Move over Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-Bay Ridge, Staten Island), who thought she had a clear path in taking on U.S. Rep. Max Rose (D-Southern Brooklyn, Staten Island) in next year’s closely watched battle for New York’s 11th Congressional District.
Joe Caldarera, a 27-year-old New York native who worked as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn’s special victims’ bureau, will challenge Malliotakis in the Republican Party primary.
Caldarera thinks he not only is the only person who can beat Rose but is the only true conservative in this primary who can represent those values in Washington and stop what he sees as an unnecessary impeachment inquiry.
The GOP race comes NY-11 could be one of the most contested races in the country in 2020 as the Democrats look to keep a valuable seat that they recently flipped in the steadily red district comprising Staten Island and a sliver of southern Brooklyn. The Republicans want that seat back and hope it helps them regain control of the House of Representatives.
“If you’re a Donald Trump supporter and you’re a true conservative, there’s only one Republican candidate in the race right now who is both of those things,” Caldarera said.
Caldarera said that being a true conservative means supporting things like low taxes, limited government, textualist interpretations of the Constitution, limits on abortion, and gun rights.
Taking a jab at Malliotakis’ failed GOP run in the last mayoral race, Caldarera also stressed the importance of having a Republican nominee who could promise he would only serve his constituents rather than use the opportunity as a self-serving springboard for something bigger.
Born to an Italian-American family on the South Shore of Staten Island, Caldarera grew up in that borough and has family ties to southern Brooklyn. Naturally, he knows his pizza, something which resonates with just about anyone in this country but is especially important in a city that takes pride in its pizza. In between his schooling and local political volunteering, he worked at L&B Spumoni Gardens, a southern Brooklyn staple for pizza, ice cream, gelato, spumonis, and Italian food.
While pizza and the pride the city takes in it is fun, Caldarera has seen the darker and tragic side of the city, and he wants to bring attention to these problems and help create solutions. Staten Island in particular struggles with the opioid epidemic, a crisis that kills roughly 50,000 people annually in America.
According to Caldarera, the federal government should play a bigger role in the epidemic by doing things like funding treatment centers and programs, interventions, and educating kids about the dangers of opioids. He doesn’t think punitive punishments like incarceration is an effective solution to the problem. The epidemic hits close to home for Caldarera, who knows people who died from opioids, including three of his close friends.
“I’ve had friends who I was very close with, growing up in grade school, and in high school, they became addicted to opioids and pills and medicine that they got out of their parents’ medicine cabinet, and they turned into completely different people,” Caldarera said. He’s tried to stay in touch with some of those people, with varying results, adding that it is tough for the community. “It’s just a horrible way to end a life, way too soon, and it’s unfortunate that our government has failed us in the past.”
Caldarera, who knows the struggles that autistic people and their families face first-hand from his three autistic first cousins, wants to find out why there are so many cases of autism on Staten Island and said that eliminating red tape would go a long way to funding research and allowing people “to be able to navigate the governmental system to get their children the services that they need.” He added that he would try to allocate federal funding to help autistic adults as well, who often go forgotten and slip through the cracks when they grow out of childhood.
During his two years and two months as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, Caldarera said he gained experience working with many different types of attorneys.
“You really got to see a lot of the problems in Brooklyn and the rest of New York,” he said, noting he represented some of the most vulnerable people in the city, like victims of child and sexual abuse. “And to be able to defend them and stand up for them and to represent the state of New York in prosecuting people who committed crimes against those children, was probably, up until this point, the highlight of my life.”
Caldarera’s work carries extra relevance in the era of the #MeToo movement.
Trump was facing over 20 accusers until an additional 43 accusers were named in a book released earlier this month. Some women filed claims in court, like his former wife Ivana Trump, who accused him of marital rape but later recanted, a contestant from The Apprentice whose defamation lawsuit against Trump for calling her a liar is moving forward in the courts, a woman who settled out of court with Trump in the late 1990s after accusing him of sexual assault and harrasment, and a woman working on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign who sued the president this year for forcibly kissing her at a rally.
When asked if he believes the accusers, Caldarera said “no,” explaining that “there’s been no credible testimony against the president of the United States for any sort-of sexual assault committed against them.”
Caldarera’s opposition to the ongoing impeachment inquiry into the president is his biggest reason for wanting to represent New York’s 11th Congressional District because Rose said he supports impeachment, and Caldarera believes Malliotakis could support impeachment. “She’s been a Never Trumper to begin with,” Caldarera said, adding “I wouldn’t be so shocked if she were to go down to Washington and be a vote for impeachment as well.”
Although the whistleblower complaint that set off the Ukraine scandal and impeachment inquiry is public, along with a memorandum of the phone call in question and snippets of closed-door testimony from witnesses corroborating most of the complaint, Caldarera stands by the president and said that he hasn’t read anything or heard anything from witnesses yet to suggest a crime, quid pro quo, or impeachable offense was committed.
“Nothing points to the fact that the president or anybody in his administration broke any laws,” Caldarera said. He said that the president wanted to investigate corruption, that he would be okay with something similar happening again in the future with the same or a different president, and that Congress should focus more on legislation.
“As long as the president is operating within the confines of the Constitution, I would support the president’s tactics to investigate corruption abroad and as long as it’s legal to do so,” he said.
Maintaining the integrity and independence of America’s elections is still a priority for Caldarera, and he supports the conclusions of the Mueller report and the intelligence agencies that Russia attacked America’s elections through internet troll farms and email hacks and dumps.
“The election should be as free from foreign interference as possible.” He agrees with Mueller and the intelligence agencies that America needs to do everything it can to secure its elections and said that the president is taking the issue seriously.
Caldarera will need to start raising money quickly, and if he wins the primary, he would face a well-funded Rose in the general election, who has almost $1.7 million cash on hand.
Caldarera said that money is important but not everything, and he is confident in his campaign and message and also embraces his underdog status. He has until June 23, the day of the primary, to build his campaign and get out his message.