by Megan McGibney
In one of the few races of the 2013 New York City election cycle that is anybody’s guess heading into Election Day, Democrat John Mancuso and Republican Steven Matteo are competing to be the next city council member representing Staten Island’s 50th council district.
The two men seek to replace term-limited James Oddo, a Republican, who looks like a cinch to take over as Staten Island Borough President come January. Matteo has worked as Oddo’s Chief of Staff for several years. Both men won their party primary by fairly wide margins.
Despite being from opposing parties, Mancuso and Matteo have a few things in common, especially their views on several key policy issues. The two men agree that transportation on the Island is in need of much improvement, and, if elected, promise to push the City to pay more attention to the situation. Both are in favor of Ray Kelly staying on as NYPD Commissioner and disagree with many around the city who say that “Stop and Frisk” has been practiced unconstitutionally. Of much importance close to home, the two believe that the areas in their district and around the borough devastated by Hurricane Sandy need to be reverted back to wetlands.
But there is, of course, plenty on which the candidates differ, including their vision for how those wetlands might actually look. Mancuso, the Democrat, simply wants the damaged areas remade as wetlands, while Matteo, the Republican, envisions a blend of wetlands, small parks or bluebelts, which are park areas that help prevent flooding while filtering storm water. Both candidates have been fairly critical of the City’s response to Staten Island when Sandy struck last year. During a debate on NY1’s Road to City Hall (pictured), Mancuso told host Errol Louis that he would give the City a C, while Matteo graded it a B. Many on Staten Island were furious that necessities such as clean water, food and temporary shelter took too long to arrive, and even more were displeased that Mayor Michael Bloomberg was originally going to allow the New York City marathon to take place just days after the storm.
During that same NY1 debate, Mancuso pledged that he would include participatory budgeting in his administration, whereas Matteo said that he would not.
Mancuso and Matteo also took somewhat different stances on the building of The New York Wheel and Empire Outlets project near the St. George terminal for the Staten Island Ferry that the city council has just given the go-ahead on. Even though the project is in Democratic Council Member Debi Rose’s district 49, Mancus and Matteo realize it will greatly affect the whole borough. Citing its potential impact on the Island’s economy, Matteo is enthusiastically for the development. Mancuso, however, has been more hesitant to give his approval, despite having been excited by the idea last year when he ran for State Assembly. Mancuso was concerned that unionized labor would not be the sole workers on this project. He cited that labor workers are highly skilled and would build the project well. He also pointed out that unionized laborers would receive better wages and health benefits than non-union workers, and taxpayers wouldn’t be on the hook to compensate for injuries sustained during the construction.
Mancuso got what he was looking for as the deal the council approved on October 30th of The Wheel and Empire Outlet’s building is predicated on the agreement between the developers, BFC Partners, and the Building and Construction Trades Council that unionized labor will be the sole builders on this project. There are also assurances that Staten Islanders will be given some preference to fill both those temporary jobs building the project and for the permanent jobs created as a result. Council Member Rose has been lauded by many for the deal that was reached.
While it is seen as a “swing district,” one of the few in the city that may elect a Democrat or a Republican in a given year, the 50th council district has been represented by a Republican since council districts were redrawn in 1992. John Fusco was the first to represent Mid-Island, from 1992 to 1999, and James Oddo has been the rep since. Many believe that Mancuso has a shot to be the first Democrat to represent the district.
While Mancuso may very well win on Tuesday, it is unclear whether the mayoral race will have any impact on the district 50 vote. Staten Island usually votes Republican overall, but with Joe Lhota running a mostly uninspiring campaign and looking like he will be defeated easily, it is uncertain if he will even carry the most Republican borough in the city. At the same time, Islanders have not necessarily caught the de Blasio fever that has infected much of the rest of the city. In the end, the mayoral race may have no impact on the district 50 outcome.
Overall, Islanders often feel as though they live in the “fifth” or “forgotten” borough and are pessimistic that the attention paid them by City Hall will increase much regardless of who is elected mayor or to the city council. However, de Blasio does speak about making sure that each borough is paid greater mind and both Mancuso and Matteo run on a familiar Staten Island promise of fighting with everything they have to get more funds and services to the Island.
Despite the disappointment and the pessimism, there has not been apathy among Islanders regarding this election cycle, especially the district 50 race, the only competitive one among the four Island-specific races. According to the most recent NYC Campaign Finance reports, Matteo raised a total of $149,793.30 while Mancuso raised $42,227.52 from supporters. This fundraising, and thus, accompanying spending advantage could be a difference maker for Matteo.
In an email to Decide NYC, Matteo stated, “From the beginning of this race, many months ago, I have spoken about the issues that matter to the people of the 50th District and have offered real solutions on how to solve problems. I am exceedingly happy with our campaign.”
Confident that he is the person to represent district 50 at City Hall, Matteo continued, “The fact is that I have been down every block and know all aspects of every issue that Mid-Island residents face on a daily basis,” he continued. “There is no one who is better prepared to represent this community because that is what I have spent my career doing.”
While he did not respond to a request for comment for this article, Mancuso did sit down with Decide NYC for an interview before the primary. During that interview and throughout the election season, Mancuso has touted his diverse resume. Mancuso has experience in small business and youth ministry; he has served as a Captain in the NYPD Auxiliary Police, as Deputy Chief of Staff to former NYS Senator Seymour Lachman, and as Chief of Staff to City Councilman Vincent Gentile.