Democrat Max Rose Upset NY-11 Incumbent With Local, Moderate Focus By Luke Perry
Democrats gained three U.S. House seats in New York during the 2018 midterm. Central New York was home to two of these victories. Anthony Brindisi defeated Claudia Tenney in NY-22. Antonio Delgado defeated John Faso in NY-19. New York City was home to the third victory as Max Rose defeated Dan Donovan in NY-11, the only Republican-held House seat in the city.
NY-11 includes Staten Island and a portion of Southern Brooklyn. Republican incumbent Dan Donovan was first elected in a 2015 special election following the resignation of fellow Republican Michael Grimm.
Grimm was indicted on 20 counts related to the operation of his restaurant in Manhattan. Grimm plead guilty to one count of felony tax fraud and signed a “statement of facts” acknowledging he committed perjury, hired illegal immigrants, and committed wire fraud.
Grimm, who was reelected in 2014 while under indictment, initially indicated that he would not resign, though ultimately did so in January of 2015. Donovan, who was Staten Island District Attorney, easily won a special election in May of 2015, defeating Democrat Vincent Gentile, 60 percent to 39 percent. In doing so, Donavan became the lone House Republican in New York City.
Donavan was the heavy favorite and “ran a cautious campaign, casting himself as a nonpartisan figure and adjusting his rhetoric according to circumstances.” Donavan was reelected in 2016, once again with over 60 percent of the vote, defeating Democratic challenger Richard Reichard.
Max Rose, a combat veteran in Afghanistan and former healthcare executive, distanced himself from some Democratic leaders, including Nancy Pelosi and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, while receiving endorsements from others, including Joe Biden, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and the National Democratic Campaign Committee, who included Rose in their Red-to-Blue program.
Rose was aided by Grimm’s challenge of Donavan in a bitterly contested Republican primary. Donovan, who prevailed with over 60 percent of the vote, ran as the preferred candidate of President Trump.
After securing the Republican nomination “Donovan’s embrace of Mr. Trump was something less than full-throated.” Donovan moved to the center in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans, though “skews heavily conservative.” Whether President Trump would hurt Donovan, more than help, was an issue “playing out across the country, but was particularly germane in New York City, where Mr. Trump is deeply unpopular.”
Richard Flanagan, Professor of Political Science at the College of Staten Island, described the general election campaign as a “scramble to the middle.” Republicans sought to portray Rose as a liberal progressive carpetbagger, while Donavan highlighted his public service roots in the district, from deputy borough president to three term District Attorney to Congressman.
Rose focused on local issues, including traffic congestion, subway service concerns, and opioid addiction, seeking to appeal to Reagan Democrats, who “still exist on Staten Island,” according to Flanagan.
Polling prior to the election was too close to call, though Donovan occasionally held a modest lead within the margin of error. Rose defeated Donovan 51 percent to 46 percent to become will the first Democrat to represent the district in a decade.
Run local and run moderate is one early lesson from victories in NY-11, NY-19, and NY-22.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College.