In Italian enclave, pride but not votes for de Blasio


While Staten Island takes the “torta” as the most Italian county in America, voters beyond the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge didn’t back Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, who is proud to be the grandson of Italian immigrants.

With the U.S. census reporting that 37.7 percent of Staten Island’s residents have Italian ancestry, some call the borough “Staten Italy.”

With roots grounded in Sant’Agata de’ Goti, Italy, a small town northeast of Naples, de Blasio spoke with pride during the campaign  about his grandfather, Giovanni, and his Italian heritage. He even gave interviews in Italian, having minored in the language in college, helping him to become well known in Italy.

But while de Blasio won the city in a landslide, the ethnic tie didn’t  help him on Staten Island, where Republican candidate Joe Lhota won 53.2 percent of vote to de Blasio’s 44.2 percent.

That’s not to say there is no Italian pride in de Blasio’s victory.

“Mayor-elect de Blasio, a Brooklyn resident, is the fourth Italian American to hold the office of Mayor of New York City,” the National Italian American Foundation said in a statement, noting that re-elected New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also has Italian ancestry. Both, it said, “are proud of Italy’s rich heritage and culture and have been longtime supporters of NIAF and its mission.”

Dominic Carielli, director of the Center for Italian American Studies at Brooklyn College, said candidates can connect to voters through shared ethnicity.

“It’s important to have a good sense of who someone is,” he said. “Especially with the distrust of politicians.”

Because New York has “such a large immigrant population,” Carielli said, it is important for these groups to know that their mayor relates to the struggle for the American dream.

Carielli said many Staten Islanders lean to the GOP.   “They tend to be a very conservative, Republican, middle class community,” he said. “It’s not a progressive kind of community.” De Blasio ran as a self-proclaimed “true progressive.”

Staten Islanders criticized de Blasio for not connecting to them on their home turf during his campaign.

“De Blasio hasn’t been out of his way to blaze the Island trail,” Staten Island Advance reporter Tom Wrobleski wrote. “The stops he made were relatively low-key and didn’t involve much retail campaigning.”

Dining at Denino’s Restaurant and Pizzeria in Port Richmond in October and boarding a 3:30 p.m. ferry from Whitehall Station in Manhattan to St. George Terminal in Staten Island in early September were two of the stops included in the candidate’s itinerary.

A few of the Democrat’s other stops included a borough Democratic dinner, a Hurricane Sandy event, and a meeting with the Advance editorial board.

“Staten Island tends to be very isolated,” added Carielli. “[Politicians] can’t have everyone in their corner so it’s important to reach out.”

While some scrutinize his efforts on Staten Island, other residents are optimistic about the Italian taking office as mayor.

Matteo Nicolosi, 50, a Staten Island resident for over 20 years with strong ties to family in Sicily and Catania, says his family “feels good about de Blasio being elected mayor.”

“It’s too soon to tell if he’s paid enough attention to Staten Island,” said Nicolosi. “I think Staten Island is happy about the change.”

Nicolosi, who heads a successful construction business on Staten Island, said that de Blasio’s “down-to-earth” personality adds to his likability.

The president of the Staten Island Democratic Association, Tom Shcherbenko, added that de Blasio has had friends in Staten Island “since he was a city councilman,” himself included. Shcherbenko volunteered for de Blasio’s campaign and has even put a photo of himself alongside the new mayor and his wife as his Twitter picture.

Showing his Italian skills at October’s Columbus Day Parade in Bensonhurst, de Blasio addressed the crowd and spoke about how proud he was of his cultural background.

“Italians feel a little ambivalent about government,” he said. “But that means we demand the government actually serve people in their neighborhoods. And that’s the right way to think about it. That’s what I’ve gained from my heritage.”

Photo: Campaign promotion for Bill de Blasio calls for Italian-Americans to back him. Most didn’t.


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply