Nicole Malliotakis stood outside City Hall last week clutching a can of Red Bull.
Dressed in a coral blazer, matching skirt and silver flats, the Republican candidate for mayor stood under a blazing mid-morning sun, never veering from her task of attacking the incumbent mayor, who happened to pass by her press conference.
As a small group of her supporters appeared to wilt in the heat, dutifully holding up red, white and blue “Nicole Malliotakis for Mayor” signs, the 36-year-old assemblywoman appeared poised and confident even as she ran after de Blasio with the energy drink.
She told reporters that she wanted to help him stay awake after The Post revealed Hizzoner liked to nap during his workday.
The mayor, ducking into a subway, refused the stimulant.
“It shows that not only is he lazy and incompetent, but he’s rude,” Malliotakis told the small scrum of City Hall reporters.
The last thing Malliotakis seems to need is a can of Red Bull. She’s been crisscrossing the city, meeting community leaders and supporters in every borough, while lobbing stinging criticisms at the mayor in almost daily press conferences outside City Hall.
She rarely takes lunch — or even bathroom breaks.
“She’s a camel,” quipped one of her aides. “She just doesn’t stop for anything.”
Last Thursday, addressing the same crowd of reporters under a blistering sun, Malliotakis took de Blasio to task for breaking his promises to New Yorkers. She unveiled a clock that tracks the number of days — more than 450 so far — since de Blasio promised to release a list of his campaign donors who did not get special favors from his administration.
“The mayor needs to come clean with the people of this city,” said Malliotakis, standing in front of the wobbly wooden lectern that her small group of handlers transport to every press conference and most of her campaign events.
It’s a shoestring operation for the first Hispanic woman running for mayor of New York City. Last week, she traveled through the city in a compact car, meeting with grass-roots community groups in old-age homes and a Brownsville, Brooklyn pizza parlor.
On Thursday, after a City Hall press conference and closed-door meeting with the conservative Manhattan Institute, Malliotakis scarfed down takeout cod in the back seat of the car driven by her assistant, balancing her cellphone and plastic fork while she crunched city crime statistics with a campaign worker. David Bowie’s “Changes” played on the car radio in the background.
Malliotakis vows to change New York. She says she is willing to burn down party lines to fix the city’s biggest problem: the decrepit transit system. She also wants to improve conditions for seniors, get tough on crime and expand services for the mentally ill. “Everything in New York is deteriorating under this mayor,” she said.
At almost the same moment she made the comment to activists in Brownsville, less than a mile away, an NYPD cop was being shot. The shooter — an emotionally disturbed 29-year-old — targeted Officer Hart Nguyen with a rifle. Nguyen was saved by his police vest.
“That’s what I mean about the violence in this city,” Malliotakis said when she learned about the shooting from an aide. “De Blasio lacks leadership. He is not helping the mentally ill who are attacking people on the subway and targeting the police.”
Malliotakis has her work cut out for her. She has a balance of $233,251 in her campaign coffers; de Blasio has more than $5 million, according to Friday’s campaign filings.
“I defeated an incumbent when I was outspent 2 to 1,” she said. “I can do it again.”
In 2010, Malliotakis, then a 30-year-old political neophyte with almost no money, defeated well-funded incumbent Democratic Assemblywoman Janele Hyer-Spencer, a close ally of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Malliotakis beat the two-term lawmaker by a margin of 10 percentage points in a district that includes parts of Staten Island and southern Brooklyn.
“To know her is to support her,” said Robert Scamardella, a former president of the Molinari Republican Club and one of her mentors. “From an ethics standpoint, she was a good lady and a hard worker, and from a demographics perspective, she was a Latina woman running against another woman.”
Still, the New York Republican Party was slow to embrace Malliotakis when she registered in April to run for mayor, calling her aloof, inexperienced and too independent.
“The grass-roots activists in the party were skeptical of her at first, but she has won everyone over,” said Adele Malpass, chair of the Manhattan Republican Party. “People are now blown away by how hard she works.”
Malpass supported Malliotakis’ bid for Congress when Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm stepped down after his fraud conviction in 2015. But the party backed former DA Dan Donovan, a candidate with more experience. “Now Nicole is not waiting her turn,” Malpass told The Post. “How great is that?”
Malliotakis was not the most logical choice for the Republican mayoral candidate when she threw her hat in the ring. Millionaire real-estate executive Paul Massey was a leading contender before he unexpectedly dropped out in June. And ex-NYPD Detective Bo Dietl also had mayoral aspirations, but the Republican Party barred him from running on its ticket in May.
‘She always gets things done. As one of the only Republicans in New York City, she realized pretty early on that you had to reach across the aisle.’
– Former Gov. George Pataki
Malliotakis also has the backing of the Conservative Party.
“The leaders respect Nicole’s capability as an assemblyperson,” state Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long has said. “She understands legislation, the law and budgets and how money is wasted in government. She’s going to surprise a lot of people.”
Republican supermarket mogul John Catsimatidis, who waged an unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2013, supports Malliotakis.
“Nicole personifies women in politics,” he said. “She’s a Latina in a city where that counts for 25 percent of the population, and she’s Greek, so she’ll get a lot of money from the Greek community. She is also a hard worker, and she is going to make a great mayor of New York.”
Nicole Malliotakis was born at Lenox Hill Hospital on Nov. 11, 1980 — the “miracle baby” of blue-collar immigrant parents who had tried for 12 years to have children. After living in a tiny apartment in Manhattan, the family moved to Staten Island to “fulfill the immigrant dream and buy a house,” said Malliotakis.
She is an only child and very close to her parents. She credits them for her political awakening.
“I guess my entree into politics came the year that my mother supported George Bush and my father supported [Michael] Dukakis,” she told The Post, referring to the 1988 presidential race, which happened when she was just turning 8. “There were a lot of heated debates around our house.”
It was her mother’s experience escaping communism in Cuba that turned Malliotakis into a lifelong Republican. Veralia Zorrilla left Cuba as a teenager shortly after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. Malliotakis’ maternal grandfather owned a string of gas stations on the communist island, but they were taken away from him after the revolution, Malliotakis told The Post.
“My mother left the island when she was 15 and never saw her father again,” said Malliotakis. “I believe in limited government and freedom. I don’t understand people who romanticize socialism.”
Her father, George, who was born in Crete, arrived in the United States in 1962 and took multiple jobs to support his family. He worked as a busboy and later as a banquet-hall waiter at the same time he set up a small shop that sold decorative items in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
As a child, Malliotakis would help out in the store during summer vacations. She said the experience of watching the junkies and drug-addled prostitutes who lived in the down-at-heels neighborhood “was one of the best lessons I ever had because I never touched drugs,” she said.
In high school, Malliotakis joined the Young Republican Club and volunteered with former Congressman Vito Fossella.
“She had a very strong sense of community and a great ability to get her fellow students involved in causes that were important to her,” said Angela Carannante, her former teacher at New Dorp HS.
Malliotakis organized groups of students to visit old-age homes and children’s hospitals every month, recalled Carannante.
“I have been a teacher for 30 years, and I have never seen that kind of commitment,” she said.
Malliotakis went on to Seton Hall University and earned an MBA from Wagner College. She served as an aide to Gov. George Pataki and also worked as a staffer to late Staten Island state Sen. John Marchi.
Months before the 2010 election, Malliotakis and a long-term boyfriend broke up so that she could devote herself entirely to her political career. She declined to elaborate on or even name her ex.
“I think it’s difficult for a woman in politics to date when you are in Albany for six months of the year,” she told The Post. “Once, I was on a date in Manhattan and had constituents from Staten Island at the next table.”
While she says she is happily single, she would welcome a family one day. “Look, if the opportunity presented itself, I’d love to,” she said. “But right now I am focused on serving the people of New York City.”
In order to beat de Blasio, Malliotakis is putting in 12-hour days, marching in parades, attending community dinners and meeting with activists.
She said she’s learned to work across party lines to help her constituents. In Staten Island, she has worked with Democratic state Sen. Diane Savino, a close friend, on several issues, including the unsuccessful effort to save a historic Jesuit retreat from being developed. She worked with Gov. Cuomo to help Staten Islanders after Hurricane Sandy.
“She always gets things done,” Gov. Pataki told The Post. “As one of the only Republicans in New York City, she realized pretty early on that you had to reach across the aisle.”
Although Staten Island Republicans say they are behind her, some privately described Malliotakis as an opportunist. In 2011, she voted against gay marriage because, “I thought the bill would have the unintended consequences of lawsuits against religious institutions that did not want to perform the marriages,” she said.
But last month, several weeks into her campaign for mayor in one of the world’s most liberal cities, she changed her mind.
“She’s trying to be all things to all people,” said a Staten Island official who did not want to be identified. “In the end, you don’t really know what she’s done or even where she stands.”
Malliotakis bristles at the criticism, but seems to relish the battle. “Opportunist? I’m the one who stepped up to the plate and is trying to hold de Blasio accountable for New York City,” she said. And she comes prepared: She wears a Greek talisman that wards off the evil eye.
“I’m in politics,” she said twisting the blue bracelet on her wrist. “So technically I need about 10,000 of these.”