NEW YORK — Rep. Max Rose conceded Thursday to Republican challenger Nicole Malliotakis in the race for Staten Island’s congressional seat, making her the lone Republican in the city’s delegation.
Malliotakis, a state Assemblywoman, declared victory on election night after taking a significant lead in in-person votes, but Rose held off on conceding as he waited for absentee votes to be counted. But with the absentee count underway, the freshman Democrat said he realized there was no way he could win and had called Malliotakis to offer his concession.
"As we continue to count every ballot and are on track to dramatically narrow the gap by tens of thousands of votes to a 4-5 percent margin, it is now clear that we will fall short of 50.1 percent, I have called to congratulate Congresswoman-elect Malliotakis on her win and concede the race," he said in a statement. "I promise every resident of the 11th Congressional district that we will ensure a smooth transition."
The race has been a bitter battle for the city’s most conservative borough between Rose, a U.S. Army combat veteran who won the seat by defeating a Republican incumbent two years ago, and Malliotakis, who has served in the Assembly for a decade and made a failed run for mayor.
"I want to thank everyone who made this hard-fought victory a reality," Malliotakis said in a statement. "I also want all constituents of the 11th Congressional District to know that I will continue my fight for safe streets, to rein in taxes, rebuild our economy and to preserve the American Dream against the crawl of socialism for future generations."
The district includes all of Staten Island and a chunk of southern Brooklyn — and it voted for President Donald Trump by a ten point margin in 2016, the only district in New York City to back him. (Trump is expected to have similar numbers there fro 2020 when the ballots are finally counted.)
The seat has swung back and forth between Democratic and Republican control repeatedly. Rose, running as a moderate, defeated Republican Rep. Dan Donovan in 2018 as Democrats took control of the House, and immediately became a target for the GOP.
Mayor Bill de Blasio played a starring role in the race — with both candidates competing to see who can denounce the Democratic mayor more fervently in a district where he is deeply unpopular.
“Bill de Blasio is the worst mayor in the history of New York City. That’s the whole ad,” Rose says in one campaign ad that went viral.
That didn’t stop Malliotakis, who lost to de Blasio by a nearly 40-point margin in the 2017 mayor’s race but won Staten Island, from attempting to tie her opponent to the mayor. She claimed that de Blasio endorsed Rose, which he did not, though he has said he supports Democrats in general.
“It’s a referendum on Bill de Blasio and the ‘Defund the Police’ movement in many ways,” Malliotakis told POLITICO. “What’s on the ballot, I think, is ‘law and order’ versus anarchy.”
Negative ads levying personal attacks against both candidates flooded the air waves in the run-up to the election, rated by the Cook Political Report as one of the closest House races in the country.
Outside groups poured millions into the race on both sides, but the Democrats have the spending advantage — with Rose and his backers airing nearly $11 million worth of ads, compared to $4.5 million for the GOP, POLITICO reported in October.
A Rose ad labeled Malliotakis a “first-class fraud,” saying, “It’s everything you hate about politics, all in one person.”
Malliotakis, who was endorsed by police unions, has repeatedly gone after Rose for attending a Black Lives Matter protest on Staten Island. The march was peaceful, Rose notes, and he says he opposes defunding the police. In his election night remarks, he gave a passionate defense of his decision to march.
"Representing this district has been the honor of my life," he said Thursday. "No matter the challenges we face, I will be on the front lines with you fighting to make this city and country a better, safer and more united place."
Trump gave Malliotakis his “Complete & Total Endorsement!” earlier this year, but the Staten Island pol has not always been a reliable Trump supporter. While running for mayor, she said she wished she had written in Sen. Marco Rubio instead of voting for Trump in 2016. Since then, she has embraced the president.
Rose has also tread carefully when it comes to Trump. He initially opposed impeaching Trump, but backed the impeachment inquiry as revelations mounted about Trump’s conversation with the president of Ukraine, and ultimately voted to impeach the president.
The race had been a dead heat: Malliotakis led Rose 48 percent to 46 percent among likely voters, according to a NBC 4 New York / Marist Poll, well within the poll’s margin of error. But Rose was favored 47 percent to 46 percent among all registered voters.
Rose’s future has been a matter of some speculation among the city’s political class, with rumors swirling he may make a run for mayor, though he’s denied he plans to do so. Malliotakis will now be the lone Republican in the city’s congressional delegation, which outside of Staten Island has been drawn even further to the left.
As they cast their votes last Tuesday, backers of both candidates said they were put off by the barrage of negative ads. "I’m looking forward to tomorrow so I never have to see a Max Rose or Nicole Malliotakis ad ever again,” said Bobby Levy, 20.
Joe Anuta contributed to this report.
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