Republican Rep. Michael Grimm can’t escape the campaign corruption allegations hanging over his head — even when his Democratic challenger doesn’t show up for a debate and he’s facing a room full of supporters.
The freshman legislator shut down a debate attendee with a thinly veiled threat during last night’s Dyker Heights Civic Association meeting — which was packed with Grimm fans and moderated by his aide and Brooklyn Conservative party chairwoman Fran-Vella Marrone — when Jonathan Yedin, a Brooklyn Democratic party staffer who is supporting congressional candidate Mark Murphy, demanded to know why so many of Grimm’s associates have been arrested in the last year.
Grimm (R–Bay Ridge) denied any knowledge of the immigration fraud charges against Ofer Biton, who some claim collected illegal campaign contributions for the freshman legislator in 2010. But when Yedin interrupted his answer, Grimm got testy.
“Have a little respect. And if you don’t have any, I’d be happy to teach it to you,” Grimm said, just moments after explaining how he’s been spending more time in Bay Ridge and attends regular work outs at a Fifth Avenue boxing gym. “When you ask me about somebody I know who knows somebody who’s been arrested, I can’t answer that.”
Despite the tense exchange — which Grimm supporters welcomed with a round of applause — Yedin said he didn’t feel threatened by Grimm’s sharp retort.
“I live in the district and I just wanted to ask my representative in Congress a question about something that’s been reported about in all the major publications,” he said.
Tuesday’s debate should have been a cakewalk for the freshman legislator given that Murphy was a no-show.
Vella-Marrone said she invited the former aide to Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio, one-time television actor, and son of disgraced former Congressman Jack Murphy, but received an email from Murphy’s campaign manager claiming that the candidate had another engagement.
“We wish we could have had a real debate tonight,” Vella-Marrone said, before giving Grimm the floor.
A spokesman for the Murphy campaign said that the Democratic challenger had three meetings on Tuesday night that could not be moved.
“He simply cannot attend every community meeting and community forum, though he wishes he could,” said Murphy spokesman Dan Morris.
Grimm defeated incumbent Democrat Mike McMahon in 2010, riding a wave of Tea Party support that swept Republicans into office nationwide.
But, according to a scathing New York Times article, some of the campaign donations used to defeat McMahon were obtained illegally with Biton’s help.
Grimm has not been charged with a crime and has not been linked to Biton’s current legal woes, but the legislator has gone to great lengths to separate himself from the former aide to a prominent Manhattan rabbi.
“He was not my fund-raiser,” Grimm said shortly after Biton’s arrest in August, noting that a Congressional Ethics Committee cleared him of the allegations months earlier. “Any donations that I received from followers of the Rabbi were respectfully and legally obtained.”
Contributors say Biton and Grimm collected large cash donations from Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto’s followers many of whom were Israeli citizens who couldn’t contribute to an American political campaign.
Other candidates attending the Dyker Heights Civic Association debate night included state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge) and his democratic challenger Andrew Gounardes, and Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny (D–Coney Island) and Republican challenger Tom McCarthy.
Reach reporter Thomas Tracy at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (718) 260-2525.