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Will Eric Garner decision affect filling congressional seat left by disgraced Michael Grimm?

Posted: 7:05 PM, Dec 30, 2014
Updated: 2014-12-31 10:02:49-05

STATEN ISLAND (PIX11) -- Now that it's official that disgraced Staten Island congressman Michael Grimm is stepping down, the move opens up a long list of issues.

At the top of the list is whether or not the Eric Garner case will cause the only Republican seat in the New York City congressional delegation to go back to Democratic control. Noting who the GOP front runner is, the answer to that question could very well be no.

Grimm has certainly made a reputation for showing constant self-confidence that some have called hubris. It was on display in a variety of situations in the last year, including when he was caught on video threatening to throw a reporter off a Capitol Building balcony for asking about the tax evasion charges for which he was indicted earlier this year, and to which he pled guilty last week.

"I'm a Marine," Grimm said at his Capitol Hill office after making his plea deal. "I don't relent, I don't give up."

However, on Monday night, he did give up, after meeting with House Speaker John Boehner, who made clear that a person convicted of a felony is not eligible to carry out many standard congressional duties. In fact, Grimm even faced the prospect of a three year prison sentence if he had not made his plea deal.

Even with it, he could still face possible time behind bars when he's sentenced on June 8th of next year.

In his statement of resignation, Grimm was optimistic: "I do not believe that I can continue to be 100 percent effective in the next Congress," he wrote, "and therefore, out of respect for the Office and the people I so proudly represent, it is time for me to start the next chapter of my life."

However, Thomas Halper, PhD, head of the political science department at Baruch College, and author of the book Power, Politics and American Democracy, said that Grimm was likely to be zero percent effective if he'd stayed in office.

"If you're sentenced," said Halper, "you're not going to be in a position to serve. He'd be in prison. You can't really serve your constituents from prison."

Despite that, some of Grimm's constituents in Brooklyn and Staten Island who spoke with PIX11 News (the 11th Congressional District includes all of Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn), largely had good things to say.

"He helped me out in immigration," said Mark Ghalawanji of Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. "And without costing me a dollar. He helped a lot of people."

"He did a great job while he was here," said Anthony Fundaro, also of Dyker Heights. But he added, "I'll vote for the best guy who runs, whether it be a Republican or a Democrat."

That statement underscores the situation going forward. It's now a double waiting game: to see who the two major parties will put forward to replace Republican Grimm, and to see when Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo will decide to hold the special election.

"I'm a Democrat," said Brooklyn constituent Kathy Castaldo. "I'm a Democrat all the way."

That kind of attitude in the district could shake things up. After all, the person who held the seat before Grimm was one-term Democrat Mike McMahon, who's apparently being pursued to run again, as a centrist candidate.

Another factor that could change the political dynamic is the fact that the lead name on the Republican slate of potential candidates, Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan, did not get secure an indictment against police in the Eric Garner case.

That development obviously set off significant protests and other statements of discord in New York City.

However, the political scientist pointed out, Staten Island is a unique political entity, even in the wake of the Garner decision.

"If you take into account [Donovan's] district," Halper told PIX11 News, "it might even help him."

In fact, Donovan released a statement on Tuesday that strongly indicated his interest in winning the seat. "...My phone has been ringing off the hook," he wrote, in part. "I am very seriously considering the race. I will make an announcement after the due deliberation such an important decision deserves."

In other words, after Grimm officially steps down on Monday.

In addition to Donovan, the GOP is considering State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis as a candidate, as well as State Senator Andrew Lanza.

As for the Democrats, McMahon is on the short list, followed by State Assemblyman Michael Cusick.

Grimm soundly defeated City Councilmember Dominic Recchia in the general election in November, even though Grimm was under indictment at the time, and Recchia made that a campaign issue.

PIX11 attempted to contact Recchia for comment on this story, but efforts to reach him were not successful.