Saturday, February 28, 2015

Staten Island-- Foolin' Around


In 2012, when Michael Grimm was reelected to Congress by beating weak Democratic centrist Mark Murphy-- 94,102 (53%) to 82,401 (46%)-- most of the votes (for each candidate) came from Staten Island, not from the Brooklyn portions of the 11th CD. Of 176,503 total votes cast districtwide, 130,295 came from State Island. Only 46,208 Brooklynites voted, and even though Murphy won in Brooklyn (albeit barely) it was inconsequential. Although the Brooklyn part of the district includes a traditional progressive heartland between Sheepshead Bay, Midwood and Gravesend, the most conservative parts of Brooklyn are also included, particularly Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights (like Staten Island across the Verrazano, Mafia territory). Brooklyn votes can help but the election for Congress for NY-11 is decided on Staten Island. But Democrats keep nominating Brooklynites. And losing.

After Staten Island Assemblymember Michael Cusick announced he wouldn't run against odd-on fave District Attorney Daniel Donovan, the Democrats figured they'd find someone to take up the slot on the ballot. The DCCC seems to have lost all interest once McMahon and Cusick decided not to run. Thursday evening the local Democrats picked Brooklyn City Councilman Vincent Gentile. He represents much of the Brooklyn western part of the district, Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Bath Beach (as well as Bensonhurst which isn't part of the district). From 1996 to 2002 he was a state Senator whose district included parts of Staten Island. Its not likely anyone from Staten Island cares or even remembers, although Gentile has been playing that up. The special election is May 5.
Emphasizing his campaign slogan “A Fresh Start,” Mr. Gentile mocked the Staten Island Republican establishment, which has controlled the seat for 31 of the last 33 years. The pol alluded to former Congresswoman Susan Molinari’s abrupt 1997 resignation to take a job as a television journalist, former Congressman Vito Fossella‘s decision not to run for re-election in 2008 after a drunk driving arrest revealed he had a secret family in the D.C. suburbs and Mr. Grimm stepping down last month after he pleaded guilty to a federal tax evasion charge.

“The last three Republican members of Congress this leadership gave us all disappeared into the wind. All gone, right? All gone. One left us flat, and the other two resigned in disgrace-- one of them now a convict and awaiting sentence,” he said, to laughter and applause from the assembled Democrats. “Now this same cohort of leaders with this embarrassing and abysmal record want to tell the good people of the 11th Congressional District who they have next in the queue to carry the title of Congress member. And to them and to you, I say, ‘Haven’t they embarrassed us enough?'”

He added: “You know the old saying, ‘three strikes, you’re out?’ Well, on May 5, they’re out, and we’re coming up to the plate.”

Mr. Gentile gave a possible preview of the campaign trail rhetoric he will deploy against Mr. Donovan, contrasting the district attorney’s lack of a lawmaking background with his own long tenure in the State Senate and City Council.

“I’m the only one in this race with experience as a legislator. My opponent has none, and I’m going into my 18th year as a legislator,” he said. “So just as you wouldn’t expect a candlestick-maker to become a dentist, or the shopkeeper to become an astronaut, you wouldn’t expect a D.A. with no legislative experience to become a legislator. Especially when you have an experienced legislator applying for the same job.”

The councilman also hit Mr. Donovan for his handling of the Eric Garner case. Mr. Donovan was unable to convince a grand jury to indict a wgute police officer in the death of Garner, a black Staten Island man, last year.

“Once the grand jury acted, this district attorney did not come out in public and face the people of Staten Island and try to explain to the people of Staten Island. He put out a press release,” said Mr. Gentile, calling for the release of transcripts of the grand jury proceedings. “And when there was disruption in the streets, chaos was breaking loose, our district attorney was nowhere to be seen. And that’s not leadership. That’s not leadership. And that is more reflective on the kind of leader he would be in Congress, and the kind of follower he would be in Congress.”

Mr. Donovan’s camp declined to comment on Mr. Gentile’s attacks. The district is predominantly white, and home to many police officers, and most political insiders doubt the Garner grand jury decision will negatively impact Mr. Donovan in the race.

Mr. Gentile ended his speech with an appeal to not allow borough loyalties to decide the race. Despite multiple attempts, no Brooklynite has ever won a race to represent the district, where more than two-thirds of the votes are in Staten Island.

“I know firsthand that we Staten Islanders and we Brooklynites are all from the same neck of the woods,” Mr. Gentile said.

Mr. Grimm dealt a humiliating defeat to former Brooklyn Councilman Domenic Recchia last year, even though the Democratic challenger out-raised and out-spent the indicted Republican incumbent.
Gentile has been a De Blasio supporter but he certainly isn't some kind of a progressive icon. As a lame-duck state senator he voted against the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act causing a shit storm in the gay community where it is widely assumed he is a closet case and has been accused of having had at least one same sex affair and of sexually harassing a young gay male on his staff. In recent years he's been more supportive of LGBT equality.

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