Published: Thursday, February 24, 2011
Paula Katinas, Bay Ridge Eagle
Nicole Malliotakis grew up the daughter of immigrants who had a deep love for American values.
Her father George is Greek. Her mother Veralia was born in Cuba and fled with her mother when Castro rose to power. Malliotakis, Bay Ridge’s new assemblywoman, said her remarkable parents are an inspiration to her.
Malliotakis, a Republican-Conservative, grew up loving politics and it’s no wonder.
On one side of her family is a heritage that stretches back to the cradle of democracy. On the other side is a deep love of democracy forged by having to flee a dictator.
“My father came here with $50 in his pocket that he had borrowed from a friend,” Malliotakis said. “He didn’t know anyone and he didn’t speak the langauge. He worked at all sorts of jobs.”
George Malliotakis was 25 years old when he arrived in the U.S.
“My mother was even younger when she came here. She fled the Castro regime when she was 16 years old,” the assemblywoman said.
Malliotakis said she’s proud to be the daughter of immigrants. At her swearing-in ceremony, she joked that she’s “the first Greco-Cuban legislator in New York.”
Her parents came to New York in search of the American dream. Through their hard work, they opened a small business in Brooklyn importing gift items from Italy. They recently retired.
Her parents’ dedication and their entrepreneurial spirit instilled in her a sense of ambition that propelled her into public service, Malliotakis said.
“They really believed that America was the land of opportunity,” she said.
Her parents worked hard to make a good life for her, she said.
Their hard work paid off. Malliotakis is the first member of her family to graduate from college. She earned her B.A. from Seton Hall University and has a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Wagner College.
Born and raised on Staten Island, Malliotakis is a product of the borough’s public schools. She attended P.S. 53, Intermediate School 24 and New Dorp High School.
She now represents the area of Staten Island where she grew up. The 60th Assembly District, which she represents, includes neighborhoods on Staten Island, as well as the western end of Bay Ridge.
While both of her parents talked to her about politics, she was particularly influenced by her mother, she said.
“My mother was always very conservative in her politics. Having escaped from a dictatorship, she believed very strongly in capitalism and less government. She really instilled those values in me,” Malliotakis said. When Malliotakis was 15, she accompanied her mother to the local Republican club, where the teen got her feet wet in politics by stuffing envelopes and working phone banks for such elected officials as Rudy Giuliani, Vito Fossella and John Fusco. It was her first taste of politics and she liked it. “I became an intern for the deputy borough president, Jim Molinaro,” Malliotakis said.
Malliotakis and her mother made a trip to Cuba in 2009 after President Obama had relaxed the visa restrictions. It was an eye-opening experience, she said.
“I met my cousins for the first time. But it was horrendous to see how people live in Cuba. Their salaries are so low, my cousin has to save for five months to buy a pair of sneakers. They asked us to bring them down shampoo, razor blades, and other every day things because they’re too expensive to buy,”’ she said. “It really gives you an appreciation for the country we live in. I have always been patriotic and have always loved my country, but traveling to a place like Cuba, where people have no freedom, makes you appreciate it more,’ Malliotakis said.
Her childhood and her experiences as the daughter of small business owners formed a lot of her politics, she said.Malliotakis considers herself an advocate for small businesses. In Albany, she fights to lower taxes and to help create an environment where businesses can grow and prosper, she said. It’s the mom and pop stores and small businesses that provide the majority of jobs in this country, she said.
Malliotakis, 30, won election to the 60th Assembly District in November, in her first time running for public office. But the freshman lawmaker has actually been working in public service for many years.
Malliotakis was a top aide to George Pataki when he was the governor and represented him at community meetings. She had previously worked as a community liaison for Staten Island State Sen. John Marchi. Prior to running for the assembly seat, Malliotakis was a public affairs manager for Con Edison, working to improve relations between the utility company and Brooklyn residents. She also worked on environmental policy.
Last year, when Malliotakis made the decision to run for public office, she went about it wholeheartedly, knocking on doors, shaking voters’ hands outside supermarkets, and talking at senior citizens centers. She visited every corner of the assembly district.
Very early on in the campaign, she earned endorsements from the Republican and Conservative parties in both Brooklyn and Staten Island.
Malliotakis was taking on Janele Hyer-Spencer, a two-term Democrat and the race turned into a bitter contest. The debates between the two women turned into verbal slugfests with accusations flying back and forth at lightning speed. The challenger accused the incumbent of ignoring the needs of the district, particularly on transportation issues. Hyer-Spencer did nothing to fight the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s transit cuts in Bay Ridge, according to Malliotakis, who pointed out that the B37 bus was eliminated on Third Avenue
Hyer-Spencer charged that Malliotakis was less than forthcoming with voters about her role at Con Edison. The incumbent said Malliotakis was a lobbyist for the utility giant, a charge the challenger vigorously denied. In the end, the Nov. 2 election wasn’t even close. Malliotakis defeated Hyer-Spencer by 10 percentage points, 55-45 percent, an impressive result for a first-timer taking on an incumbent in a state where incumbents usually have an easy time winning re-election.
With her proud parents at her side, Malliotakis was sworn into office in January. Since then, her life has been a whirlwind of travel back and forth to Albany for votes and meetings with fellow lawmakers and traveling around the district to meet with civic groups on local issues.
As she works to represent her constituents, Malliotakis always keeps her immigrant parents close to her heart.