Besides being identical twins, the Di iorio brothers have Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., in common. Andrew, the elder twin by 20 minutes, interned for the congresswoman in 2007. Nick is running against her this fall, as a Republican.
The 27-year-old brothers, one an alum of Obama for America, the other a budding Republican politician, could be cast as the partisan version of Castro twins – Joaquin, the congressman from Texas, and Julian, the HUD secretary designee, both Democrats – but the Di iorios' story isn’t so simple.
“You know, as a kid, I loved the Franklin Roosevelt monument,” Nick says, referring to large memorial near the Tidal Basin. He and his brother are spending the day in Washington. And at this moment, they’re walking through the National Portrait Gallery, Nick’s new top spot, which replaced the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial mirroring his evolution out of Democratic politics.
Andrew’s hair is cropped and he’s a little bit more soft-spoken, but wears a blue suit just like his brother. Nick’s hair is longer and sprayed to stay in place. His blue suit pops with the presence of a colorful elephant tie. Nick has the swagger of a burgeoning politician. “I always make a joke about how Andrew’s older, but I’m more attractive,” he says laughing, pointing between their nearly indistinguishable faces.
As they stroll through the museum, Nick introduces himself to strangers. First, a school teacher, taking a class of sixth-graders on a field trip. Then he sprints over to an older man in a wheelchair sporting a Providence College baseball cap – Nick went to school there and grew up in nearby Johnston, Rhode Island. He introduces himself to the gentleman and family, making sure to hand them a business card before the exchange is complete.
“When he approached me about this opportunity in running for Congress, I was very excited for him,” says Andrew. “I think it’s something he’s fit for based on his need to serve.”
The first taste the twins got of the political world was in 2000 when their cousin Adam Bozzi, now communications director for Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., recruited the duo to work for the campaign of Democrat Richard Licht, a former Rhode Island lieutenant governor running for the U.S. Senate. “I think everyone appreciated these two young kids who found a way to dedicate themselves to this campaign and help with this cause and from there they really caught the bug,” Bozzi said.
The brothers worked furiously for the campaign, but Licht lost in the Democratic primary. Licht’s concession speech resonated with both twins. “We were watching him and he was very tearful because he had put so much effort into his campaign,” Andrew recalled. Nick remembered Licht calling the twins out by name, telling the crowd that he and his brother were the "future of the Democratic Party."
But that wasn’t Nick’s future. He went to Providence College, a small Catholic, liberal arts college, with the thought of becoming a priest. That all changed though, and he went from priest to politics. “I think I realized I wanted to have a family,” he said.He also began challenging his Democratic upbringing. “Something started to bother me about Democratic solutions: they didn’t always work,” he writes on his campaign website, “Nick for New York.”
Meanwhile, Andrew’s Democratic politics stayed firmly in place. “The politics that the Democrats are beholden to are things that I want to keep in my life,” Andrew explained.
The brothers split their first presidential votes – Andrew for John Kerry in 2004, while Nick supported President George Bush. And they’ve remained a “D” and an “R” ever since.
Though Nick hasn’t totally shunned his Democratic roots. (He’s running in New York City, after all.) “The thing I loved about being a Democrat when I grew up was there was really a sense of ‘politics is for the people,’” he said, adding that the Democrats often get viewed as being more compassionate. “Which I think is a misunderstanding about Republicans.”
Additionally, former Presidents Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy, along with former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., are among Nick’s political favorites. On the policy side, Nick doesn’t want to cut social programs – an older brother with special needs plays a role there. And his views on hot button conservative issues like abortion and gay marriage are nebulous.
“I think what Nick means to do is transcend party and maybe that sounds a little highfalutin, but it’s not clear to me whether the party label is critical in his case,” said his godmother Francine Lamoriello, a staunch Democrat, who works for a D.C.-based trade association. She admitted, however, that it "wouldn't be an easy choice," to vote for Nick. "Because I wish he could be part of the Democratic Party," she said.
Nick let the family in on his plans to run against Maloney during the holidays.
“Congress was a bit of a surprise,” Bozzi, his cousin, admitted. “There was no surprise that he was going to run as a Republican, by now he’s already clearly a Republican, despite everyone’s best efforts to bring him back to the light.” Even though Bozzi works for a Capitol Hill Democrat, he’s made an effort to give his cousin good advice. “He’s obviously not the front-runner in this race and I think he understands that,” Bozzi said.
New York’s 12th Congressional District, which consists of the ritzy Upper East Side and parts of Brooklyn and Queens, was once an important Republican district. But it hasn’t been that way in two decades or more, pointed out Mitchell L. Moss, professor of urban policy at New York University’s Wagner School. Maloney has been in office since 1993. “And she’s a very gifted fundraiser,” Moss said. “Carolyn Maloney has been there long enough that people know her and recognize her. She’s very attentive to her district.” Moss added that without a Republican presidential candidate at the top of the ticket, it will be very hard to get Republican voters out.
Despite all this, Nick tries to remain positive. “Well, the math is better now than it’s ever been,” he says, explaining that the 2012 redistricting might give him a boost. He plans to hit Maloney on issues like charter schools and tax reform.
Outside the museum, as Nick talks with tourists, Andrew, who just finished up law school, lays out his future plans. “I think if I were to be a government person it would be more on the staff side and not an actual public official myself,” he says.
That means he could play staffer to his brother. “I would hope if I offered him a position on the team he would consider it,” Nick says.
“I think that would be something I would definitely be open to – if that’s an option,” Andrew mulls. “We could be two places at once,” he jokes. But then he thinks about the downside. “We’d have to decide about tie color before we wake up that morning.”