How Grimm won despite probe



The 2012 congressional race between Republican incumbent Michael Grimm and Democrat Mark Murphy won’t be remembered as a tightly contested campaign, but rather as one shrouded in possible scandal on Grimm’s side and shortcomings on Murphy’s.

Grimm first won the seat in 2010, a big Republican year, when he defeated incumbent Mike McMahon, 51 percent to 48 percent, using his background as a former FBI agent and a U.S. Marine to appeal to the Staten Island-Brooklyn district’s voters.

Grimm’s campaign for re-election focused more on his actions as a congressman since 2010, as he made efforts to win legislation against toll hikes for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, saved the Fort Hamilton WMD Response Team from federal cuts, supported the House Republicans’ proposed budget cuts and opposed the Affordable Care Act, which he wants to repeal.

Grimm also sponsored a measure to build a natural-gas pipeline from Rockaway to Brooklyn, recently signed by President Barack Obama.

Grimm faced scrutiny because of a federal probe of his former top fundraiser and stories  and editorials in The New York Times  that criticized him.

The existence of an FBI investigation was a difficult political matter, as Grimm has often cited his 11 years as an FBI agent as an important part of his resume.

At first look, Murphy seemed to be a candidate capable of beating Grimm under these circumstances.

He served as an aide to city Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, worked for Merrill Lynch & Co. and founded Milestone Media Partners, a media finance company. He was also vice president of The Irvine Co., a real estate firm in Los Angeles.

His father was former Rep. John Murphy, who represented Staten Island for 18 years and lost the seat after his indictment in a bribery scandal.

Mark Murphy ripped Grimm on his vote to cut federal education spending, which Grimm supported by saying that money can’t be thrown at schools without results.

He also supported bridge-and-rail investments for more middle-class jobs, but it wasn’t very popular among voters. Murphy in general wasn’t popular with voters.

Even with that, Murphy had the endorsement of The Times  behind him as well as former Mayor Edward I. Koch.

A chance for Murphy to gain momentum was for naught in an Oct. 25 debate before the Staten Island Advance editorial board. The Advance supported  Grimm, who had said he was confident he would be “exonerated” through the federal investigation.

Murphy had no campaign presence in the Brooklyn portion of the district – not even posters. A majority of voters were unaware of who he was.

Election Day was unlike any other for the district, coming so close after Hurricane Sandy caused heavy damage in Staten Island.  Many poll sites were relocated, including two in Staten Island. This didn’t directly affect the Grimm/Murphy race, but it didn’t help matters either.

“That makes confusion,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a political consultant. “Voters don’t like confusion, they like consistency.”

Grimm and Murphy stopped their usual campaigns to help out whoever they could to get to a voting site, as they sent supporters out with iPhones to direct people who needed help so that they could vote.

Aura Bogado, of Voting Rights 2012, an organization that opposes voter suppression,  said that Hurricane Sandy could be a real eye-opener for future elections, from national to local.

“It’s about making people have more access,” said Bogado. “I think that some of what came about on Election Day because of Hurricane Sandy is what we should look to be placing permanently so that people do have access to the ballot.”

When it was all said and done, it was Grimm who edged Murphy out, 53 percent to 46 percent, with a margin of 11,701 votes.

Staten Island has heavily favored Republicans; even with lots of bad press, Grimm’s Staten Island neighbors were not persuaded to vote him out of office.

“Like Chris Christie in New Jersey, he was a local guy and those are two places where being a local guy really counts,” said Maurice Carroll, a Quinnipiac University pollster. “Usually, if you’re going to knock off a congressman, you have to do it the first time around and Grimm ducked that.”

Since Grimm’s re-election, he’s faced yet another probe, this time by the House Ethics Committee, which is deferring to a separate inquiry by the Justice Department.

As is the case for any election, you can’t win behind a lackluster campaign and that’s just what it comes down to.

“Grimm’s the local fellow-done-good who won the race,” said Sheinkopf. Murphy ran a lackluster campaign he said, adding that the candidate “did not appear frequently, did not have enough money and that was that.”

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