What a difference a weekend makes.
Just two days after Governor Andrew Cuomo set a special election date of Tuesday, May 5 for the seat in the 11th Congressional District, which has been vacant since January when disgraced former Congressmember Michael Grimm resigned in the wake of his guilty plea for tax evasion, one of two leading Democrats vying for the seat has called it quits.
Brooklyn Assemblymember William Colton sent out an announcement on Sunday, February 22, announcing his withdrawal from the race, noting, “I strongly believe with the help of all my announced supporters, together we were poised to win a major upset in the 11th C.D. Race by presenting my strong track record of uniting people to fight for their real needs of concerns, but now with the May 5 special election date and with my Assembly obligations and duties to the state budget and other critical legislation, I am not able to become a candidate at this time.”
Colton’s withdrawal from the race leaves Brooklyn Democratic City Councilmember Vincent Gentile as the party front-runner for the nomination. One other announced candidate is in the running, Staten Islander Robert Holst, a union activist, with the Staten Island Advance reporting that Democrats will choose a candidate on Thursday.
The Democrat who is chosen by the party brass will likely take on Republican Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan, the GOP’s presumed candidate.
The seat includes all of Staten Island as well as a broad swathe of southwest Brooklyn from Bay Ridge to Gravesend. With 70 percent of the district in Staten Island, conventional wisdom — and, indeed, election results — favor Staten Islanders in the race.
It also favors Republicans; since the seat was created, it has been held by a Democrat only once, for a single two-year term, when Michael McMahon, a former Staten Island councilmember, won what was a vacant seat after then-Congressmember Vito Fossella declined to run for re-election after he was arrested for DUI and it was discovered that the married pol had a second family in the D.C. suburbs.
Cuomo set the date for the election three days after Brooklyn-based Judge Jack Weinstein, of federal Eastern District Court, ordered the lagging pol to get a move on replacing Grimm.
Weinstein ruled on the issue following a lawsuit brought by Staten Island-based attorney Ronald Castorina, Jr. on behalf of the district’s voters, who, he contended in court papers, were, “Being denied their right to vote for a representative in the vacant Eleventh Congressional District of New York,” by Cuomo, who – the pleading asserted – had delayed in setting the date despite a mandate in the state constitution.
Cuomo had held off calling the date for more than a month after Grimm’s resignation, leading numerous insiders to speculate that the governor was dragging his feet in order to avoid the costs of a special election, hoping to hold the vote for a replacement for Grimm on Election Day in November.
With his withdrawal from the race, Colton made it clear that he was not bowing out of the issues that he said had propelled him to seek the seat, noting, “I fully intend to hold the eventual candidates accountable to demonstrating and discussing their established track records of fighting for real needs and concerns of the people of the 11th Congressional District, including such issues as the city’s continued implementation of the antiquated and flawed garbage plan, the failure to promptly direct monies to the families victimized by Sandy, the failure to address the impending financial crisis of skyrocketing flood insurance premiums endangering middle and low income homeowners, and the ever increasing tolls on the Verrazano bridge, taxes and water charges, among others, all of which threaten the quality of life of all southern Brooklyn and Staten Island.”