Gov calls for special election to fill Grimm’s congressional seat

Judge to Cuomo: Call a special election for Grimm seat — or I will
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Election Day is coming early this year.

Today, Gov. Cuomo called for a special election on May 5 to replace disgraced Rep. Michael Grimm. The announcement came after a judge threatened to set the date if the governor failed to by noon.

The governor’s rationale for holding off the election was the cost of rolling out ballot boxes, he told reporters on Feb. 18.

“The special elections, on one hand, you want to have the special elections right away to fill up a seat so people are represented,” Cuomo said. “On the other hand, the special elections are very expensive to do, and we’ve had a lot of special elections. I think there’s going to be two special elections, which hopefully will defray the costs somewhat of the Board of Elections having to go through for this.”

The election will coincide with one to replace Assemblyman Karim Camara (D–Crown Heights), according to a writ of election the governor issued today. Camara stepped down to join the Cuomo administration as head of the new Office of Faith-based Community Development Service.

A Staten Island attorney and eight plaintiffs from both sides of the Narrows sued the governor on Feb. 13, arguing the state’s top executive was disenfranchising voters by dragging his feet on filling the confessed tax cheat’s seat in Congress.

Federal Judge Jack Weinstein decided that Cuomo had no reason to hold off on the special election, and issued a decision on Feb. 17 that required the governor call for the vote by today, or he would.

Rep. Michael Grimm stepped down from office on Jan. 5 — just days after he pleaded guilty to tax fraud relating to a health-food restaurant he owned before taking office. The nearly 750,000 inhabitants of New York’s 11th Congressional District have been without congressional representation since Grimm vacated the seat.

The attorney who sued Cuomo accused the governor of playing politics by waiting to hold the election in November in order to make Republican nominee and Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan choose between fighting for a seat in Congress and coasting to reelection as Richmond County’s top prosecutor.

“He wants to create a situation favorable to Democrats,” said the plaintiffs’ attorney, Ronald Castorina.

There are no primaries in special elections — instead, county political machines choose the candidate they want to carry the party’s banner.

District Republicans quickly tapped Donovan for the race, but Democrats on Staten Island and in the Ridge still haven’t picked their horse. Assemblyman Bill Colton (D–Bensonhurst) and Councilman Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) have both expressed interest in the seat.

Grimm’s sentencing is set for June 8.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.