Legal trouble is a political death knell, except when it's not
Not even a 20-count indictment soured Staten Island on Michael Grimm.
The Republican Congressman from New York easily won reelection Tuesday despite allegations of massive fraud at a Manhattan restaurant he owned. He beat Democrat Domenic Recchia, and was up double-digits when the Associated Press called the race.
Yet another candidate who’s been in the crosshairs of the courts in the past didn’t fare as well. Buddy Cianci, who had felony convictions interrupt both of his previous two terms as mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, wasn’t so fortunate in his bid for a third go at running the city. Democrat Jorge Elorza, 37, a relative political newcomer who billed herself as a fresh start for the state capital, defeated Cianci 53% to 44% percent, with 97% of precincts reporting, Reuters reports.
Democrats had drooled at the prospect of picking off Grimm’s 11th Congressional District, a working class area that includes Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn. Even the Republican establishment had done a light waltz away from the allegedly felonious former FBI agent, who drew headlines and ridicule when he threatened to throw a local television reporter of a Capitol balcony.
But the challenger, Recchia, made some eyebrow-raising gaffes of his own, including a claim that his stint running a study abroad program for Japanese schoolchildren amounted to a foreign policy credentials. In an editorial endorsing Grimm, the Staten Island Advocate said it was only putting its weight behind the two-term congressman reluctantly. “As distasteful as this contest may be on a number of levels, we have a choice to make, as do the voters,” the newspaper wrote, concluding the borough was better off with an alleged criminal than a candidate who speaks with “astonishing incoherence.” (Grimm has denied wrongdoing in the case.)
Cianci, who ran as an independent, had two felony convictions to overcome: One, in 1984, during his first mayoral term, for assaulting his ex-wife’s new boyfriend, and the other, during his second term in 2002, for corruption (he was indicted on 29 counts). Cianci served four-and-a-half years in prison. He told the New Yorker: “I gave a speech at Brown, and some kid sits in the front row and says, ‘What would you have changed in your life?’ Being a smart-ass, I said, ‘The verdict.’”
Cianci had cultivated a complicated, sometimes strangely endearing, relationship with the city he twice led: He is widely credited with remodeling a city full of industrial plants and warehouses into a community with an artsy, trendy feel.