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Grimm vs. Donovan GOP primary will put Brooklyn in spotlight

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The GOP primary between Michael Grimm and Congressman Dan Donovan in Bay Ridge’s 11th Congressional District is shaping up to be a referendum of “Trumpism,” and the general election should be a bellweather for the entire country in the upcoming mid-term elections that will determine control of the House of Representatives.

Former Congressman Grimm is attempting to make a comeback by pledging complete allegiance to President Trump, while accusing incumbent Donovan of being Democrat-lite. In fact, last Saturday while Donovan was kicking off his campaign on Staten Island, Grimm blasted out an e-mail titled “Dan Donovan — Democrat for Congress!”

The intrigue of this race, buoyed by Grimm’s running after serving seven months in federal prison for tax fraud, has not surprisingly garnered national attention.

Republican voters of Brooklyn and Staten Island will decide if Donovan has been sufficiently loyal to their principles and those of President Trump. Just as significantly, GOPers will also determine if Grimm’s guilty plea to federal tax fraud was the result of an Obama administration witch-hunt, as the former FBI agent claims, or a legitimate issue that disqualifies him from serving again.

Grimm has been aggressive in highlighting Donovan’s votes bucking his party and President on health care, sanctuary cities, and, most recently, the tax reform bill, on which Donovan was one of only 13 Republicans to vote “No.” Of course, Donovan claims that these laws would hurt the majority of his constituents. However, as most political wonks know, it is the extremes of each party that votes in the primaries; therefore, if the base stands with the President on these issues, it could be a problem for the incumbent. However, if Donovan wins the primary, these votes could make him more difficult to defeat in November when more middle-of-the-road voters turn out.

Donovan and his team have been reminding voters that Grimm pledged his innocence when running for re-election in 2014, only to announce soon after he won that he would resign, leaving the district without representation in Congress for six months. They have also pointed out that Grimm did not have the most conservative voting record when he was in office. The incumbent also touts that he has successfully fought for comprehensive Federal Emergency Management Agency reform, more health care choices for veterans, and funding for our transportation needs.

Since Brooklyn makes up less than a third of the district, voters here always consider if the representative has been present. When I was Brooklyn Director to former Congressman Vito Fossella, who represented this district from 1997 to 2009, the Congressman and our staff were always sensitive to our “Brooklyn presence.” So we carved out time each Monday for him to meet with constituents and organizations, hold press conferences, and attend local meetings whenever possible. This may not seem like much, but it was more than reasonable. GOP voters on this side of the bridge now must decide if Donovan has been in Brooklyn enough for them.

So far, most GOP elected officials and county chairs have lined up behind Donovan, but it will be interesting to see who Republicans that have worked for both men, like former GOP Council candidate Liam McCabe, choose.

After the primary, focus on the district will continue as Democrats try to take back the seat. Their hopes are high because the President’s party almost always loses seats in mid-term elections. In the past 21 mid-term elections, the President’s party has lost an average of 30 seats in the House of Representatives. Democrats only need to flip 24 in November to take control of the House.

Adding to Democratic optimism, just last week, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Ben Ray Lujan named former Bay Ridge resident and Democratic hopeful Max Rose, an Army veteran, to the “Red to Blue” program, which helps candidates with fund-raising, organization, and staff. Rose, a Purple Heart recipient and one of only 18 candidates in this program, raised an impressive $330,000 in the last quarter.

So it seems whoever wins the GOP primary will have their hands full in November.

Bob Capano has been an adjunct political science professor at the City University of New York who has worked for Republican and Democratic elected officials in Brooklyn.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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