Updated: Feb. 20, 2023, 1:35 p.m. | Published: Feb. 20, 2023, 10:57 a.m.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to be the standard-bearer for the Republican Party, but while speaking early Monday morning to an enthusiastic Staten Island crowd he didn’t mention the elephant in the room.
The one-time ally of President Trump has become his latest political enemy as rumors swirl about DeSantis challenging the former commander-in-chief in the 2024 primaries.
DeSantis spoke at an Annadale law enforcement event, hosted by the New York State Fraternal Order of Police, about the need for safer communities, but made no mention of the de facto leader of his party at the Presidents’ Day breakfast event.
While he hasn’t officially announced his candidacy for president, DeSantis kicked off his speech — on the borough that Trump won in 2020 with more than 57% of the vote — by comparing Florida and Staten Island, getting cheers from the crowd at Privé catering hall when he asked how many people hoped to eventually move to the Sunshine State.
“Is this Florida north or is Florida Staten Island south?” the governor jokingly asked the crowd. “You don’t have to look far in Florida to find someone that’s got Staten Island roots.”
DeSantis spoke for about 20 minutes, making the influx of people into his state from northern cities — particularly of law enforcement officers — a central focus of his remarks.
He followed New York State Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Essig and former congressman and failed gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin on the stage.
Zeldin, who lost his gubernatorial race in November to Gov. Kathy Hochul, said he knew DeSantis when they served together in the House of Representatives, and described him as a “work horse” committed to making life better for his constituents.
“It has been too long since we’ve been able to hear a voice of a governor who is unapologetically fighting for us and our families to keep us safe, prosperous and free,” Zeldin said.
People wearing pro-law enforcement apparel filled the crowd, and the line for entrance started before 6:30 a.m.
In addition to laying out his efforts against “woke” and “critical theory,” DeSantis talked about his pro-police policies, including a $5,000 recruitment bonus and school-choice scholarships for the dependents of law enforcement officers.
“I wish I can tell you that Floridians are just so much better but it’s not the reason. It’s not. The reason is, is we support strong policies to keep our communities safe, and we back the blue and we support their mission,” he told the crowd.
DESANTIS FOCUSES ON CRIME
DeSantis also painted the enthusiastic group’s city as a crime-ridden hellscape ruined by Democratic policies, despite multiple cities in his state having higher murder rates than that in the five boroughs.
According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Florida had a homicide death rate of 7.9 people per 100,000 while the Empire State had a homicide death rate of 4.7 people per 100,000.
DeSantis didn’t mention that disparity, and the tightly-corralled media didn’t get the chance to ask him. His team quickly whisked him away when he was done speaking.
Mayor Eric Adams didn’t hold back about his thoughts on the governor via social media. He echoed criticisms about DeSantis’ stances against transgender people, abortion and illegal immigration.
“Welcome to NYC, [Gov. Desantis], a place where we don’t ban books, discriminate against our LGBTQ+ neighbors, use asylum seekers as props, or let the government stand between a woman and health care,” the mayor posted on his Twitter feed. “We’re happy to teach you something about values while you’re here.”
DESANTIS VS. TRUMP?
The press didn’t get the chance to ask DeSantis about his budding rivalry with the former president, who hasn’t been shy about his feelings towards the governor.
Trump has given the Florida governor a variety of nicknames, including “Ron DeSanctimonious” and “Meatball Ron,” and made him his latest target of personal attacks as the 2024 election season approaches.
A Quinnipiac Poll released Thursday showed the two Florida men as the clear front runners for the upcoming presidential primaries.
Among surveyed Republican voters, the Quinnipiac poll showed Trump receiving 48% of the vote and DeSantis with about 31% of the vote. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who declared her run for president last week, former Vice President Mike Pence, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made up the rest of the top five candidates each receiving less than 5% of the vote.
Although in the last election Staten Island was considered “Trump country,” Republican officials locally have hinted at their preference for DeSantis, but few have come out publicly in support of the Florida governor over Trump.
Several elected officials who have been Trump supporters were at the event. State Senator Andrew Lanza, City Councilmen Joseph Borelli and David Carr, and Assemblymen Michael Tannousis and Sam Pirozzolo were all in the room.
When asked about the likely Trump-DeSantis matchup, Tannousis, who also chairs the local chapter of the Republican Party, shifted the conversation back to his support of law enforcement.
“I was happy to attend the event to support our police and our law enforcement. That’s the reason I attended. That’s the reason the event was held,” he said. “It was to send a clear message that our law enforcement needs to be supported and that we need to find the right people to do the job by incentivizing people to become police officers and not defunding the police.”