Who Is Dan Donovan, New York City’s Only Republican Rep In Washington?

New York’s very own U.S. Representative Dan Donovan has been attracting a lot of unwanted attention of late. (See “Donovan: Your Constituents Want Face-to-Face Town Hall” in Bklyner online.) Why? He’s the only Republican representing New York City in Congress.

So, in the shocked wake of the Trump follies, folks frustrated with just leaning on New York Democratic Senators Schumer and Gillibrand are curious. Who is Dan Donovan, who elected him, can his seat be flipped, and can his support of the administration be tempered by public pressure?

Where is NY District 11? Here’s a map of Donovan’s jaggedly drawn district, which is NY 11. It covers all of Staten Island and also parts of Brooklyn. Specifically, in Brooklyn, this traditionally Republican district covers most of Bay Ridge south of 71st Street, Fort Hamilton, Dyker Heights, parts of Bensonhurst, Gravesend. It doesn’t cover east of Ocean Avenue. But it covers quite a bit of the area around Ocean Parkway, up to and including about 14 blocks along Kings Highway. It’s worth looking at the map below (see also an enlargeable map)

NY Congressional District 11 includes all of Staten Island and these sections of Brooklyn.
NY Congressional District 11 includes all of Staten Island and these sections of Brooklyn.

A District Divided in Two: Who Lives in the District?

Staten Island , also called Richmond County, has a population of 474,000. It is about 77 percent white and 12 percent black, according to recent census data (learn more here). There’s a drug epidemic and related health crisis in the borough. Surprisingly global, Staten Island’s population includes small pockets of ethnic communities : large cohort of Liberian refugees who were resettled twenty years ago; Sri Lankans and South Asians, and Latinos from Central and South America. Staten Island is home to a Syrian church, too. The north and south sides of the island tend to vote differently; the former more progressive and Democratic, the latter more conservative and Republican. Local news is best covered by the Staten Island Advance.

The Brooklyn section of District 11 is also diverse, covering quite different neighborhoods.

For instance, Bensonhurst, formerly Italian, has a large Asian population; census data show that half the population were born outside the US.

Bay Ridge with about 80,000 residents has a large Muslim population. His district includes Syrian immigrants including refugees, and the Arab American Association of New York, a leading social service and advocacy group.

On his website (as accessed 2/5/17) the only demographic group Congressman Donovan cites is veterans, who are served by a federally funded Veteran’s Center. “More than 26,000 veterans call our community home and I am proud to represent them in Congress. In Staten Island and southern Brooklyn, veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf War and the War on Terrorism have returned from service and deserve access to the important benefits they have earned.”

Anecdotally, it’s clear that the Brooklyn and Staten Island sections of the district are both historically inward looking, and even politically active progressives in each borough don’t regularly communicate with one another.

More insights into the politics of the district, albeit somewhat dated, can be found in this Center for Urban Research report on District 11 and the 2012 and 2014 elections.

<a rel="nofollow" href="https://www.nycgovparks.org/highlights/verrazano-bridge" target="_blank">The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge connects —and separates — District 11, which is comprised of Staten Island overall and a few Brooklyn neighborhoods.

Where Does Donovan Have Clout in Congress?

Although personally affable —the man projects a nice-guy, over-the-backyard-fence image —Donovan has supported President Trump’s controversial, signature travel ban on refugees and visitors from seven Muslim majority nations.

He sits on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the House Committee on Homeland Security, both charged with jurisdiction over critical issues such as the Iran nuclear deal and combating terrorist networks. He supported the ban, as he explains below in a testy meeting with citizens on February 6, 2017 at an occasionally raucous “Meet the Newsmaker” meeting hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce on February 6, 2017 at Metrotech in Downtown Brooklyn. Derisive laughter meet Donovan’s description of the travel ban as a “temporary pause,” and an “inconvenience.”

US Representative Republican Dan Donovan was ridiculed, heckled, hissed and corrected at his whitewashing of the Trump travel ban on visitors and refugees from Muslim nations, as Democratic Reps (r to l) Velazquez, Jeffries, Maloney and Clarke looked on, with pained expressions during a forum in Brooklyn. February 6, 2017


On his website, Donovan lists as issues: Budget, Education, “Gun Control and Second Amendment Rights,” Health Care, Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs, Jobs and Economic Growth, Tax Reform, Transportation, and Veterans.

Donovan has earned some notoriety in his home town of New York; he was the prosecutor in the Eric Garner case.

He “cosponsored 189 bills and resolutions introduced by other Members of Congress. Cosponsorship shows a willingness to work with others to advance policy goals,” according to the www.govtrack site. It added that he had the “second fewest cosponsors among New York Delegation; Donovan’s bills and resolutions had 48 cosponsors in the 114th Congress. “

Personal History

Despite supporting some draconian, hard-right presidential initiatives, Donovan displays a homeboy’s humor. During the Chamber of Commerce event, to illustrate that he is collaborative with Democrats, he quipped with fellow Congresswoman Montgomery, a Democrat, that she “gave me Inauguration tickets (to Donald Trump’s inauguration) because nobody in your district wanted them.” He mentions how grateful he is that his baby daughter “won the lottery being born in a city where she’ll get to experience things...—like sit next to a Muslim child in school and celebrate Jewish holidays — that other kids do not get to experience.” Somewhat plaintively he added, facing an audience chanting “save Medicaid” at him, “because I’m labeled as a Republican doesn’t mean I’m not working for you.” To which one might advise, check Donovan’s voting record, see https://www.govtrack.us.

According to The Daily Beast:

“Donovan’s father was a longshoreman who struggled with alcoholism, and Donovan came up under the protection of the Island’s Republican machine. A one-time close friend of the now-disgraced former Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik, he was hired by longtime Island powerbroker and Borough President Guy Molinari to serve as his chief of staff, and when Molinari retired, handing the reins of the Island to protégé Jim Molinaro, Donovan stayed on, using the post to run for district attorney.”

How to Reach Representative Donovan

Donovan was elected in May 2015, and reelected during the Trump wave. He’s a relative newcomer to Washington.

Donovan apparently has a reputation among constituents for ducking out from uncongenial situations. At the recent “Newsmakers” meeting he slipped out the back door without stopping to talk to his disaffected district voters. Among the complaints, yelled from the audience were, “Have a Town Hall!” and “Answer Your Phone!” A schedule of public appearances is not listed on his website.

Contact info:

Protestors from Bay Ridge interrupted Donovan’s speech at the Brooklyn Chamber of Congress
Protestors from Bay Ridge interrupted Donovan’s speech at the Brooklyn Chamber of Congress

BILLS SPONSORED BY DONOVAN through 2016 (source:Gov.Track.US)