A Q&A with Staten Island Borough President Candidate Jimmy Oddo

The charged atmosphere at Steve Matteo’s campaign headquarters on busy Hylan Boulevard in New Dorp is a microcosm of the chaos endemic to Primary Day. Blackberries and iPhones buzzing, a team of volunteers working the phone bank urging voters to get down to their polling station, while campaign flyers, posters, and mailers line the room. At the center of it all is Councilman Jimmy Oddo, the Council’s minority leader, discussing strategy, and working phones on behalf of Steve Matteo, his chief of staff running for his seat, out of which he is term-limited.

Oddo, himself a candidate for Staten Island borough president, but who is running unopposed in the primary, sat down with City & State for a brief interview on his own race, his predictions in the mayoral election, and the importance of keeping his Council seat Republican.


The following is an edited transcript.

City & State: How have you been spending your primary day?
Jimmy Oddo: I’ve spent a lot of time here. I was out with Steve and we had a tremendous showing by the UFOA [Uniformed Fire Officers Association]. 60 guys came from the fire offices and we had them out at the train stations and polling sites. From the beginning, we knew this race was about name ID and pull, and we spent the bulk of our time doing that. Since the morning, you had people on the phones, people going out in the street. The type of grassroots campaign you can run when you have a lot of bodies. Turnout is light. I know it’s early, but I like where we are right now.

C&S: You’re supporting Joe Lhota in the Republican primary, what do you think of his chances today?
JO: From every indication, coming into today we knew Staten Island was going to be a battleground. [John] Catsimatidis’ folks realize that this was crucial for them, so they put a lot of resources in. They have a lot of local folks involved in their campaign. They’ll have a lot of people out in the street. I anticipate it being very close on Staten Island in that race.

C&S: Any predictions for the Democratic primary?
JO: I don’t know how one person can be more wrong in this primary. I’ve had 42 theories and they’ve all been wrong. I thought John Liu was going to be the guy who broke from the pack. I thought he was being under-sampled. I knew he had a lot of support in the African-American community. I knew he was the darling of the far, far left. [Bill de Blasio is] doing what I thought Liu might do. But particularly in a low turnout day, if it’s low turnout and you have a good ground game the way Quinn is supposed to have with 32BJ, HTC, who knows? Maybe there will be some surprises tonight. I will tell you this, if she does happen to fight her way into the run-off, the story tomorrow will be about the comeback kid as much as it will be about the person coming in first. She actually would find herself in a better position coming in second place, than she would had she stayed in first the entire time.

C&S: You’re unopposed in the primary for your borough president’s race. How are you feeling about your prospects in November?
JO: It’s odd that in the last 2 months I’ve been under attack from Steve [Matteo]’s opponent. If you look at the ads they’ve put out, the robo-calls, they’re out there bashing me in my own district. We’ve been doing ads in the paper that have really been received well. I’ve been sort of sanitizing the record amongst my base. When this primary’s over, I will spend a bulk of my campaign time outside my district in the North Shore and the South Shore. Most of my campaign has been about [Matteo’s] race, because this race is that important.

C&S: How important is it to you to keep your Council seat Republican?
JO: Traditionally, on Staten Island, the one Democratic Council member usually did well with the Speaker, and for the last 12 years I’ve been minority leader you had the Democrat do well and you had me as minority leader and [former Council member, current state Sen.] Andy [Lanza] and [Staten Island Councilman] Vinny Ignizio have had a good relationship with the Speaker on their own, but frankly through me. So, the South Shore member, if you look at the numbers in dollar amounts and bills passed, Vinny’s gotten around 10 bills passed. As the minority leader in the mid-Island, I’ve had great relationships with Chris and done very well. If you have two Democrats, and this is speaking very parochial, they’re not gonna…get twice as much [in Council discretionary funds] as when you had one.

So, in terms of the Island, we would lose out rather significantly on member items. I think it’s a good balance having two on Staten Island and one Democrat who’s in the majority. Citywide the City Council’s always been left of center. The reason why you see entities created like [political action committee] Jobs for New York is business people and private sector unions see things like paid sick leave, see things like the Community Safety Act, see things like motion to discharge, and they see this far-left shift. Right now, people are talking about getting enough rational Council people in where we can prevent the override of vetoes. Having another able body who can stand up and voice the opposition, I think is important citywide. Since I’ve been around, with only a few members, we’ve leveraged it pretty well and the times we have spoken, people have paid attention. You can fight ideological battles every day if you want. I think it’s important that there be a second Staten Island Republican to work together with Eric Ulrich, work with the remaining incoming rational Democrats who don’t want to see this city go far, far left.

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