Why it might not mean a Recchia win in November
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Even before the 20-count indictment against U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm was unsealed on Monday, Republican Party leaders were scrambling to find a way to dump him overboard and replace him with another candidate to run in the election in November, sources told the Brooklyn Eagle.
“We’re looking at every scenario, trying to see if there’s a way,” one high-ranking Brooklyn GOP leader said. “We started working on it as soon as the news broke on Friday that he was about to be indicted.”
The GOP is seeking to ward off what leaders termed a potential disaster, an indicted congressman running for re-election in a swing district. The prospect of their candidate running under a cloud is giving Republican leaders migraines.
Grimm, a two-term congressman, is running for a third term in the 11th Congressional District, a seat that covers the entire borough of Staten Island and takes in a handful of Brooklyn neighborhoods, including Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Gravesend. His Democratic opponent is former Coney Island-Gravesend councilman Domenic Recchia.
But getting Grimm off the ballot won’t be easy, according to political party leaders on both sides of the aisle. For one thing, Grimm filed his nominating petitions with the New York City Board of Elections by the deadline. Recchia, similarly, filed his petitions by the deadline.
“It’s too late. Even if Grimm agreed to drop out of the race voluntarily, he can’t. The petitions are in. He’s the Republican candidate,” a former GOP candidate said.
And there is nothing preventing Grimm from running for re-election. An indictment is an accusatory instrument, not proof of guilt. Grimm has thus far given no indication that he has any plans to drop out.
Following his court appearance, Grimm appeared defiant, calling the indictment the result of a “political witch hunt” designed to assassinate his character and remove him from office.
"This vendetta was designed to overturn the will of the people, the very people that I am very proud to say that I represent. And I knew it from the very beginning because I was a political outsider; that when I won, I wasn’t supposed to. It wasn’t expected. I wasn’t a part of the machine or the inner circle so my opponents didn’t know what to do. Then I started proving time and time again that I can get things done; that I can show bold decisive leadership. They weren’t used to that so the political witch hunt ensued and they fueled the fire. Many assumed I would abandon my post. They figured I’d run away. More importantly they figured my constituents would abandon me. Time and time again I have shown I don’t abandon my post," he said.
There is one tantalizing way Grimm’s name could be taken off the ballot, according to cityandstateny.com, which reported on Monday that if Grimm were to be nominated for a seat on the New York State Supreme Court, he would not be able to run for his congressional seat at the same time because New York state law forbids it. In New York, a candidate cannot run for two different offices in the same election year.
A judgeship nomination for Grimm would allow the GOP to replace him on the congressional ballot with another candidate.
One GOPer told the Eagle that he thought the judgeship scenario was the party’s best bet. “But I also think it’s unlikely. I mean, who is going to nominate a man under indictment for the bench?” he asked.
In another scenario, Grimm would have to move out of New York State. That would allow a committee of vacancies to name a replacement candidate.
“It's too late for another Democrat to jump into the race but as far as Grimm is concerned, it’s a little more complicated. There are few arcane scenarios in which Grimm could get off the ballot to give another Republican a shot at his seat,” a Democratic Party leader in Brooklyn told the Eagle.
The timing of the indictment, coming after the deadline for petitions had passed, is giving rise to conspiracy accusations by Republicans against the Obama Administration’s Justice Department. By announcing the indictment after the petition filing deadline, the prosecutors have inadvertently prevented the Republicans from replacing Grimm with a “more suitable” candidate.
“The Justice Department turned this election into a one-candidate race. They’re giving the voters one candidate to chose, that is, if you assume voters don’t want to vote for someone under indictment,” a high-ranking Republican said.
Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, who announced the indictment, denied that it was politically motivated. "It would be inappropriate to hold a case or push it forward for political means," she said.
It’s not necessarily the case that the indictment deals Grimm’s re-election chances a fatal blow, according to Bob Howe, a longtime Republican leader from Bay Ridge. Given that the indictment deals strictly with Grimm’s alleged wrongdoing involving a Manhattan restaurant that he owned before he ran for congress seat in 2010 and not with campaign finance corruption, as had been rumored, the voters might forgive him, Howe said.
“After all of the talk about how he was about to be indicted for campaign finance fraud, the voters might look at the indictment and say, ‘Is that it? Is that all feds got on him?’ It could wind up not hurting him,” Howe said.
But a different Democratic Party leader in Bay Ridge said he thought the restaurant-related charges are nothing to sneeze at. “I think the voters will be shocked that he’s accused of cheating the government out of $1 million. I don’t think they’ll forgive him so easily for that,” he said.
“I used to think this seat was a toss-up, maybe leaning a little toward Grimm. Now I think it’s leaning toward Recchia. Domenic is going to have to work hard for it. But I think he has a good shot now.”
And then there’s Staten Island. The sentiment of that borough’s voters could be the key to Grimm’s future in politics. The majority of the district’s voters, approximately three-quarters, live on Staten Island, giving that borough enormous leverage over Brooklyn in the congressional race.
Grimm is from Staten Island. Recchia is not. If Staten Islanders think of Grimm as one of their own, it might be difficult for Recchia to win the seat, according to one Democratic Party stalwart in Brooklyn.
“Staten Island is another planet. There's really no other way to put it. Everything Grimm has ever done, most Staten Islanders have stuck by him and chalk it all up to some grand conspiracy. Staten Islanders have always felt like they're under siege, under attack and forgotten by the government. It's a strange complex many Staten Islanders have. They always say they're the ‘forgotten borough’ or the forgotten Island’ and I think Grimm, in many ways, has come to represent that same sort of feeling,” the Democrat said.
“It’s very interesting because normally if your opponent gets indicted that should mean you will cruise to victory. I don't think that will be the case here. But we shall see. It’s interesting too because I've heard many people say this will ’help’ Recchia's chances but in no way does it mean he's a shoo-in,” he said.