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New York 1 is reporting that Michael Grimm, the congressman from Staten Island, is in an extremely tight race to retain his seat.
That a Republican incumbent in conservative Staten Island is so evenly matched with a Democratic challenger — former Brooklyn councilmember Domenic Recchia — would be news in any case. But it’s especially interesting given that Grimm is currently under a federal indictment, facing significant jail time for a litany of alleged labor and tax offenses. Despite being mostly abandoned by both the national GOP and his own staffers, new polling essentially shows a statistical dead heat, with neither candidate running an advantage that exceeds the margin of error.
When news of his indictment emerged this spring, Grimm, who has an impressive capacity for self-pity, told Politico that he was the victim of a malignant press corps. His denial of the allegations was notably lukewarm, however — asked if he was guilty, he was quoted by Politico as responding, “You know, uh. It depends on what you’re asking me of.”
If the press corps is out to get Grimm, it might have to do with that time he threatened to toss a reporter off a “fucking balcony,” caught in a clip that literally can’t be watched too many times.
He issued a tepid apology after that incident.
Grimm is accused of, among other things, paying the workers at his restaurant under the table to avoid taxes, and committing a whole bunch of perjury.
His fundraising has flagged since the indictment came down, but he’s been defiant throughout. Defiance is sort of his thing, actually. Like in 2011, when the New Yorker reported on a 1999 incident during which Grimm, an FBI agent at the time, was accused of threatening patrons at a nightclub — at gunpoint.
Grimm had reportedly been involved in an argument with the ex-husband of his date for the evening. He left the club after the confrontation, but then allegedly returned, looking for the ex-husband he’d argued with, brandishing a gun and promising to “fuckin’ kill him.” Asked by a bouncer who he was, Grimm allegedly replied, “I’m a fucking FBI agent,” which probably isn’t how they phrase it at Quantico.
Grimm attacked the piece as a smear job and denied it all; the magazine responded by publishing a follow-up with even more detail about the bizarre incident, which reportedly included Grimm taking “command” of the nightclub and ordering all the “white people” to leave.
Despite a colorful history as perhaps the only red-meat conservative in Congress hailing from New York, Grimm might still have a chance to pull this thing out. He’s been a reliable voice calling for, fittingly, less red tape and regulation on small businesses in New York. And he scored points with low-information voters as an outspoken opponent of the “Ground Zero Mosque,” which was neither a mosque nor at ground zero.
And Recchia, the Democrat challenging Grimm, might be having his own legal headaches. A nonprofit that he generously funded through city council grants is being investigated by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
All of this is to say that it should be an interesting last few weeks of the campaign.