By January 2016, the last Republican congressional seat in New York City may very well be occupied by an admitted tax fraudster, a district attorney at the center of the nationwide controversy over alleged police brutality, or one of the GOP’s most promising rising stars.
One thing’s for certain, it’s going to be one of the next year’s best political storylines to watch.
On Tuesday, Rep. Michael Grimm (R-New York) pleaded guilty to tax fraud charges stemming from a Manhattan health food restaurant he co-owned from 2007-2010. Grimm, whose district includes Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, could face jail time.
This sets up an intriguing scenario. Democrats have called for Grimm’s resignation and, with another federal investigation into his campaign finances looming in the background, GOP House leadership may decide to push him out to avoid tarnishing their “new American Congress.”
If Grimm is expelled, it would set the stage for an election featuring a fascinating selection of Republican candidates — the “rising star,” Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R), and the embattled prosecutor, Dan Donovan. And, naturally, with a scandal damaging the GOP incumbent, Democrats are drooling over the prospect of picking up the seat.
Still, the decision may not be Grimm’s to make.
A local GOP insider noted House Speaker John Boehner may decide he “can’t have it,” because Grimm is a black mark on the Republican brand.
“Even though he’s the only representative in the city with their majority, it becomes a cost benefit analysis and they might cut him loose,” the insider said in a phone conversation Tuesday.
New York election law expert Jerry Goldfeder of the Stroock law firm told Business Insider that House Republican leadership could expel Grimm. They also have several options to put pressure on him.
“They could strip him of his seniority, committee memberships, etc.,” Goldfeder explained in an email.
In spite of Grimm’s aggressive personality, the Republican insider suggested Grimm would give in and resign himself in the face of opposition from GOP leaders. They speculated he might prefer to make his own resignation and avoid the embarrassment that would come with an expulsion or other punishments.
“I think there’s a distinct possibility the pressure becomes too much from national Republicans and they force him out,” the insider said.
According to Goldfeder, Grimm, who will be sentenced on June 8, could technically still remain in the House if he is sent to jail. However, Goldfeder predicted Grimm would almost surely be ousted if his sentence includes jail time.
“As a practical matter, if he gets jail and refuses to resign they will undoubtedly expel him,” wrote Goldfeder.
So far, Republican House Speaker John Boehner hasn’t hinted at how he plans to deal with Grimm. On Tuesday morning, Boehner’s spokesman, Michael Steel, released a statement indicating the speaker would need to speak with Grimm before making any decision public.
Grimm did not talk with Boehner by the end of the day.
A Democrat in the district told Business Insider they doubt Grimm will leave office on his own. Still, they suggested the guilty plea would kill his chances of being re-elected in 2016.
“In my experience with this guy, he’s a narcissistic sociopath. He’s not going anywhere unless he’s forced to,” said the Democrat. “That being said, he’s got a short shelf life no matter what.”
If Grimm leaves his seat before his term ends at the end of 2016, there will be a special election to replace him where local leaders from each party pick the candidates.
Business Insider spoke to a slew of local political insiders and observers to see who is likely to be on the ballot — either in an early special election or in a 2016 race against a scandal-scarred Grimm.
All of them identified the same two names as the most likely entrants on the Republican side — Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R) and Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan.
Several sources have said in recent months that they believe Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R) is the top candidate to replace Grimm. Malliotakis, a telegenic 34-year-old, has been recognised as a “rising star” by national conservative groups and media outlets.
“Right now, we’re thinking that the smart money is probably on Assemblywoman Malliotakis,” a knowledgeable Republican source said when asked about possible successors for Grimm on Tuesday. “She’s someone who certainly would outgrow the Assembly in time.”
However, while Malliotakis might be able to win the district in 2016, she might not be the local GOP’s first choice if Grimm is ousted and there is a special election. Three separate sources who spoke to Business Insider on Tuesday indicated Malliotakis has a terrible relationship with Staten Island’s Richmond County Republican Committee.
“They cannot stand her,” the Democrat said.
They went on to explain some of the reasons for the bad blood between Malliotakis and the local Republican Party.
“She’s her own worst enemy because, one, she’s not a team player. Two, she takes credit for other peoples’ work, which is a cardinal sin in this business, and she’s transparent in her ambitions,” the Democrat said. “She’s done nothing to endear herself to them.”
The GOP insider echoed this assessment and added Malliotakis hasn’t gotten along with state Republican officials.
“Clearly she wants it,” said the insider. “She’s got unending ambition, but she hasn’t played well in Albany or locally.”
Malliotakis reportedly discussed a potential run for the seat with donors and the National Republican Congressional Committee after Grimm was first indicted in April. At the time, Malliotakis said she remained “focused” on her current position. However, she did not deny she was laying groundwork for a campaign. Malliotakis did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider on Tuesday.
Along with Malliotakis, Donovan seems to be one of the leading options Republicans have to replace Grimm — and sources said he would be far likelier to be the local party’s first choice for a special election.
The GOP insider said he would “have the immediate support” of the local party and “all the elected officials on Staten Island” if he wanted to run to succeed Grimm. According to the Democrat in the district, Donovan would be a “perfect” choice for Republicans if they want to hold on to Grimm’s seat.
“If he wants it, it’s his,” they said.
Donovan has found himself at the center of a national controversy in recent months. As district attorney, Donovan is the prosecutor who did not secure a grand jury indictment against a police officer who was videotaped putting an unarmed African American man, Eric Garner, in a chokehold in August.
Garner, who was being arrested for selling untaxed cigarettes, died while being taken into custody. Protests erupted around the country after the grand jury’s decision not to indict was announced earlier this month and Donovan’s handling of the case has been criticised. He has attempted to defend himself by arguing he cannot discuss the case in detail due to confidentiality laws surrounding grand jury proceedings.
The GOP insider acknowledged Donovan has “taken a hit on Garner,” though they described this as unfair “because he can’t tell you what happened in the grand jury.”
While they admitted the case hurt Donovan somewhat, the insider predicted his role in it might actually improve Donovan’s standing among Staten Island’s conservative base. They suggested this phenomenon could be amplified by the fact the killing of two NYPD officers on Saturday by a gunman who expressed sympathy with those who protested the grand jury decision caused the “pro cop” sentiment on Staten Island to increase.
“The righteous anger in the majority of Staten Island is pro cop,” said the insider. “It is boiling over and the anger is in the pro cop community, it’s in Danny’s base.”
They also noted black voters on Staten Island have historically low turnout and don’t “come out en masse in non-presidential years.”
Grimm gave the Republicans a third straight win in the district when he won his re-election race this year by a wide margin. Despite this streak, Democrats still have their eye on the seat. In fact, it was one of their top priorities this year.
Several sources also identified two candidates, Michael McMahon and Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D), when Business Insider asked which Democrats might run for Grimm’s seat — either in 2016 or a special election. And despite the recent spate of GOP victories in the district, local politicos said neither Democrat should be counted out.
The GOP insider described Cusick as “universally the most liked” Democrat on the island.
“He’s just a good guy,” they said. “He’s the guy who always wanted this seat.”
The Democrat agreed Cusick has had his eye on Grimm’s job “forever” and suggested the only question is whether he thought the timing was right.
A major factor in whether Cusick decides to make a run for the seat will be whether McMahon also enters the fray. McMahon previously represented the district for one term before being defeated by Grimm amid the Tea Party wave in the 2010 midterm elections.
The Democrat said McMahon has “not made any secret of the fact that he is interested” in running for his old office. And the GOP insider said they think McMahon would be “the last person standing” if party leaders were left with a choice between him and Cusick as he would give Democrats “their best chance of winning.”
Neither McMahon or Cusick responded to requests for comment from Business Insider on Tuesday.
The GOP insider predicted McMahon could outmaneuver Cusick in an internal struggle, but they also questioned whether he would throw his hat into the ring. According to the insider, McMahon, who was criticised by some in his own party for his handling of the race against Grimm, might not want to try again “particularly if it’s against Danny Donovan.”
“McMahon/Donovan, that’s a doozy,” they said. “That’s a heavyweight fight.”
As of now, Grimm is scheduled to be sworn in Jan. 6.
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