Competitors In NY’s 11th Congressional District Fight for Moderate Vote

When one thinks of the political “center” of America, the 11th Congressional District in New York, comprised of Staten Island and southern Brooklyn, is hardly the first image that comes to mind. After all, New York City is supposed to be one of the great bastions of the liberal-progressive movement, as reflected in the overwhelming wins of Democrats Bill de Blasio, Letitia James, and Scott Stringer in the 2013 citywide elections.

But while pollsters run in droves to Iowa to get the pulse of “the center,”

In 2008, John McCain carried Staten Island by mere percentage points. In 2012, President Obama won the day in NY-11 by less than one point.  It is that close.

In 2009, National Journal found that then-Representative Michael McMahon (D-NY) had a voting record “at the dead center of the House” based on its review of 96 votes he cast on foreign affairs, economic concerns, and important issues of the day — like “Obamacare” (which McMahon voted against).

The first Democrat to hold the seat since 1981, McMahon was ultimately defeated in 2010 after only one term by the current incumbent, Michael Grimm (R-NY). Grimm rode a combination of a tea party wave and liberal disappointment in McMahon’s centrist record in Congress.

Now seeking his third term, Grimm finds himself much in the same position as McMahon. In what could be one of the rarest coincidences in politics, National Journal ranked Republican Grimm as they once ranked Democrat McMahon – the ideological center of Congress – after reviewing over 200 of Grimm’s votes.

 

Congressman Grimm serves on the House Financial Services Committee, co-chairs the House Republican Israel Caucus, and is the chairman of the Republican Policy Committee’s Task Force on Foreign Policy.

During his tenure, Grimm voted to repeal “Obamacare” (a position that should increase his popularity with voters these days) and has made support for Israel a high priority. He has also endeared himself to his constituents by being a humane advocate for pets, regularly featuring his own pet Yorkie named Sebastian, whom he rescued from a Missouri puppy mill.

But much like McMahon, Grimm is feeling the heat from the ideological extreme of his party. Tom Hilton, a constituent and early supporter of Grimm, feels misled.

“Michael Grimm ran in 2010 as a conservative who supported Tea Party values of fiscal sanity, small government, the Constitution, and defunding Obamacare. We got him elected, as he admitted,” Hilton said on his Facebook page, Primary Challenge Michael Grimm. “Within four months, he began attacking the Tea Party, and moving steadily left.”

Indeed, months after winning election, Grimm chose not to join the House Tea Party Caucus and joined the more moderate Republican Main Street Partnership instead. Hilton’s views are also reflected in the Madison Project’s poor opinion of Grimm’s voting record, stating that “[i]n his freshman year, Grimm voted against every opportunity to cut spending and has amassed one of the most pro-big-labor records in the conference.”

The discontent has even led to rumors of support building around Vito Fossella, the former Republican congressman who resigned from office amidst scandal in 2008.

That is not to say that Grimm is unpopular in his own local party – quite the contrary. He still boasts the support of most of his fellow Republican elected officials on Staten Island, as well as the party’s leadership. A regular guest on national cable news shows, Grimm has remained highly visible.

 

Grimm will be challenged by Domenic Recchia, a term-limited former NYC councilman. A Brooklyn native, Recchia has been integral to the plan to re-develop the well-known amusement area in Coney Island, advocating heavily on behalf of Thor Equities and developer Joe Sitt, who has in turn supported his congressional aspirations.

For the last 4 years, Recchia has chaired the City Council’s powerful Finance Committee, putting that position to political use. According to reports, Recchia funneled close to one-third of the city council “member items” to charities, schools, and hospitals on Staten Island in this past fiscal year — all of which was outside of his former council district, but within the 11th congressional district.

Even capital project funding found its way through Recchia’s hands into Staten Island. Recchia allocated more than $1.5 million for upgrades to the Eden II School for Autistic Children on Staten Island. For this, James Oddo (R-Staten Island), a former colleague of Recchia’s in the city council and current Staten Island Borough President, dubbed Recchia “[t]he hero of the day.”

With the full support of the DCCC, bipartisan support from notable Republicans like Oddo, and financial backing from the family of billionaire and former Republican mayoral candidate John Catismatidis, Recchia’s campaign seems to be off and running.

 

Recchia has chosen to tie Grimm to the delay in federal assistance in response to Superstorm Sandy attributed to House Speaker John Boehner and the Republican congressional majority and contrasted that to him “work[ing] tirelessly on the ground to rebuild and facilitate the region’s recovery.”

“To hear Michael Grimm say, ‘I’m not going to support [Boehner].’ Which is great, I’m glad. But then he goes and supports him. That’s unacceptable,” said Recchia in an interview with Politicker.

His colleagues agree.

“Domenic was on the ground 24/7, and thank God for that,” said state Senator Diane Savino (D- Staten Island/Brooklyn) to SILive.com.

Grimm supporters, however, argue that Grimm was there for his district.

“As a victim of Sandy, I can honestly say, that [Michael Grimm] has worked diligently to assist all victims, businessmen and residents alike,” said Frank Aversa, a Staten Island resident and supporter of Grimm. “Congressman Grimm continues to assist in the rejuvenation of the business communities affected by Sandy, in both Staten Island & Brooklyn.”

In response, Grimm has taken an aggressive posture, calling Recchia a “pathetic political hack”, a “complete empty suit” and “another hypocritical, career politician … void of an original thought.” He has called Recchia a “phony baloney” on health care and has even disparaged Recchia’s Brooklyn roots, stating that Recchia cannot be trusted “to put Staten Island first” since he does not live there — a remark that may offend his Brooklyn constituents on both sides of the aisle.

Grimm supporters have also pulled a tactic out of mothballs that did wonders against Michael McMahon, tying Recchia to his city council vote that raised local property taxes over 18 percent in the wake of the city’s fiscal distress resulting from the attacks on September 11, 2001.

With so much happening nearly a year before the mid-term elections, NY-11 appears to, once again, be taking “center” stage in New York politics.

Photo Credit: Michael Grimm / Facebook