He’s the candidate formerly known as Vincent.
Councilman Vincent “Vinnie” Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) has adopted the diminutive version of his moniker for his run to replace disgraced former Rep. Michael Grimm, breaking with past campaigns where he went whole-hog with his handle.
The congressional hopeful’s new campaign literature refers exclusively to “Vinnie” Gentile, but posters from previous runs for state Senate and the Council have always identified him as “Vincent.”
Politicos speculated the move may be an attempt to ingratiate himself to Staten Islanders, who comprise most of the 11th Congressional District.
“It could be alleged that he’s trying to be more Staten Island-like by calling himself Vinnie,” said Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. “He is certainly the underdog, so anything he can do to help is good.”
But a conservative said the apparent attempt at boosting his Forgotten Borough bona fides belied a fundamental disconnection from Rock voters.
“The worst thing you can do is look like you don’t understand [Staten] Island,” said former Grimm aide Liam McCabe, who heads the Brooklyn South Conservative Club and worked for the last man to hold the seat.
But boosters said the move would resonate with voters in New York’s most bucolic borough.
“The people on Staten Island know him as ‘Vinnie,’ ” said Shorefront Democratic Club president Dilia Schack. “He’s the same Gentile.”
Conservatives don’t seem to hold it against him, either.
“I’ve known him since he was in grammar school, and he’s always been Vinnie,” said Jerry Kassar, chairman of the Kings County Conservative Party.
And even his opponent evoked The Bard’s famous query — “What’s in a name?”
“We’ve had a mayor who was elected whose name was Rudy, was Mike, was Bill — I’m Dan — so I’m not too sure that matters too much to voters,” said the Republican nominee, Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan.
Of course, Gentile wouldn’t be the first Brooklyn pol who has adjusted his name before running for office. Mayor Bill DeBlasio was born Warren Wilhelm.
Gentile said the shortened name is not part of a larger re-branding.
“There wasn’t a lot of analytical strategy here,” he said. “We decided ‘Vinnie’ would be a more familiar thing to put on a poster. On the ballot I’ll be ‘Vincent.’ ”
As far as nicknames go, the pol is in good company.
Famous Vinnies include actor Vinnie Jones, California hotdog mogul Vinnie Edmark, and Vinnie Vincent of the metal band Kiss.
Among those who spell the diminutive with a “y” are Jersey Shore’s Vinny Guadagnino, quarterback Vinny Testaverde, and marginally competent fictional lawyer Vinny Gambini — the titular character from 1992’s “My Cousin Vinny.”
Gentile opted for the “ie” construction because that’s how he’s always spelled it, he said.
Gentile’s given name is derived from the Latin “vincere,” which means “to win,” but critics were split over whether the name could be a self-fulfilling prophecy in the lawmaker’s congressional bid.
McCabe admitted that Gentile is a strong political presence.
“He’s a better candidate than [Domenic] Recchia,” said McCabe. “Politically, he’s a definite force.”
But John Quaglione, press secretary for state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge), thinks the Brooklyn councilman doesn’t stand a chance on the rugged shores of Shaolin.
“Barring a perfect storm, I don’t see how he wins it,” said Quaglione, who lost to Gentile in a bid for his Council seat in the last election.