ACROSS THE WATER

New York City’s island of forgotten Republicans has finally found its voice

Obsession
2016
Obsession
2016

Staten Island, New York

The New York City borough of Staten Island is culturally and geographically distinct from the rest of New York City. Its 58 square miles, accessible only by boat or bridge, account for 20% of the city’s land area but hold just 5% of its population. It’s a suburban bedroom community of blue-collar and middle-class workers—mostly police officers, firefighters, teachers, and small business owners—who commute to Manhattan and New Jersey, but rest and raise their families on the island.

Voters here skew more conservative than in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, or Queens—the 51 members of the New York City council include just three Republicans, two of whom represent Staten Island—but socially, the borough is more moderate than the national GOP.

This year, however, there’s finally a presidential candidate who aligns with the borough’s Republican base: Donald Trump. And his active courting of voters here has put New York City’s “forgotten borough” back on the political map.

Trump is projected to take 50% of the vote in New York City in the primaries on April 19. According to the New York Times’ The Upshot blog, his strongest showing is expected to come from New York’s 11th district, which includes Staten Island. He’s expected to clear 58% of the vote here.

Trump’s supporters on Staten Island back him for many of the same reasons people around the nation do. They’re frustrated with US president Barack Obama’s leadership and with the Republican establishment. They see Trump as both an outsider who can stir things up and a master negotiator who can get things done. And they reject the notion that a Trump candidacy will drive diverse Republicans away, because they see much evidence to the contrary.

Local Republican Leticia Remauro, former chair of the Staten Island Republican party and leader of the Women’s Republican Club of Richmond County (Staten Island’s county), says more young people are registering for the party, along with middle-aged and blue-collar workers who never voted before.

“The national party claims they’re worried that Trump will scare all these people away from the party, but the fact is, he’s bringing people in,” says Remauro, who has helped recruit women and people from diverse ethnic backgrounds to the GOP. “He hits on people’s anger and it translates into people deciding to register and participate.”

If she has concerns about Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric regarding women and immigrants, they’re outweighed by her interest in seeing Trump bring his business background to the White House. Not having a president that understands finances “scares me more than what Donald Trump said about women or anything else,” she says.

Should Trump snag the Republican nomination, there’s no guarantee he’ll take Staten Island in the general election. The borough usually votes Republican, but there have been recent exceptions—the island backed Democrat Al Gore in 2000 and Obama in 2012—and there are still more registered Democrats than Republicans in Richmond County.

Either way, Staten Island Republicans seem to have found their voice—no small feat in a state that has picked a Democrat in every presidential election since 1988.

“It’s exciting to be a New Yorker, and it’s especially exciting to be a Staten Islander,” says Nick Iacono, head of political activities for the Richmond County Young Republicans. “We’re finally getting courted by presidential candidates for the first time in a long time.”

Feature image by Robbie Shade via Flicker, CC Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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