Sitting across the table from Vickie Paladino can feel a lot like sitting down to a family dinner.
Stranger or friend, the newly nominated Republican candidate for New York Senate District 11 will offer you a seat in her booth at the Whitestone Diner as if she’s know you her whole life. But, as family dinners go, the 64-year-old mother of two can switch gears from laughing over a plate of scrambled eggs to talking heatedly about state and local politics with the flick of a fork.
“I’ve been political all my life,” Paladino, a Whitestone native, told Patch. “Back then it was called kitchen table politics.”
In the last year, her political stage has grown much larger. Paladino is now the Republican nominee for State Senate District 11 – including Bayside, Douglaston, Flushing, Whitestone and Little Neck – after beating out GOP-backed opponent Simon Minching in the primary elections on Sept. 13.
With 1,640 votes to Minching’s 1,220, Paladino will face off against Democratic nominee and former city comptroller John Liu in the general elections come November.
“I was ecstatic,” Paladino said of her victory. “It was a huge feeling of elation. The people spoke.”
Championing for those ‘people’ has become the crux of Paladino’s campaign, in which she relied heavily on grassroots campaigning and promised to be “a strong voice” for her community.
“I’m here to fight for my community and fight for our quality of life,” she said.
Of course, she’s going to do it on her terms. Paladino first entered the political spotlight last year when she crashed Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Whitestone press conference to confront him about leaving the funeral of a slain NYPD cop early to attend a protest in Germany.
“I want to know why you let your police officers down and your country down,” Paladino was filmed shouting at de Blaiso in a fit of rage that made national headlines.
That spur-of-the-moment decision would ultimately put Paladino’s political interests in the public eye, prompting her to campaign for two of Blasio’s challengers until, eventually, she was approached to run for her own spot in office.
Her decision to go for it was backed by much of the same reasoning that led her to lash out at de Blasio in the first place.
“I got into this because I’m sick and tired,” Paladino said.
Paladino contends she represents a growing crowd of voters in middle-class Northeast Queens who feel overlooked by the state’s current administration, which she said has allowed their quality of life to decline while the cost of living skyrockets.
“The middle class is suffocating and nobody cares,” she said.
Though her name is on the Republican ticket, Paladino views herself as a centrist candidate with “common sense” ideals that cut across party lines.
“I like to consider myself one that listens to both sides and makes reasonable decisions,” she said. “I have Democrats and Independents who are crazy about me, and I love them as well.”
But not everyone is a fan of Paladino. The Queens County GOP moved to distance itself from the presidential candidate, with Chairwoman Joann Ariola telling QNS, “Paladino represents everything that we are not.”
The party took issue with Paladino’s tax records, controversial remark at campaign events and on social media, and her supporters’ anti-Semitic and borderline racist comments on Facebook, Ariola told the news outlet.
But Paladino remained unfazed by the criticism.
“The Queens GOP will do what the Queens GOP will do,” she said. “I have really no comment on that.”
She has instead set her sights set on preparing for November.
Despite the District 11’s Democratic primary turnout dwarfing Republicans’ by about 20,000 voters, Paladino is confident she can win the general election. She blamed the vast difference on a bigger Democratic ballot, and expects to get support from Democratic and Independent supporters who couldn’t vote in the primaries.
“I am anxious, I am excited and I am under the gun, but all my people are still with me,” she said.
“I’m in it for the long haul, and I’m going to win this race the same way I said I was going to win the primaries.”