On this week’s roundup we will break down the upcoming Republican primary in New York’s 11th district between incumbent Dan Donovan and former representative and convicted felon Michael Grimm. As we close in on Election Day, let’s take a look at the history of both men, the race itself, and what the polling says.
Michael Grimm is looking to take back his seat in Congress—which Dan Donovan won after Grimm was forced to resign just days after he won reelection in 2014. Grimm, a two term congressman had to give up his seat shortly after being indicted on 20 charges earlier. He eventually took a plea deal causing him to serve eight months in federal prison and step down from Congress, where he “acknowledged committing perjury, hiring illegal immigrants, and committing wire fraud.”
A man of great pomp and circumstance, Grimm launched a campaign to regain his seat in October of 2017, giving Donovan a primary challenger. When he was previously in congress, the convicted felon voted for a proposal to repeal the ACA but was also cited as a hypocrite by many House Democrats after enrolling himself in a marketplace plan. Grimm, whose federal conviction included hiring illegal immigrants to work at his restaurant and paying them under the table, was a supporter of immigration reform and one of few republicans to vote against deporting dreamers. He has tried to align himself with President Trump’s agenda and paint himself as a more “pro-Trump” candidate than Donovan. This makes sense because New York’s 11th district—which includes Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn—is a very Trump friendly district. If elected, Grimm will be the first convicted felon to be elected to serve in congress in 90 years.
Current incumbent Dan Donovan is looking to hold Grimm off and keep his seat in Congress. Donovan served as the Staten Island District Attorney for 12 years prior to winning a special election for Grimm’s seat in 2015, and subsequently reelection in 2016 with 61% of the vote. A Trump supporter, Donovan has been an advocate of many healthcare issues, including the 21st Century Cures Act and to preserve Medicare. Donovan has also been a champion of NAHU issues, and has co-sponsored the Cadillac Tax and health insurance tax repeals. While he feels much of the ACA needs to be reformed, Donovan is in favor of keeping the provisions that allow children to stay on their parents plan until age 26 as well as the clause that says a person cannot be denied coverage because of preexisting conditions. Well liked in his district, Donovan currently aligns with President Trump on 86% of his votes according to fivethirtyeight.com.
The battle between the old political allies heated up on the campaign trail. Many Republicans have become worried that Grimm could win the primary and put the district in play because of his felony record, allowing a Democrat to win in “Trump Country.” While the conservatives in the 11th may support their candidates and President Trump fiercely, they are well behind Democrats in voter registration. Currently, the district’s registered voters consist of 46% Democratic, 27% Republican, and 22% no affiliation. While this does not mean all Democrats will come out to vote, it could open up a path for a Democrat should Grimm win.
With all this considered, Staten Island residents still love Grimm. Many in the district feel that Grimm has “their back” and is a redemption story the people in the district can relate to. Convinced to run by former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, Grimm has attached himself to the Trump agenda and way of speaking. He claims he was part of an unfairly harsh “witch hunt” when he was indicted and sentenced. He has even adopted a Trump-like style of branding his opponent, calling Donovan “Desperate Dan” on the campaign trail. Grimm has also painted Staten Island and New York as a grim place to live because of rising crime rates. This statement does not carry validity as data shows crime in the Big Apple has fallen over the last few years. However, President Trump does not want Michael Grimm anywhere near Congress and has fully endorsed Dan Donovan for the district. Other endorsements for Donovan have come from former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the Super PAC America First, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—which is running a 30 second pro-Donovan ad that highlights the President supporting Donovan in the district through the primary.
The campaign itself has been anything but nice as both candidates have gone back and forth lobbing insults at one another and trying to prove they are the one who will look out for the people of New York. The campaign can be epitomized in the two debates this month. The first was a radio debate held on WABC radio that started off with both candidates shaking hands and ended with both fuming. The debate got personal quickly with Donovan indirectly raising questions as to whether Grimm is still engaging in fraudulent activities by driving a Lexus while he does not have a job.
Grimm changed the subject to Donovan talking with President Trump about pardoning Grimm, which Donovan claims he brought up as a matter for someone Donovan used to be friends with, Guy Molinari, who is a “never Trumper” and has helped Grimm run against Donovan. Representative Donovan claims he only brought the pardon up once with Trump. He claims it is up to the President if Grimm is pardoned. Donovan also claimed the only reason Grimm is running is because he is one year away from a federal pension. Grimm walked off stage without saying anything to Donovan immediately after the debate concluded. Their second debate solidified that the candidates are not friends with Grimm opening by saying Donovan is not just sleeping on his office, but also on the job. Donovan retorted by saying Grimm cheated and lied to the community with his fraudulent history.
Should Grimm win, the House code of ethics states that a convicted member of Congress should refrain from serving on committee’s and voting. Should Grimm adhere to these ethics, he may not be able to do much. The most recent polling found that Grimm was up 10 points over Donovan. However, it should be noted that the polling was done before President Trump endorsed Donovan, which may have swayed some opinions.
Election Day for New York is next Tuesday, June 26. Others states holding primaries on that day include Utah, Oklahoma, Maryland, and Colorado. If you are in these states NAHU encourages you to get out and vote!