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Ex-New York Rep. Grimm Aims To Resurrect His Political Career


Republican Michael Grimm had a colorful history when he first served in Congress. At one point, he threatened to throw a reporter off a balcony in the Capitol building. The former New York City Congressman later went to federal prison for tax evasion. Now he is fighting to win the seat back. From member station WNYC, Fred Mogul reports.

FRED MOGUL, BYLINE: There's a lot of forgiveness for Michael Grimm on Staten Island. Take retired firefighter Tony Zambito down at Great Kills Beach...

TONY ZAMBITO: He did a couple of things wrong, but he paid his dues.

MOGUL: ...Or sunbather Deanna Immitt, who admires Grimm for being a fighter.

DEANNA IMMITT: Anyone could've done it. Anyone could have made the same mistake.

MOGUL: Or surfer, minister and retired sanitation worker Christopher Fedele. He says Grimm's dedication to helping the district after Superstorm Sandy is what counts.

CHRISTOPHER FEDELE: A lot of politicians, their hands are dirty. So I think it sort of goes with the territory.

MOGUL: Grimm failed to report almost $1 million of cash receipts at Healthalicious, the restaurant he owned in between working as a white-collar crime investigator for the FBI and representing New York's 11th Congressional District. In his guilty plea, Grimm admitted to lying to federal investigators. But here's how he described his criminal conviction in a recent primary debate hosted by WABC.


MICHAEL GRIMM: I had three delivery boys and a dishwasher off the books, and I've never hid from that. It was a civil offense.

MOGUL: Echoing President Trump, Grimm says he was the victim of a political witch hunt by the Obama administration Justice Department. He served seven months in federal prison and since then has been trying to resurrect his political career. The first step would be unseating his successor Dan Donovan. Donovan has been pounding Grimm's criminal record.


DAN DONOVAN: In November of 2014, he asked us to vote for him. He said that he was innocent of the charges against him. We believed him. Our community voted for him. A week later, he pled guilty, using our election as a bargaining chip with the Justice Department.

MOGUL: Grimm claims Donovan promised to seek a pardon for him from President Trump if he'd stay out of the race, something Donovan denies. The two men are also arguing over who's the fiercer warrior for the Trump agenda.


GRIMM: My opponent, he voted against getting rid of Obamacare, repealing it. He voted against that. He voted against banning sanctuary cities. And then he voted against the tax reform bill. Those are three signature issues that our president actually ran on.

MOGUL: Donovan said there were good reasons for voting the way he did. And he played his trump card, the president's endorsement.


DONOVAN: He has said that I am the one that's good on border security and crime, good on veterans, good on tax cuts - 'cause I voted for $6 billion worth of tax cuts.

MOGUL: Trump tweeted that Donovan, quote, "will win for the Republicans in November, and his opponent will not. Remember Alabama." That's a reference to the Republicans' ill-fated nomination of Roy Moore for U.S. Senate. But many people in the district, Trump supporters though they are, are ignoring the warning and posting multiple yard signs for Grimm, often festooned with American flags. Mary Purdy thinks her neighbors are crazy for supporting him.

MARY PURDY: He really thinks he's, like, the Teflon Don, that nothing's going to stick. And he's wrong. The Democrats are out to kill. He's going to get crucified.

MOGUL: In the parking lot at a Staten Island Costco, she and her husband, Bill Purdy, load paper towels and porch furniture into their SUV. They've met Donovan personally before, and they say he helped out when a family member had criminal problems related to opioid addiction.

BILL PURDY: As far as integrity, ethics and results, I'm going to vote for Dan Donovan.

MOGUL: Up in the Brooklyn part of the district, at pizza landmark Spumoni Gardens, stock trader Nick Prendergast (ph) says he's not a political activist, but if the GOP nominates Grimm, he'll volunteer for whoever opposes him in November.

NICK PRENDERGAST: I don't want to see him achieve his goal. I just don't think he deserves the right to represent anyone.

MOGUL: This isn't exactly a purple congressional district. It's sent a single Democrat to Congress in the past 35 years, and he's served a single term. Still, Democrats sense a vulnerability this year in the only district in New York City that voted for Trump in 2016. The leading Democratic candidate already has almost twice as much money in the bank as Grimm and Donovan combined.

For NPR News in New York, I'm Fred Mogul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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