Bay Ridge’s Democratic congressman is in the fight of his life — but his opponent is not just a GOP rival, but an irate nation.
Freshman Rep. Mike McMahon (D–Bay Ridge) framed his re-election campaign on Wednesday as something much bigger than his fight against Republican Michael Grimm, but a battle against the anger that is consuming American politics.
“All of you angry people out there, I’m not going to get your vote,” McMahon told a standing-room-only crowd at a congressional debate held by the Bay Ridge Council on Aging. “I’m not angry at America, I’m proud to be an American. I’m about thoughtful and practical solutions that I think embrace the moral values of the people in this community.”
Though he’s not “angry,” McMahon did take a few swipes at Marine and former FBI agent Grimm, who has unleashed a tank load of campaign videos slamming McMahon as a “career politician who works with Washington insiders.”
“I’m not a career politician,” Grimm said in his opening, later calling McMahon a “political lapdog” of the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives.
McMahon has bucked the leadership and President Obama, most notably when he voted against the president’s landmark health care reform.
But twisting the truth is what career politicians do, McMahon said, mocking Grimm.
“He will not let the facts get into the way of a good story,” McMahon said. “My opponent talks about how he’s not a politician and he’s just a regular guy, but he’s running for political office, and all of his endorsements are from Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Sarah Palin. They’re all politicians. He’s also putting out a lot of negative ads about me with a lot of bad pictures. That’s what politicians do.
“I don’t mind him being a politician,” McMahon added. “I just think he should get out of denial.”
Grimm reserved most of his attacks for President Obama’s health care bill and the economic stimulus package, which Grimm said have failed everyday citizens.
“It boils my blood,” he explained, adding that the country has been “turned upside down because of a liberal agenda.”
He also attacked Social Security, calling it ineffective.
“I don’t believe it’s a safe system and I don’t trust how the government uses it,” Grimm said about the New Deal-era measure upon which seniors across the country rely. “Social Security was supposed to be a trust fund, a lock-box that was supposed to be tucked away, but our politicians have spent it on everything else but seniors.”
McMahon suggested that Grimm wanted to privatize Social Security because he’s been endorsed by Rep. Kevin Ryan (R-Wisconsin), a leading privatizer.
“Just imagine, if it had been privatized in 2008, your Social Security would be gone right now,” McMahon said.
Grimm said that he has not pledged to privatize Social Security.
Throughout the debate, McMahon described himself as a centrist who often bucks Congress’ Democratic leadership.
Besides voting against health care reform, McMahon said he supports extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy and middle class. He’s also reached across the aisle to draft bills demanding mental health screening for returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, he said.
His voting record backs his claim. The National Journal’s annual ranking of lawmakers put McMahon at the dead center of its liberal-conservative spectrum, based on 92 “key” votes last year. Breaking down those votes, McMahon was more conservative than 54 percent of his House colleagues on “economic” issues and 56 percent of his House colleagues on foreign policy. At the same time, he was more liberal than 59 percent of his colleagues on the so-called “social” issues.
With that kind of voting record, McMahon may be able to shield himself from the nation’s apparent dissatisfaction with the Democrat-led Congress, and the growing Tea Party movement, which is tapping into that anger.
Also, Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst have traditionally been a shade right of center politically.
“I understand that people are frustrated, but I’m not an angry young man,” McMahon said. “We have problems, but I’m rolling up my sleeves and trying to find a bipartisan way to solve them. People should stop yelling and screaming, and we should all get back to work.”
McMahon’s words did little to calm a fuming Grimm, however.
“People are angry for good reasons,” Grimm said. “We’re losing the greatest country in the world.”