Primary Culler: Council Rematch in Staten Island — But What Will Gowda Do?


The main event in Staten Island’s 49th Council District is a rematch between six-month incumbent Kenneth Mitchell versus challenger Debi Rose (pictured). In the February special election to replace new Congressman Michael McMahon, Rose lost to Mitchell by only 342 votes. You don’t get that close and then duff it in the rematch. In the closing days some dirt’s been stirred: Rose has been accused of improperly using work computers at the College of Staten Island for campaign purposes (Rose heads the college’s Liberty Partnership program), and of not paying a campaign worker from the previous election. And Illona Thomas, 63, says she was bounced from her real estate job because she’s a Rose supporter and her boss wanted to suck up to Mitchell…

Much of Mitchell’s support comes from other Staten Island pols and unions; Rose has a few unions of the more liberal sort, and the Working Families Party, which gives her an extra ballot line. Mitchell’s strategy seems to be to get his name on legislation (sometimes with Republican Staten Island colleagues) and let people know about it, and stay Irish; Rose’s seems to be to stay positive and work her black-progressive-female credentials — not a sure winner in Staten Island, where no black candidate has ever been elected to anything.

Complicating the race is Rajiv S. Gowda, who has his own multi-culti boast: the first Asian American to run for public office in Staten Island. He’s also a community board member, a civil engineer — and a union leader, which has helped win him a few big labor endorsements. He, too, is in a rematch of sorts: In the special election, Mitchell got Gowda thrown off the ballot. Gowda’s acolytes assured voters then, “Mr. Gowda did not want to drag you to the court and waste tax payers money for legal fees and therefore, decided not to challenge. He will run for the North Shore City Council seat in the General Election 2009.” And so he has. Some people think he’s more likely to hurt Rose than Mitchell — splitting the challenge vote, the people-of-color vote, and so forth — but Gowda’s homey, conservative message (“It’s time to send an engineer to City Council”) might actually resonate with Mitchell’s honky voters and peel them off. Pick ’em.