CONEY ISLAND – The Republican candidate for Governor Marc Molinaro made a low-profile stop Saturday in Coney Island, and demonstrated both why he’s the sort of Republican who — in theory — could win quite a few votes in Brooklyn, and why he’s got a long way to go.
I was the only reporter who made it out to Nathan’s for the visit from Molinaro, the Dutchess County Executive whose claim to fame used to be that, as mayor of Tivoli, he was the youngest mayor in America, and who is now a cheery, earnest moderate who opposes Donald Trump and is best known for programs to help people with disabilities.
The upstater does not, however, seem to know much about New York City in general and Brooklyn in particular. And it got a little awkward when his Republican allies had to swoop in to help him answer my questions.
With no press alert, Molinaro popped into Coney Island for what he said was one of several trips to the borough, and he leaned pretty hard on his local guides, State Sen. Marty Golden and GOP Assembly candidate Steve Saperstein.
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I asked him where — if anywhere — he had visited in Brooklyn.
“We’ve been around,” he said.
Saperstein chimed in and rattled off what he said are upcoming events for Molinaro’s campaign — still failing to respond to the question.
For Coney Islanders, transit is at the helm of consumer criticism, and New York City residents always fear that a Republican’s first move will be to take money from the city and spend it in the Republican suburbs and countryside. Also, community safety, development, and quality of life concerns are what Molinaro said his would-be constituents complained about during his stroll around Nathan’s Hot Dogs on Surf Avenue.
But when prompted to share his thoughts about the quality of life or development plaguing Coney Islanders he did not immediately respond. “Well why don’t you ask me a question, I’ll answer it,” Molinaro said, after a second prompt.
“The state of New York needs to be in a position of supporting the communities here,” Molinaro said. “Our job is to provide for the appropriate public safety and investing in the community and to make a difference,” he added.
Without hesitation, Golden interjected.
“Marc knows that Coney Island is on fire right now,” Golden said. “People are moving in here; business is setting up, Garguilo’s is doing excellent. We have the forum down here next to the skating rink,” Golden said adding that Surf Avenue is “vibrant and back”.
Golden, who faces strong Democratic challenges this year, dominated the district which includes parts of Coney Island with more than 62,00 votes in 2016. Nearly 100 percent of the Conservative Party voters in Brooklyn live in the district. For a GOP candidate, the electoral pocket in the middle of a mostly Democratic city is key to wrangling votes.
Molinaro announced his candidacy for governor in mid-April. The Upstate New Yorker has spoken out against Cuomo’s mounting allegations of corruption and ineffective handling of New York City’s fractured mass transit system. The 42-year-old father of three criticized the ongoing feud between President Trump and Gov. Cuomo as a “waste of time” but spoke candidly about not voting for Trump in 2016.
“My position is I call balls and strikes,” he said. “If the President does something good for New York, I’ll say it, if he does something bad I’ll say that too.”
On immigration, Molinaro is in favor of border security, a road to citizenship and protection for those who want to become citizens, he said standing in the heart of Community Board 13, where over 40% of residents are not proficient in English, according to NYC data.
“The federal government needs to come up with a solution,” he said.
By Sunday night, Molinaro had remembered where in Brooklyn he’d gotten his haircut a few days before.