Despite being under indictment for 20 counts of various financial felony charges, New York Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY-11) was handily re-elected (53-41 percent) to a third term in office last month, but he soon may be forced to resign.
Reports emanating from New York City indicate that Grimm will plead guilty to one count of felony tax evasion at a hearing later today. He obviously hopes to avoid a prison term, though a sentence of between 24 and 30 months appears highly possible.
Clearly, if he goes to prison Rep. Grimm will be forced to resign his congressional office, and most likely the felony guilty plea will make it legally impossible for him to continue even if he isn’t incarcerated. To become a congressional candidate, one must legally qualify as an elector. Since he will lose his voting privileges upon conviction, Grimm will no longer qualify to serve in Congress.
A pending resignation means Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will schedule a special election to fill the subsequent vacancy. The 11th District comprises all of Staten Island and part of Brooklyn. Almost two-thirds of the district includes Staten Island, which gives us an indication as to why favorite son Grimm did so well in this district despite his legal problems. Ironically, despite his indictments becoming a major issue in the just-completed campaign, his 2014 performance was the strongest of his three winning efforts for the seat.
His Democratic opponent was former New York City Councilman Domenic Recchia of Brooklyn. Though he raised over $2.4 million for his 2014 campaign, Recchia was an outsider on Staten Island, and he fared poorly in media appearances and debates. He had little command of federal issues and clearly made no attempt to present himself as a policy leader. Additionally, the Republican wave hurt him badly in what continues to prove itself as the most Republican congressional district in New York City. The GOP has held the district for all but two years consecutively since the 1980 election.
Should Grimm be forced out, the local Republican leadership will decide on a candidate, as will the Democrats. It is virtually assured that the Dems will look in a different direction from Recchia, possibly returning to former Rep. Michael McMahon (D-NY-13).
In 2008, after then-Rep. Vito Fossella (R) was forced to resign due to his own personal scandal, McMahon, then a New York City councilman, easily won the congressional seat after Republicans could not agree on a candidate. McMahon defeated former state Assemblyman Robert Straniere (R) 61-33 percent, but then lost to Grimm two years later, 46-49 percent in the Republican landslide of 2010. In the last two election years, McMahon has publicly toyed with the idea of running for his former seat, but ultimately decided not to do so in both instances. In an open special election, the timing might be right for him to attempt a congressional comeback, however.
It is likely the 11th District will host the nation’s first special election of the coming election cycle. With the Grimm situation behind the Republicans, the eventual GOP nominee would have to be favored in a low turnout vote, but anything can happen in special elections as we have seen on multiple occasions.