Max Rose for Congress: An Unexpected Upset in Staten Island
On the afternoon of November 6th, I stood the requisite 100 feet from the entrance to a polling site in Staten Island, clothes damp and hair soaking wet from the rain. I had a pocket full of flyers urging voters to the polls and hoisted a giant “Max Rose for Congress” sign that displayed a notable lack of party-affiliated imagery—instead, an army-green star signifying Max’s military service emblazoned the sign.
As I waved my sign at the corner of a busy street, some drove by cheering or waving, and public bus drivers grinned and beeped their horns. Others gave me the middle finger, told me to get a job, or shouted “Donovan!” Those cheering far outnumbered those flipping me off, just as the volunteers holding Max Rose signs and knocking on doors that night far outnumbered volunteers for Max’s opponent, Dan Donovan.
As a minor in New York, I have often felt hard-pressed to find ways to make an impact politically. I can’t yet vote, and besides that, my district is so solidly blue that it feels like my vote wouldn’t make a difference. Perhaps for that reason, I have found it futile to attempt to get involved in politics on a local level. I clearly had overlooked the fact that the entirety of New York does not fall along the same party lines as downtown Brooklyn.
In fact, it came as a huge surprise to me when, earlier this year, I heard about this heavily contested district right in our backyard: NY-11, New York City’s only swing district. For context, NY-11 is composed of all of Staten Island and parts of South Brooklyn. The district voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, but it went to Trump by a full 10 percentage points in the 2016 election. For the past five years, since the district shifted to encompass Staten Island, their representatives had been Republican. The former representative, Dan Donovan, had been in office since 2015.
Max Rose is a graduate of Wesleyan and the London School of Economics, but he is also a decorated army veteran, and that aspect of his profile was most emphasized during his campaign. As a campaign staff member explained to me during a training session, “if you open with the fact that he’s a veteran, they will wait a few seconds before slamming the door.” His service was respected in the borough he needed to win over, so he capitalized on that fact. Similarly, while he is firmly a liberal, his platform rested heavily on such non-partisan issues as healthcare and infrastructure. He fashioned himself as a centrist who was willing to work with Trump and didn’t always stand with his party—he has criticized both Pelosi and De Blasio—in a successful attempt to win over the undecided voters in his district.
Nevertheless, Rose’s win was a remarkable upset in the most traditionally conservative borough in NYC, an upset that upended expert polls and turned Staten Island blue for the second time in 37 years, playing an unexpected part in the Democratic flip of the House.
I was not the only New Yorker who seized on Max’s campaign as an opportunity to impact politics close by. Over the course of his campaign, thousands of volunteers and millions of dollars in small dollar donations streamed into Rose’s Bay Ridge and Staten Island offices from all over the city. Some, including Donovan, took this as a negative sign that Max Rose was being influenced by out-of-district liberals. But be that as it may, he still won his election in both Brooklyn and Staten Island; people like me were clearly not the only ones enchanted by the energetic veteran. Perhaps this is partially because of the way he comes off in person: enthusiastic, educated, honest, and completely dedicated to service.
It felt extremely gratifying to see Max win. Knowing that I impacted national politics on some level, helping to flip a seat in the House, made me feel for once like my action mattered right here in New York City. I don’t agree with Max on every level, but I believe Staten Island and South Brooklyn will benefit nonetheless from his integrity and drive. He served the United States once, nearly sacrificing his life for our country, and he is more than fit to serve it again.