Republican candidate for mayor Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente wants one of his fellow candidates to agree to a Spanish-speaking debate.
De La Fuente recently challenged New York Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, who is also vying for the Republican mayoral nomination, to tackle the issues in Spanish.
The mayoral hopeful accused Malliotakis, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, of playing up her family’s Cuban heritage in stump speeches and called her out on claims that she is proficient in Spanish.
“If you claim that you are Hispanic and that you have Hispanic roots, then you need to show [voters] in your native language,” De La Fuente said during a phone interview Thursday.
Malliotakis has said she is better equipped to court Hispanic Democrats away from de Blasio due to her proficiency in Spanish, according to published reports.
Pointing to the city’s large population of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and residents from other Latin countries, De La Fuente said many Hispanics would feel more comfortable hearing about the issues facing New Yorkers in Spanish rather than English.
“At least 30 percent of the population speaks Spanish and Spanish is their native tongue,” De La Fuente said.
There is a difference, he said, between practicing a speech in Spanish and having a conversation in Spanish. “The question is: can you comprehend?”
“I can change from one language to the other and I’m 100 percent sure my Spanish is better than my English,” De La Fuente added. But he believes Malliotakis’ concept of being proficient in Spanish may differ from his.
When asked if she would accept De La Fuente’s challenge, a spokesman for Malliotakis’ campaign responded, “Rocky who?”
De La Fuente said Malliotakis has yet to respond directly to his challenge, but he hopes that she would be willing to debate him in English at the very least.
“You also need to have a debate in English. And you need to have more conversation,” he said. “It’s not important how she masters English or Spanish, but how she masters the issues.”
De La Fuente conceded Malliotakis will likely not take him up on the challenge, but he said he hopes the conversation will expose the issues facing Hispanic residents.
This isn’t the first political campaign for De La Fuente, who sought the Democratic Party’s nomination in the 2016 presidential race. He moved from San Diego to New York City in May 2017 and filed with the city’s campaign finance board to run for mayor as a Republican.
De La Fuente, who has placed the homeless crisis, traffic infrastructure and job creation at the top of his campaign platform, has promised voters that he would defend the city against corruption and wasteful spending of taxpayer money.
A spokeswoman for De La Fuente’s campaign said they believe he will meet the requirements to get on the ballot.
Malliotakis, the daughter of Cuban and Greek immigrants, was born in New York City. She’s currently serving her third term in the state Assembly.
She recently become a front-runner in the bid for the Republican Party nomination after rival Paul Massey dropped from the race, and has received endorsements from the likes of the Brooklyn Republican Party and the Conservative Party of New York State.
Malliotakis built a campaign platform around capping city spending, improving the transit system “by appointing MTA board members who will challenge the system,” and enforcing quality of life laws.