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Debate between Grimm and Donovan gets personal and ugly, as polls point to upset

MIDLAND BEACH, Staten Island — The insults and putdowns flew so hard that it sounded and felt like a street brawl and not the primary debate to represent Staten Island and a portion of Brooklyn that it was.

Monday's debate was the first between Congressman Dan Donovan and the former member of Congress he replaced, Michael Grimm. Grimm, a convicted felon with a reputation for a hot temper is in the polls against the incumbent.

"I put people like him in prison," Donovan, the former Staten Island prosecutor, said about Grimm, as he pointed to him.

Grimm was convicted of tax fraud.

"Oh really?" Grimm asked. "And how many cases did you, as district attorney, prosecute for delivery boys off the books? Not one."

Grimm's conviction was the result of a deal he'd made with prosecutors, in which he pled guilty on tax fraud charges related to payments to employees of restaurant he had owned.

"Not one restaurant owner of Staten Island did you ever prosecute," Grimm said to his opponent. "So that's another lie."

It was heated and tense, and a good portion of that heat and intensity revolved around news that Donovan had done some work trying to get a presidential pardon for his now-opponent.

"You hugged me, you kissed me," Grimm said to Donovan, about an encounter they'd had at Donovan's home sometime before Grimm declared that he was running for his former seat. "You even had a piece of paper and said, 'I spoke to [the president's] staff,'" Grimm said to Donovan, looking him straight in the face.

"Here's the pardon office," is what Donovan said he'd told Grimm, and had written on the paper he'd given him.

"So you weren't trying to help me?" Grimm asked him.

"No, I gave you the pardon office," Donovan replied.

"I'll let everybody else decide," Grimm responded, adding a putdown. "Danny, you look like a fool right now."

The most recent poll, out last week from NY1/Siena College, showed Grimm with a 10 point lead, but with 16 percent of voters still undecided.

When PIX11 News asked Donovan how he can get the undecided voters into his column, he pointed out that he's been endorsed by President Donald Trump, as well as a variety of labor unions and community organizations.

"It is our goal and our duty to relay that to the public," Donovan said. "And we will. We're going all out the next two weeks."

For his part, Grimm said that he has the endorsement of voters. PIX11 News saw a slightly higher number of yard signs for Grimm than for Donovan in Staten Island, but that is certainly an unscientific metric.

Still, Grimm said he has the lead because he delivered for the people of New York's 11th Congressional District better than his successor, the incumbent.

"Look at my last election when [my indictment and conviction] happened," he told PIX11 News. "I won by almost 13 points because the people of Staten Island are not gullible. I'm hard working."

The primary election is on June 26.