Published: Tuesday, November 09, 2010
Judy L. Randall, Staten Island Advance

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — She is a first-generation American success story.

The studious only child of a Cuban mother and Greek father, Republican Assemblywoman-elect Nicole Malliotakis knew from an early age that she was destined to get involved in the political process.

“Look at my background,” said Ms. Malliotakis yesterday, flanked by her parents in the Bay Terrace house in which she grew up. “My father comes from the birthplace of democracy, my mother from a Communist country,” where dissent is outlawed.

Then again, Ms. Malliotakis is all about “firsts”: The election Nov. 2 of the first-time candidate — the first in her family to go to college — makes her Staten Island’s first Hispanic elected official.

“She always wanted to be a public servant,” said her mother, the former Veralia Zorrilla, a political exile from Santiago de Cuba and one-time cosmetologist who arrived in the U.S. in 1959, carrying her worldly possessions in a single suitcase.

“I feel much taller,” said her father, George, who came to New York from Crete in 1962 with a borrowed $50 in his pocket, parlaying it into several successful small businesses. “I am very proud of her. It is the dream of every parent that the child goes in the right direction.”

That included toppling two-term Democratic Assemblywoman Janele Hyer-Spencer for the East Shore/Brooklyn seat, 55 percent to 45 percent. During the campaign, Ms. Malliotakis stressed Ms. Hyer-Spencer’s lack of visibility in the district, Albany dysfunction and her own dedication to issues involving seniors, transportation, health care and education.

She has yet to hear from Ms. Hyer-Spencer, although the rest of the borough’s state delegation called to congratulate her and offer support — Democrats included.

“I welcome the opportunity to meet with her and make it a seamless transition,” said Ms. Malliotakis.

No matter, her parents are over the moon at the victory of their daughter — a “miracle baby,” said her mother, who said she nearly despaired of having children 12 years into marriage.

“Mature” even as a youngster, according to her mother, Ms. Malliotakis credits her parents with her success, “for instilling a strong work ethic of always doing your best.”

“She knew how to organize herself even when she was small,” said her mother.

“She got the Greek wisdom and the Latin passion,” said her father.

Ms. Malliotakis, who turns 30 on Thursday, is a product of PS 53, Barnes Intermediate, New Dorp High School (honor roll, senior class president), Seton Hall University (B.A. in communications) and Wagner College (M.B.A.).

“I will bring a different perspective,” said Ms. Malliotakis, who studied economics. “We have a lot of lawyers in Albany. We need people who can count.”

Despite her youth — she’ll be the Island’s youngest elected official when she is sworn on Jan. 1 — she already has proven to be politically adept. She enjoyed the support of both factions of the GOP here, including the party’s leaders and elected officials as well as the Molinari Republican Club, which bucked the establishment to field Congressman-elect Michael Grimm.

On election night, Ms. Malliotakis took her bows at the party’s designated victory party with state Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island) and Assemblyman Lou Tobacco (R-South Shore), who failed to endorse Grimm but whose support she will need in Albany, before sprinting over to the Grimm victory bash to stand with him and City Councilmen James Oddo (R-Mid-Island) and Vincent Ignizio (R-South Shore), early Grimm backers.

Then again, Ms. Malliotakis, who owns a co-op in Rosebank, where she has lived for the past two years, has been part of the political scene here from the age of 15, when her mother decided to get involved in the Republican Party.

The family photo album features early photos of the assemblywoman-elect with a host of Republican luminaries, including Bob Dole, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Guy Molinari, John Fusco, Stephen Fiala, Fred Cerullo and Vito Fossella.

Indeed, she was a community liaison for the late state Sen. John Marchi in 2003-04 and for former Gov. George Pataki from 2004 to 2006.

Uncertain how much of a budget she will be allotted as a member of the Assembly’s Republican minority, for office space and staff both here and in Brooklyn, she expects to head to Albany next month for freshman orientation.

In the meantime, Ms. Malliotakis — “I lost 12 pounds and got so much gray hair!” — is nursing a cold. Single — she broke up with a boyfriend five months before she decided to run — she said her sole focus will be her new job. As such, she is making permanent her current leave of absence in the government relations department of Consolidated Edison and will resign her post later this month.