Brooklynite may be candidate in election to replace Grimm

January 29, 2015 Helen Klein
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Another Brooklynite may be the Democrats’ candidate in the race to replace disgraced former Congressmember Michael Grimm.

With Staten Island Assemblymember Michael Cusick making the decision not to run for the bi-borough seat in the 11th C.D. vacated by Grimm after the latter’s guilty plea on a charge of tax evasion, Democrats may be forced to look to this side of the Narrows to find a candidate, choosing between Councilmember Vincent Gentile and Assemblymember Bill Colton.

Gentile, who is in his last term in the City Council, declined to speak with this newspaper about the subject. However, his spokesperson, Justin Brannan, contended that Gentile – despite the fact that Brooklyn represents only about 30 percent of the district – would make a strong candidate should he get the nod.

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“A Brooklyn native who represented Staten Island for six years, Councilman Gentile’s strong legislative record and unrivaled constituent services operation make him a very strong contender for New York’s 11th Congressional District,” Brannan said. “The outpouring of support from those urging him to run on both sides of the Verrazano has been overwhelming.

“From battling against tax hikes to making sure police officers have the latest and most sophisticated bulletproof vests, Councilman Gentile has never backed down from a fight,” Brannan added. “As a former prosecutor and an assistant district attorney, as a state senator, and now as deputy majority leader of the New York City Council, Gentile has always been an independent leader.”

As for Colton, he has said that he would run if he believed that he would be the candidate who could bring together the two parts of the district, telling this paper that he had been “urged… to do what I am doing in my district, bring people together to fight and speak on issues that make a difference.

“Both Staten Island and southern Brooklyn have been ignored for decades,” he contended. “That has to stop. We have to come together and fight together, and this is the right time for someone to unite southern Brooklyn and Staten Island. A lot of my decision will be, can I be that vehicle?”

Rumor has it that the Staten Island Democratic Chair, John Gulino, has been leaning toward Gentile; however, one insider said that Brooklyn Democrats were still pressing to have a Staten Islander make the race as the only possible route to a Democratic victory.

Whoever gets the nod would likely face Staten Island Republican District Attorney Dan Donovan, the GOP’s presumed candidate.

Donovan – who won re-election with 70 percent of the vote in 2011 – is widely known in connection with the Eric Garner case, and the Staten Island jury’s decision not to indict the police officer who had been accused of restraining Garner through the use of a chokehold.

Brooklyn candidates have historically lagged in the race. Most recently, former Brooklyn Councilmember Domenic Recchia fell flat, losing by some 13 percentage points to Grimm, who was under indictment at the time of the election.

Democrats in general have had difficulty winning the seat. Since the creation of a congressional seat encompassing all of Staten Island and a portion of southwest Brooklyn, only one Dem, Michael McMahon, has been elected to the post, and he only held the seat for a single term, before being defeated by Grimm.

On the other hand, two of the three GOP occupants of the post – Grimm and former Congressmember Vito Fossella – have left the seat under a cloud. Fossella declined to run for a seventh term after he was arrested on a charge of DUI and it was discovered that the married pol had a second family in Virginia.

For either Brooklynite, it would be a tough race against Donovan, contended one Brooklyn insider who said that if the governor declines to authorize a special election and instead let the election occur at the next scheduled Election Day, in November, it could change the race’s complexion.

“He’s free now,” said the source of Donovan. But, once petitioning time arrives at the end of May, Donovan, the pundit said, would have to make a decision – run for Congress or run for re-election to the D.A. post.

Another insider said that a November election was the likely scenario at this point. In that case, the source said, there might have to be a primary.

McMahon has not officially ruled out running for his old seat but insiders say he is not interested.

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