Last night's Michael Grimm debacle: What really went wrong in Staten Island

We all know about his indictment and threats. But here's how the left blew a golden opportunity in my home district

Published November 5, 2014 4:32PM (EST)

Michael Grimm             (Reuters/Gary Cameron)
Michael Grimm (Reuters/Gary Cameron)

This morning, as reporters and pundits announce indicted congressman Michael Grimm’s win over Domenic Recchia in Staten Island, it’s hard for them to hide their amazement, disgust, shock. As a reluctantly proud Staten Islander, I picture their listeners and viewers at home adding Grimm’s win to their already slanted view of Staten Island. “Jersey Shore, Sammy the Bull, the Landfill, now a crook for a congressperson. Those people are backward,” they say. But the truth is, Michael Grimm’s win is much more about Domenic Recchia’s mismanagement at the hands of the national party, than it is about Michael Grimm’s character or the people of Staten Island’s strange political choices.

From the day Michael Grimm was indicted, the Recchia campaign used its opponent’s legal troubles and shady past as a lean-to, a place to hide out and avoid learning about the district, its issues, and its constituents' needs. Instead, the campaign went full force to remind people that Michael Grimm was a criminal. This may have turned off some potential Grimm supporters, but it also began to alarm a larger majority of swing voters who suspected that shock was standing in for lack of substance. This constant bombardment of Grimm’s legal woes not only began to appear slanderous, but it allowed Grimm to play the role of the bullied candidate. A part, I must add, he played pretty well for a guy who is used to being the bully.

Domenic Recchia is a good man, a strong supporter of the working and middle class; also, he gets things done. This was the message the Recchia campaign tried hard to convey to the people of District 11, but it was lost in, uh, translation? Instead, what the people of Staten Island got was something similar to a guy who showed up to his undergraduate lit class unprepared, but still insistent on participating. So the narrator of "The Great Gatsby" becomes Daisy, Lee wins at Gettysburg, dealing with Japanese foreign exchange students counts as foreign policy experience. As the rest of the city (and nation) laughed about Recchia’s gaffes, the people of Staten Island felt disrespected. Here’s a guy, many people said, who thinks we’re so dumb that he didn’t even take the time to learn about us.

All of this campaigning fun on Staten Island cost money, too -- more than $3 million worth of fun. What this translated to were ads, commercials, online campaigns and a giant Domenic Recchia looking down at you from above busy Hylan Boulevard. The majority of the content in these ads reminded Staten Islanders, apparently prone to forgetting, that Michael Grimm had broken the law (as if we did not know). As the Recchia campaign spent more money on paper that would end up in a landfill (not on Staten Island, thankfully), the Grimm people were able to construct a narrative of an embattled incumbent, running a campaign on a shoestring. Michael Grimm’s story got weirder: a lifetime bully playing the bullied; the guy who forgot to report over a million dollars of income, now the pauper candidate up against big money.

It’s fun to sit around and find the faults in campaigns, but Staten Island is a real place and the people here have real problems. Walk along any of the small business districts and you’ll quickly know that economic depression has stunted any type of growth; drive down to the beach communities devastated by Sandy and see how much the Build-It-Back programs haven’t done; ask Eric Garner’s mother why her son’s killer hasn’t been arrested. As Domenic Recchia heads back to Brooklyn, his staff back to DC, and Michael Grimm back to Congress, we are still here looking for leaders who will help us make some of our problems a little better.

By Chris O'Brien

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