A week after a candidates’ forum at which Republican Congressmember Michael Grimm was able to have his own way thanks to the absence of his opponent, former Democratic Councilmember Domenic Recchia, the two squared off at a rough-and-tumble debate on October 1 hosted by the Bay Ridge Council on Aging and held at the Fort Hamilton Senior Center in the shade of the Verrazano.
Grimm, a two-term representative now facing a 20-count federal indictment that includes charges of tax evasion and mail and wire fraud, was assailed by Recchia who contended that the former Marine and FBI agent had “lied to the FBI, lied to the U.S. attorney’s office and he’s lying you here today,” and demanded of Grimm, when allowed to ask a single question of his opponent, “Facing a 20-count indictment, leadership that doesn’t want any part of you and no committees, how will you serve the district when you don’t have power anymore?”
“My opponent’s entire campaign has been, Michael Grimm has legal problems so you should vote for me,” Grimm responded. “Everyone is entitled to his day in court,” he continued, before contending that, as someone not supported by party leadership in Washington prior to being elected, he owed nothing to anybody, and could therefore vote his conscience to the benefit of his constituents.
“I have been one of the most effective members of Congress,” Grimm went on “and have stood up to my own party, in stark contrast to my opponent,” who, he said, would vote in lockstep with his party leadership, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama, should he go to Congress, as he had voted – against the wishes of constituents — to add an $8 toll to the Brooklyn Bridge (as part of the congestion pricing initiative that failed) and to give himself and his colleagues a third term (after city voters had twice voted to limit city elected officials to two terms).
But, said Recchia, Grimm not only does not stand up for his constituents, as a member of “the most ineffective Congress in the history of the United States,” he is “part of the problem, not part of the solution. He says one thing in the district, goes to Washington and votes against the district.”
For instance, said Recchia, after Superstorm Sandy, it took the federal government 80 days to allocate relief funds; in contrast, after Hurricane Katrina, “they passed a bill in Congress after 10 days.”
Recchia also blasted Grimm for his vote, exactly a year earlier, “to close down the U.S.A.,” which Recchia said was “unacceptable, and will never happen again when I am your congressmember.”
“It’s been a polarized Congress,” Grimm acknowledged, but he said, “That’s because the president has taken this country so far to the left, and has worried about everything but the American people. The job of the House has been to push back at all the bad policies coming out of the administration.”
As for Recchia’s allegations regarding Superstorm Sandy funding, they “couldn’t be more false,” Grimm responded. With federal funding already in place through FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program that would last about a month, he had been told by the mayor and governor, who were trying to assess the extent of the damage, “Don’t do anything till we get a number.” That, he said, represented most of the delay in allocating funds; Grimm did say that the bill was held up about a week in Congress. “I was against it and went against my own party,” he told the crowd.
As for the October 1, 2013, vote that led to the government shutdown, Grimm retorted that Congressmember Steve Israel, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that is backing Recchia strongly, had voted in favor of sequestration, automatic spending cuts approved by Congress that went into effect on March 1, 2013. “Those are the facts,” he asserted.
Grimm gave as good as he got. Recchia “raised the property taxes in New York City the highest in history 18 percent, then several years later, seven percent again. He voted to add more tolls,” he contended. “How does that help anyone in this room? They had balanced budgets because they nickel-and-dimed the middle class to death.”
“After 9/11, Mike Bloomberg and the City Council had to save the city,” Recchia replied. “We did not lay off firefighters, police officers, teachers. We saved the city, then we gave property tax rebates. Then, years later, we paid down debt.”