On a balmy morning the day before the 15th anniversary of 9/11, supporters of Rep. Daniel Donovan packed into his campaign headquarters in New Dorp to kick off his race against political newcomer and challenger Democrat Richard Reichard.
Two months before the November election in which Donovan will have to defend the seat he won in a May 2015 special election, the congressman and his supporters listed the freshman’s accomplishments thus far in office.
They include permanently extending the Zadroga Act that helps 9/11 victims and their families, successfully reversing mass transit cuts and security cuts to New York City, securing funding to fight opioid addiction, pushing for FEMA reform and flood insurance reform following Hurricane Sandy, and just yesterday, passing the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, allowing 9/11 victims’ families to sue Saudi Arabia.
A litany of local Republicans spoke on behalf of the congressman, including Borough President James Oddo.
“In politics, in government, probably even more so than life, character matters,” he said. “Before the positions, policies and politics, there is the person. And we are fortunate to have a congressman with character.”
Republican elected officials and party leaders from both Staten Island and Brooklyn were keenly aware–as were the supporters in the room–that in three days, Assemblyman Ron Castorina Jr. will face a Republican primary for his seat, which he hopes to win against challenger Janine Materna.
Castorina won the seat in an uncontested special election in April, after Joe Borelli left it vacant to become a member of the City Council.
Aware that Donovan is running against a challenger that even Democrats admit faces an uphill battle against the popular incumbent, a good portion of the morning’s event focused on the Assembly race, the much more competitive of the two Island races.
There were many lighthearted moments Saturday morning, as speakers joked about Donovan and Castorina, poked fun at Hillary Clinton and other political opponents.
When Donovan arrived with his 16-month-old daughter, Aniella Rose, in his arms, applause broke out in the room. The waddling toddler kept trying to escape from her mother to get over to her father, who was busy with politics — but not too busy to hold her during a portion of his speech.
Both Aniella Rose and Borelli’s soon-to-be 1-year-old son Joe Jr., attracted almost as much attention from supporters as their parents did, and Joe Jr. made his presence especially known by crying during Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis’ speech.
“It’s always got to be a Joe Borelli” she quipped as the room erupted in laughter.
Speaking about his time in Congress so far, Donovan noted of the 13 members from New York City, he’s the only Republican.
“It’s not a fair fight … I feel bad for the 12 of them,” he joked.
A member of the majority, Donovan has enjoyed some of the spoils of leadership, including being named chairman of a Homeland Security subcommittee. With the committee focusing on terrorism and the subcommittee focusing on natural disasters, “What community has suffered more from those two things than ours?” he asked.
The president’s proposed budget for 2017 included cuts to homeland security funding for the city, but Congress passed bills to restore the funding.
“We have overcome Barack Obama’s attempts to make our city less safe,” Donovan said.
The congressman is hopeful that with a new administration — for him and the majority, a Republican president in the White House — will mean Congress passing and the president signing into law an alternative to what he called “the Unaffordable Care Act.”
Recalling the times he has voted against his own party, and opened himself up to criticism for it, Donovan said he thinks about his constituents when deciding what’s the best position to take.
“When I vote, I think about the 740,000 people that I represent,” he said. “Those votes come very, very easy.”