Over the past few months, the Republican congressional primary between incumbent Dan Donovan and Michael Grimm was in the spotlight, not only in Brooklyn and Staten Island, but throughout the nation. There were contentious debates, tweets from President Trump, contrasting polls, and fierce competition between supporters of both men.
There was a perception that Grimm would be the comeback kid and win the Republican mantle again, or at the very least that this would be a nail-biter of a race. In the end, however, Donovan romped to a 64–36 victory.
In addition to the actual candidates, there are often other winners and losers in elections. Here are some of them in this race:
The Staten Island GOP and new Chairman Brendan Lantry: Staten Island Republicans accounted for 83 percent of the turnout. For many years, under the de facto leadership of Vito Fossella and his loyalists, this party organization was the envy of many. It was unified, effective, and exerted its influence throughout Richmond County. After Fossella left the stage, there was a void that was difficult to fill, and the cohesiveness of the Republican Party and its leadership seemed like a distant memory. Staten Island’s Republican establishment backed the incumbent Congressman, and if Grimm had won it would have been a huge blow to them. However, like the old days, the GOP party structure won big.
President Trump: Throughout the primary, Grimm portrayed himself as a closer ally to the President, while portraying Donovan as Democrat-lite. Grimm slammed Donovan for bucking the President on some votes, but the incumbent had an effective response, saying often, “I voted with the President 90 percent of the time, and my constituents 100 percent of the time.” President Trump eventually tweeted his full-throated endorsement of Donovan. The easier and safer play for the President would have been to stay out of it, but he did not, and the bet on Donovan paid off.
The Conservative, Independence, and Reform Parties: All of these parties endorsed Donovan, who will appear on their lines in November. If had Donovan lost the Republican nomination, it is unknown how aggressive a campaign he would have run on the other lines, and they could have been rendered irrelevant in a major congressional race.
Decency and integrity: Voters chose the candidate who is not a convicted felon. Grimm, who served time in federal prison for tax fraud, also played some dirty tricks with the Board of Elections by attempting to get Donovan thrown off a minor party line by filing fraudulent petitions. The Board referred the matter to prosecutors. Donovan spent many years enforcing the law as a District Attorney and never spent time in jail, in contrast to his opponent’s shenanigans.
Max Rose: The Democratic candidate, after cruising to his own primary victory, would have been the odds-on favorite to defeat the ethically challenged Grimm in November. Rose has proven already to be a strong candidate with vast financial and popular support. His chances of becoming Congressman would have been much greater with a Grimm victory.
New York Democrats: They already had a stunning defeat with Queens Rep. Joseph Crowley losing to an insurgent in his primary. He was a potential Speaker of the House, which would have given New York Democrats enormous power. Now, their chances of flipping New York City’s sole Republican seat took a big hit with Donovan’s win.
Liam McCabe: He took a risk endorsing Grimm and playing an integral public role in his Brooklyn campaign. The buzz inside political circles was shock that McCabe abandoned Donovan, whom he had worked for and who had endorsed him in McCabe’s own contentious four-way GOP Council primary last year. Not only did Grimm lose Brooklyn, but he got hammered by Donovan 74–26 on this side of the Narrows.
GOP members who supported Grimm’s candidacy: In politics, word spreads.
On to Round Two of the 11th Congressional District race in November!
Bob Capano has been an adjunct political science professor at the City University of New York and has worked for Republican and Democratic elected officials in Brooklyn.