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February 5, 2014 / Brooklyn news / Will’s Watch

Rep. Michael Grimm challenger Domenic Recchia’s rivalry with Assemblyman Bill Colton — plus scoops on Councilman Mathieu Eugene and Andrew Gounardes

Friendly fire! Recchia’s bad history with fellow Dems could wreck Congressional bid

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Will Brooklyn’s Democrats defeat Domenic Recchia’s congressional bid?

Political experts agree that to unseat incumbent Rep. Michael Grimm (R–Bay Ridge), former councilman and Gravesend native Domenic Recchia will need an overwhelming victory in Brooklyn and a strong showing in his opponent’s home turf in Staten Island, where roughly three-quarters of the district’s voters reside. But insiders say Recchia will have difficulty racking up votes in what ought to be his base, thanks to long-standing hostilities with members of his own party.

Races are won with the dedicated legwork of volunteers who carry petitions, staff phone banks, talk candidates up door to door, and run get-out-the-vote operations leading up to Election Day. And the man with arguably the largest ground operation in the district is one of Recchia’s most ardent enemies — Assemblyman Bill Colton (D–Bensonhurs­t).

Where other Brooklyn pols have struggled to keep up with the sweeping demographic changes in Bensonhurst, Colton has harnessed them to his advantage. His support for public sector unions has secured him the loyalty of the older generation of Italian-American civil servants, and his outreach to the fast-growing Chinese population has made him a hero to that community. Colton’s rallies draw mobs of 18- to 21-year-old Asian youth with a dedication that some observers referred to as “cult-like.” His political operation was able to obtain an impressive 5,000-plus petition signatures to keep Colton, as well as his allies Councilman David Greenfield (D–Borough Park) and Councilman Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge), on the ballot in 2013. It also played a major part in the election of Colton’s protege, Councilman Mark Treyger (D–Coney Island), to Recchia’s old seat.

Experts say wringing every possible vote from Colton’s Dem-heavy Bensonhurst turf is crucial if Recchia is to triumph over Grimm.

“It’s hard to imagine any Democrat winning this seat without strong turnout in this part of the district,” an insider said. “And Assemblyman Colton and Councilman Treyger have demonstrated a tremendous ability to drive turnout in their area of Brooklyn.”

Recchia came up out of Colton’s machine, but the two had a falling out shortly after Recchia won office in 2002. Several sources said their relationship soured due to Recchia’s desire for independence, but all agreed the decisive splitting point was Lafayette High School. In the early 2000s, Chinese-American parents and students at the Bath Beach school — now marked for closure — complained of racially-motivated assaults and abuse in the hallways. Colton pushed to replace Lafayette’s administration, but sources said Recchia — who had formerly headed up the local community school board — viewed the school as his turf and demanded the assemblyman back down. Colton instead stepped up his efforts, and forced out Lafayette’s principal in 2007.

Recchia has since sought to damage and undermine Colton, mostly unsuccessfully. Sources said that Recchia deliberately had the residential complexes along Cropsey Avenue where Treyger grew up gerrymandered out of his district when the Council redrew the lines in 2012, hoping vainly to prevent a Colton ally from succeeding him.

Neither Colton nor Treyger responded to calls for comment on whether they plan to lend their support to Recchia’s run.

Recchia, who also did not comment for this column, faces resentment from hard-core Democrats in Bay Ridge as well, due to his close working relationship with state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge) — who perhaps edges out even Grimm as the bête noire of Brooklyn liberals. Insiders describe the pair as “buddy-buddy” thanks to a heavy overlap in donors, and because of disgraced Dem boss — and Recchia ally — Vito Lopez’s long-standing arrangement not to put up serious challengers to the six-term GOP state legislator.

It should be noted that Golden is even closer to Grimm, and has endorsed and provided support to the Republican Congressman.

It’s also doubtful that organized labor will provide Recchia with the ground-level support he needs, either. Grimm, the son of a union carpenter, is known as one of labor’s few Republican allies in the House and has enjoyed the endorsement and funding of several powerful unions. The labor-backed Working Families Party gave its ballot line to Grimm’s opponent Mark Murphy in 2012, but declined to lend the Democrat its elite door-to-door canvassing operation — and it stayed entirely out of the 2010 race when Grimm unseated Rep. Michael McMahon.

***

Councilman Mathieu Eugene (D–Flatbush) is illegally living outside of his district in Canarsie, sources tell this paper.

Rumors about the Haitian-born pol’s residency have circulated on neighborhood blogs for years, and an insider confirmed with us that Eugene definitely lives in Canarsie. The source added that the pol collects a paper check rather than getting direct deposit out of paranoia that the Council will discover his true home.

An Internet search located Eugene and his wife, Sylotte, in an apartment on E. 87th Street between Avenue N and Seaview Avenue.

Eugene says the Canarsie house is his second home, and insists that his primary residence is in Flatbush, though he declined to provide an exact address.

***

State Sen. Marty Golden’s 2012 challenger, Bay Ridge attorney Andrew Gounardes, will soon become Borough President Adams’s general counsel. The hire is likely intended to bolster Gounardes’s thin resume — a frequent target for Golden’s successful reelection campaign — so that the 28-year-old may seek office again in future years.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at wbredderman@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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