By Sabina Mollot
Although primary day is just around the corner, local elected officials aren’t facing any challengers. After all, defeating a popular incumbent is a next-to-impossible task for an unknown candidate. There’s only thing even more difficult. Defeating a popular, 22-year incumbent in the general election when you’re an unknown Republican and democrat voters outnumber Republicans six to one.
But Nicholas Di iorio, a former seminary student who was more recently a contractor with Pfizer, believes he’s got a shot. The reason, said the 28-year-old Upper East Sider (who lives a few blocks away from his opponent, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney), is redistricting.
The district today encompasses much of the East Side of Manhattan, including Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, midtown and the Upper East Side as well as Astoria, Queens and part of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. The redrawing of the district maps in 2012 means that the area that became the 12th district is “now more Republican than it’s ever been,” said Di iorio.
So much so that he’s lost interest in a reality show he’d last year planned to participate in that would have followed his campaign and another race deemed to be unwinnable. A July Daily News story reported that the show idea was turned down by the Esquire channel, but according to Di iorio, though he did want to do it initially, he’d changed his mind even before it was rejected by the network.
“The point is this is a winnable race,” he said, adding that for the past 10 months, he’s been focused on the campaign full time. In terms of support he said he’s gotten the endorsements of the Republican, Conservative and Independent parties. He’s only started to fundraise, holding an event on Wednesday night at the East Village restaurant Sliders.
As for Maloney, Di iorio recently accused her of “phoning it in,” and blasted her trip to China to acquire pandas for New York, saying her priorities should be jobs in the U.S. and the Israeli/Hamas conflict. (Maloney last week responded to say the trip was also about trade policy.)
Di iorio said his platform is job creation, school choice – he’s a supporter of charters, including in cases of colocations – and locally, creating affordability.
One way to do this, he said, is to remove income cap requirements for residents of public housing, which, he believes, keeps those people down. “If you live in public housing, you could stay and generate wealth and then you could have something to hand down to your children.” Di iorio added that he supports Mayor de Blasio’s housing program, but said he’s like to see the 200,000 units of affordable housing built or maintained turned into something that helps New Yorkers own.
Di iorio noted how even homeless people he’s encountered through his volunteer work at the Bowery Mission, an organization that provides showers and hot meals to the homeless, talk about their hopes of eventually owning their homes.
“We should be helping them get there,” said Di iorio. “It’s not just about the band aid, the stopgap.”
He’s also a supporter of Council Member Dan Garodnick for his advocacy on tenants’ rights in Stuyvesant Town. “On this one issue,” he quickly added.
On affordability, Di iorio said he is a supporter of rent stabilization and wants to see the practice of predatory equity stop. However, he didn’t specify any related tenant-friendly legislation he had in mind.
Di iorio is no stranger to the issue of affordability himself though. He lives in a four-story walkup with three roommates, one of whom he shares a room with. All the men are in their 20s with Di iorio being the oldest. “I could never pay my rent without my roommates,” he said.
On job creation, Di iorio said he wants to lower the corporate tax from 35 percent to 25 percent.
Prior to running for office, he worked for Pfizer as a financial consultant, doing research and development and trying to find ways to save the company money. He cited his experience with the company as an example of why he wants to make the tax more business friendly. He believes doing so will give companies enough incentive to stop hiring foreign labor for manufacturing jobs and start hiring locally.
“Our tax system puts the jobs overseas,” he said. “We have the highest corporate tax in the developed world. The low skill and middle class jobs the U.S. is losing every day because the jobs are being put overseas.”
Like his opponent, Di iorio is pro-Israel and traveled there last week on what he called a “mission trip.” A press release sent out from his campaign on Monday said he’s met with the mayor of Sderot, a city where there have been recent rocket attacks, and an Israeli rabbi to discuss how the violence has been impacting people.
The issue of social benefit programs is also one that’s deeply personal to the candidate. His own parents were on welfare and food stamps for a year before he was born and one of his two brothers, Matthew, who’s disabled with a neurological condition, depends on local and federal assistance.
While Di iorio said he supports those programs and SNAP (food stamps), he believes many of the programs currently in place are too easy to abuse and need to be “updated.”
“If we don’t fix our safety net and abuse is allowed to continue, people such as Matthew won’t have a safety net to fall back on,” he said. “Democrats think all you need to do is spend money. Funding SNAP is essential to the country, but we need to put middle class people back at work.”
Di iorio said he would also try to get the law changed to allow people to have access to medications that haven’t yet been approved by the FDA if they want them.
Along with Matthew, Di iorio also has an identical twin, Andrew, who ironically, worked as an aide for Maloney while he was in college.
Despite still being a Democrat, Di iorio said his brother’s been “very supportive” of his campaign against Andrew’s former boss. “Andrew and I are moderates,” he added. “We think about people first.”
On charter schools, Di iorio said they “should be treated the same way as district schools. The current system has failed our kids. Charters offer an alternative.”
He added that Maloney’s been silent on the issue when Mayor de Blasio was trying to fight the expansion of charters.
On social issues such as gay marriage and abortion, the candidate said he thinks the government shouldn’t be telling people “what marriage is and what marriage isn’t,” and he supports a woman’s right to choose with one exception.
“I’m against sex-selective abortion,” he said.
Before his contract at Pfizer, which ended in January, Di iorio worked for the Rhode Island Statehouse.
Prior to being employed there, he volunteered for a congressional campaign for Democrat Patrick Kennedy. (Di iorio’s party affiliation wouldn’t switch until recently because of what he considers ineffective spending.) Then there was the time he spent studying to become a priest, offering his services in nursing homes and as a prison chaplain. In 2010, however, he left St. John’s Seminary. As for his change of heart in what he wanted to do professionally, in Di iorio’s view, switching from clergy to candidacy wasn’t that big of a big leap.
“When a man is studying to become a priest, he learns the human condition,” he said. “If nothing else, a Catholic priest is ready to serve.”
2010 is also the year Di iorio moved to New York. This is where, post graduation from Providence College in Rhode Island, he got his master’s in philosophy at Fordham.
For more information about Di iorio, visit nickfornewyork.com.