from Cuba, fleeing Castro in 1959, and George Malliotakis, born in Greece, came to the U.S. in the 1960s. A mutual friend made the introductions. “They met in Manhattan originally,” says Nicole. “They were both in this country alone. My grandmother and my aunt went to Florida and my mother stayed in New York. It was the quintessential love story, in the sense that, you know, two people from different parts of the world could meet in what is the most diverse city in the world. They were here without friends, not knowing the language. And they met in New York through a mutual friend.”
She once told a reporter, “My dad comes from the birthplace of democracy. My mom came from a place where democracy was crushed.” Vera grew up in Oriente in Santiago de Cuba, near where Fidel and Raul Castro were born. Vera and the Castros crossed paths a number of times. Vera and her mother and sister left Cuba shortly after Fidel Castro came to power. Nicole’s grandfather stayed behind to protect the family business, a string of gas stations, but to no avail. The Castro regime confiscated his business. “So, it’s a very sad story and it’s an example of how communism destroys lives and families, and how people suffer as a result,” says Nicole. Vera instilled in her daughter a love of freedom and an understanding of the inevitable results of socialism built on personal experience.
Malliotakis once told a reporter, “My dad comes from the birthplace of democracy. My mom came from a place where democracy was crushed.”
George worked as a waiter in New York City, including as head-waiter at Chateau Madrid in Manhattan, a famous night club frequented by people like Frank Sinatra and Desi Arnaz. George and Vera also ran an import business, specializing decorative objects from Italy. By 1982, when Nicole was two, they moved to Staten Island and put down their American roots. “The thing I would say I inherited most from him was his work ethic,” says Nicole. “My father was always a very hard worker. He always had multiple jobs. I truly admire my Dad, who always encouraged me to work hard, to always try my best, and to always be happy in the work that I’m doing and do it to the fullest extent possible.”
Rep. Malliotakis grew up attending the Greek Orthodox church and public schools in Staten Island. After her mother “put her in politics” during the Fossella campaign, Nicole was inspired to run for senior class president of New Dorp High School. She won. She went on to earn a B.A., in communications, from Seton Hall University, a private Catholic school in South Orange, N.J. She completed courses necessary for her degree in three years, while working at a Gap store. She landed a job in the community affairs office of Gov. George E. Pataki, and, after Pataki left office, in the public relations office of Con Edison. She took night classes at Wagner College on Staten Island, earning an MBA.
Malliotakis began to feel that she could make a difference in Albany. “I ran for the Assembly,” she explains, “simply because I was not happy with the representation that we had. Tolls had gone up. Taxes had gone up, and yet my bus service was cut, and I felt we weren’t getting what we should be getting as a community.” She defeated a popular incumbent by 10 points, becoming one of two Republicans serving in Albany at that time, and Brooklyn’s only Republican in the Assembly.
She developed a habit of giving her reasons when her votes went against those of the majority. “When she votes ‘No’ on bills, she gets up and defends her votes on the floor,” a Democratic colleague told the New York Times. “I’d say that only a handful of the Republican conference members speak out, and she makes a point of getting up and voicing her opinion.” She advocated education reform, improving the business climate by reducing regulation, and restoring transit service to her district. Following Hurricane Sandy, which struck her district in 2012, Malliotakis worked hard to secure funds to repair the devastation. She is also a passionate crusader for laws to prevent cruelty to animals (perhaps because of her devotion to her chihuahua, Peanuts).
“I never run for the easy seat,” she says. “I was never handed anything.”
Malliotakis hopes to bring the values she learned from her parents to Capitol Hill. “Unfortunately, many Americans who were born here and who never experienced what socialism is like in other countries,” she says, “may flirt with socialism or communism, not understanding why millions of immigrants fled their homeland to escape it. What I suggest is people like AOC is actually to talk to immigrants, talk to the people who have come here, whether it is from the Soviet Union, or Cuba, or Venezuela, or Nicaragua, or China, or Korea. And learn why they’ve come to this country. They’ve come to this country for freedom, for opportunity, for a better life to raise a family, to earn a living, to achieve the American dream. That is why I’m here, to work with my colleagues to preserve all those things.”
She is set to play a visible role in Congress. Minority Whip Steve Scalise tapped her to be an Assistant Whip. (Whips count and mobilize votes.) “I’m very excited to welcome Nicole to the Whip Team,”Scalise said.”Nicole is a dedicated public servant who has a long history of getting legislation passed and red tape repealed. She also has years of experience pushing back against the radical left and will be a key player in resisting Nancy Pelosi’s far-left agenda. I look forward to working together with her to get our economy back on track.”
She laughingly says that she likes speaking so much now that most people are amazed to find out about her former shyness. “People don’t believe that now,” she says, “but I was not somebody who liked to speak publicly. And now, I suppose some people want to say ‘you shut up’.”
Well, we certainly won’t say that.
Hers is a voice we will be delighted to hear speaking for working women and men in the halls of Congress.